Saturday, March 25, 2017

Game 40: Boston University vs UMD (NCAA West Regional Final)

FARGO, N.D. -- This is a chance at redemption for UMD. Sort of.

Two years ago, UMD lost a controversial Northeast Regional final to Boston University in Manchester, then had to watch the Terriers celebrate a Frozen Four berth with their fans. The Bulldogs' older players haven't forgotten that moment. Neither has the announcer. Might have been some cuss words on the ride back to the hotel. I know, shame on me.

Now, the sides meet again, this time again for a spot in the Frozen Four. BU still has some holdovers from that 2014-15 team that was so good, namely big defenseman and captain Doyle Somerby, top line forward Nick Roberto, and defenseman John MacLeod.

But the bulk of this Terriers team is young, and man have they come along. Up front, freshmen Patrick Harper, Clayton Keller, and Kiefer Bellows are joined by sophomores Jakob Forsbacka Karlsson and Bobo Carpenter. The blue line is an active one, keyed by sophomore and Bruins first-rounder Charlie McAvoy, who scored the winner against North Dakota on Friday. Junior Brandon Hickey, a Flames draft pick, blocked 17 shots against UND. Yes, 17. In one game.

And I have yet to mention 18-year-old freshman goalie Jake Oettinger. In an era where the majority of college hockey freshman goalies are 19-to-21 years old, Oettinger is in straight out of the National Team Development Program and has a .929 save percentage in 34 games. He made 56 saves on 59 shots in the regional semifinal win over North Dakota, a game where UND attempted an absurd 145 shots.

This team blocks shots, will be a beast to play against between the dots, and has true difference makers in Keller and McAvoy.

Of course, UMD has looked a team on a mission, and while it wasn't great in Friday's win over Ohio State, winning is all that matters at this point in the season.

"You don't always win playing your best game," coach Scott Sandelin said after the overtime drama. "To me, it's about advancing, and learning to get better. That's what this group has done all year. We've got to be a better hockey team to continue to advance."

No changes for UMD. Still no Carson Soucy (lower body). He misses his seventh straight game. UMD had to grind it out Friday, but it is 6-0 without the big senior.

So let's do this, boys. Chicago for the winner.

Lines?

Lines.

UMD
Iafallo - Toninato - Anderson
Osterberg - Johnson - Mackay
Tufte - Peterson - Kuhlman
Young - Thomas - Exell

Pionk - Kotyk
Raskob - Hilderman
Wolff - Molenaar

Miska - Shepard - Deery

BU
Keller - Forsbacka Karlsson - Harper
Greenway - Carpenter - Roberto
Bellows - Cloonan - Phelps
Kelley - Curry - Chabot

Somerby - McAvoy
Hickey - Fabbro
Krys - MacLeod

Oettinger - LaCouvee

Saturday Hockey Notes and Thoughts: Bulldogs Survive With Miska, Advance With Raskob Overtime Winner

FARGO, N.D. -- Survive and advance.

That's the basic mantra this time of year. It isn't always going to be pretty, a team isn't always going to have its A-level stuff. But the team that is able to survive and advance won't care it didn't have its A-level stuff.

Such was the case Friday night in Fargo. On an incredible night at the NCAA West Regional, UMD took the best punch Ohio State could possibly offer, survived thanks to an incredible performance from freshman goalie Hunter Miska, and got the last shot. Senior defenseman Willie Raskob's one-time blast from the right circle eluded OSU goalie Matt Tomkins and gave the Bulldogs a 3-2 overtime win over the Buckeyes.



This wasn't the best night UMD could have envisioned. Up 2-0 heading into the third, the Bulldogs squandered a power play and almost immediately started playing the game on their heels.

"I don’t know if anything really changed with us, I want to give them credit," UMD head coach Scott Sandelin said. "They came out and I thought they were making a pretty strong push even in the second period. They have a good team."

"We gave the momentum away there," Raskob said. "I think the talk was more making sure we have the coverage coming back, obviously, those two goals was just guys finding slots in open areas, we’ve got to get better at that tomorrow."

The Buckeyes have some strong forwards up front, led by Mason Jobst and David Gust, who can play for anyone, quite frankly. Gust was especially difficult to handle, especially at even-strength, for UMD in this game. He forced Miska to make a handful of spectacular saves, including a how-the-hell-did-he-do-that number with the paddle of his stick in overtime.

"I felt really good tonight," Miska said. "My team played really good in front of me allowing me to see the first puck and make the save and make my rebounds in the corners so they didn’t get another opportunity."

I'm not sure I'd concur that Miska's team played "really good", but I do see his point. The Bulldogs and Miska were victimized a few times this year by shots from distance that no one blocked and Miska couldn't see to stop. That didn't happen on Friday.

But ...

Sandelin: "I didn’t think our coverage was very good. Certainly, that was evident by some of the saves our goaltender had to make but I think you have to give credit where credit is due. They came hard and I think once they got the first one they took another step up and kept coming and we were kind of on our heels. But, that’s why you have great goaltending. It was kind of one of those games where we were just kind of really grinding out, nothing was really clicking. We had very few spurts here and there and they were making a very strong push but Hunter was the difference, no question."

That's on point.

To think, one week ago, there were legitimate questions about how Miska would play when the lights got brighter, both in the NCHC Frozen Faceoff and here at the regional. He's emphatically answered those questions with two of his best games of the season.

"We were just trying to have net-front presence and try to get pucks to the net and as you can see from some of those replay, you can't ask for better chances than what we had," Ohio State coach Steve Rohlik said. "He (Miska) just flat out made some unbelievable saves."

UMD has some things to clean up, as Sandelin mentioned. They had some garish turnovers in the defensive zone, especially in the third period as Ohio State started feeling it, so to speak. I almost didn't recognize the team that finished the third period and started overtime. It was as if "weather the storm" became the game plan.

But the Bulldogs started to piece some better shifts together close to the midway mark of overtime. Specifically, Adam Johnson walked a couple Buckeye defenders for a scoring chance that Tomkins had to make a good save on. Then came the one-minute break so the ice crew could come out and scrape the playing surface. After another quality save by Miska on Gust, Ohio State coach Steve Rohlik requested a review to assure the puck didn't cross the goal line (it didn't). That short delay allowed UMD to come back with its top line for a defensive zone faceoff. As rough a night as it was for UMD on faceoffs, Dominic Toninato won the draw, and the once the puck got back in the OSU zone, it never left.

Nick Wolff created a high to low scoring chance for Joey Anderson that rang the iron. After that. Alex Iafallo circled around the back of the goal and found Raskob in the right circle for a one-timer that Tomkins didn't have a chance on. I'm not sure -- and this isn't a rip -- that I've seen Raskob shoot a puck that hard in four years. That thing was labeled.

When everything looked bleak, UMD found a way. That's what great teams do.

We'd all prefer a 4-1 win. They can't all be like that.

******

The win moves UMD into the regional final Saturday at 5pm against Boston University. The Terriers got by host North Dakota 4-3 on a Charlie McAvoy goal in the second overtime. At first glance, BU's young top-end talent -- highlighted by McAvoy and Clayton Keller -- really flashes. Those are difference-maker players, and David Quinn has done a great job coaching those types of players in his short career at Boston (see: "Eichel, Jack").

Gotta get packed for checkout at the hotel, so just a reminder. 4:30pm pregame on 92.1 The Fan. Listen live online here. Should be a great game, hopefully UMD ends a two-year run of losing in regional finals. Enjoy what should be a great day of college hockey around the country.

Friday, March 24, 2017

Game 39: Ohio State vs UMD (NCAA West Regional Semifinal)

FARGO, N.D. -- You don't need me to tell you what's at stake.

One of the messages from the UMD coaching staff to its players this week was pretty simple. This weekend, you're not guaranteed a second game. You have to go earn it.

UMD hasn't lost a first round game in its last seven NCAA trips. There's some luck involved there, to be blunt, as the Bulldogs have survived some games where its opponent could argue it was better (see: "2009, Princeton"). It happens. To win four "loser out" games in this kind of tournament, there will need to be some fortune along the way at some point.

What will also be interesting as the day evolves is to see how many North Dakota fans are willing to stick around for the second game.

For UMD, senior defenseman Carson Soucy (lower body) remains out. No surprise, though there was at least a positive sign for the public to see Thursday when Soucy skated. I'm not at every practice, but it's the first time I've seen him skate since he was injured March 3.

Ohio State is missing big-minute defensemen Josh Healey (suspension) and Drew Brevig (injury), both seniors.

For those wondering, ECAC officials for this game. Peter Feola and Chip McDonald referee, Ryan Knapp and Jim Briggs work the lines.

Lines?

Lines.

UMD
Iafallo - Toninato - Anderson
Osterberg - Johnson - Mackay
Tufte - Peterson - Kuhlman
Young - Thomas - Exell

Pionk - Kotyk
Raskob - Hilderman
Wolff - Molenaar

Miska - Shepard - Deery

OSU
Stork - Jobst - Schilkey
Miller - Joshua - Gust
Wiitala - Weis - Laczynski
Fidler - Kearney - Lampasso

Joyaux - Miller
Moser - Parran
Larocque - Myer

Tomkins - Frey - Davis

Thursday, March 23, 2017

Steve Rohlik Faces Old Assistant, Team

FARGO, N.D. -- One of the first things Ohio State coach Steve Rohlik mentioned when asked about his ties to Duluth this week was the fact his three kids were born there, while he worked for UMD as an assistant to head coach Scott Sandelin.

"It's a huge part of my life," Rohlik said this week. "I enjoyed my ten years there. I'll have it forever."

Unquestionably, it's a place Rohlik is still fond of, but he hopes to be on the right side of the scoreboard Friday, when his Buckeyes face UMD in the first round of the NCAA West Regional at Scheels Arena.

Asked if the college hockey world has ever felt smaller to him, Rohlik laughed and pointed out "hockey is a small world.

"Certainly, this is a little different. I wouldn't be sitting up here without the opportunity Scott gave me. To help me grow and develop as a coach, a tremendous opportunity."

Rohlik took over for good friend Mark Osiecki, who had recruited Rohlik to join him at Ohio State when he got the head job after the 2009-2010 season. When he got the head job, he needed to fill his old job as associate coach, and in came Brett Larson. The then-former UMD assistant had been working with Sioux City of the USHL, cutting his teeth as a head coach and general manager in juniors.

"First and foremost, he's a guy that cares," Rohlik said of Larson. "He's a soldier in the room. I think every guy in our room that he's coached or recruited can tell you that. When you have a guy on your staff like that, players believe. It's contagious."

Larson, at the minimum, had a hand in recruiting much of Ohio State's current roster, while coaching all the upperclassmen for a couple years. He told KBJR this week there might be "butterflies and the strange feelings," but once the puck drops, it's "just another hockey game."

The fact it's a playoff game of the "Win or go home" variety, that probably helps shake some of the feels away.

(Another UMD tie: Rohlik needed to replace Larson when the latter left to return to UMD, and in came Mark Strobel, who was with Rohlik on Sandelin's first coaching staff at UMD in 2000 and left the program in 2002.)

"I'm excited for them," Sandelin said of Rohlik and Strobel. "They're good coaches and doing a great job."

In his fourth season with Ohio State, Rohlik has seen a breakthrough. The Buckeyes are plus-seven in wins this year, going from 14 to 21, improving from eight to 11 wins in Big Ten play. A big reason for the Buckeyes' presence in the national tournament for the first time since 2009? A 10-2-5 non-conference record in the regular season that included losses only to Robert Morris and Miami. Ohio State opened the season by beating Denver at the Ice Breaker in Denver, then tied NCAA-bound Air Force in the championship (lost in a shootout, but the game counted as a tie). Going 4-3-1 combined against the other Big Ten teams -- Minnesota and Ohio State -- that made the tournament doesn't hurt much.

"It's a surreal moment, very humbling," Rohlik said of getting into the tournament for the first time as a head coach.

Saturday, Ohio State needed Penn State to win the Big Ten title in order to get in.

"When we lost the game (in the semifinals to Wisconsin), we didn't know if our season was over or not," Rohlik said. "When that goal (Penn State won in double overtime), what a feeling. We earned the spot. We won 21 games. We deserve to be here."

(UMD went through the same thing a year ago, only a little different way it played out. The Bulldogs were behind 2-1 to St. Cloud State in the NCHC title game when Michigan closed out a Big Ten tournament title win over Minnesota. That Wolverines win officially clinched UMD's NCAA bid, and thankfully so, since the Huskies ended up beating the Bulldogs that night 3-1. And no one on the UMD side was about to apologize for how it got in the national tournament, nor should they have been. Same for Ohio State. The Buckeyes needn't apologize to anyone for getting in.)

And what a way to get back in for Rohlik. His first tournament game will be against a head coach who helped get his career in college hockey going, and an assistant who was a big part of the build that's paying off for Ohio State now.

UMD's Focus Strong as NCAA Tournament Begins

FARGO, N.D. -- Over the course of a 38-game journey to this point, UMD has not faced what it faces this weekend.

Even in the NCHC Tournament the last two weekends, the Bulldogs knew they would be playing two games on a weekend, no matter how the first one went.

Not the case now.

The only way you play again is if you win.

The Bulldogs' resiliency (© Dan Myers of the Wild) and veteran presence -- along with the steady play of freshman goalie Hunter Miska -- has propelled this team to a No. 2 overall seed in the NCAA Tournament. The Bulldogs are a No. 1 regional seed for the first time ever, and will play Ohio State Friday evening in Fargo in the first round. The winner plays either Boston University or North Dakota for the regional championship Saturday.

"Our seniors that came up a game short the last two years of getting to the next step," head coach Scott Sandelin said this week, "I think it's been in their minds. I think they came back for a reason. Absolutely, it's been a goal (to get back)."

If you're looking for a reason this team is so vastly improved from even a year ago, when it had to scratch and claw its way to the national tournament, look no further than that experience.

"You rely on your experience, you rely on your leaders," Sandelin said. "These guys have played in a lot of games, been in a lot of situations. They want more, they came back to try to get it, and they're in a position to do that."

The Bulldogs boast a seven-man senior class that's certainly been a big part of this, but don't forget UMD also has two juniors -- Karson Kuhlman and Jared Thomas -- that sit over 100 games in a UMD uniform. And all these juniors and seniors -- save for Avery Peterson, who didn't join the team until January 2016 -- have been around for a couple great runs that fell one goal short of the Frozen Four.

Add to it this: Every UMD player, outside of Miska and the rest of the freshmen, has been around for an NCAA Tournament run. Peterson was part of the Omaha Mavericks' first-ever trip to the Frozen Four in 2015.

There will be plenty of time to look back and appreciate what's happened here, but there's no question the 2016-17 senior class has helped shape a new culture for Bulldog hockey.

"To come here and find success with a group of guys, be a part of it, is a great accomplishment," senior defenseman Willie Raskob said. "Something I'll take great pride in when we leave here."

"It's been awesome," senior captain Dominic Toninato said. "Our senior class has been tremendous. Being able to grow with them has been awesome. The team as a whole has been great. It's good for the whole program, and the whole city of Duluth."

This has been a mentally tough UMD team all season, too. UMD has conceded the first goal 17 times in 38 games, including in Saturday's crazy NCHC championship game against West Regional host North Dakota. UMD is 10-4-3 when allowing the first goal. To add some perspective, Ohio State is 2-7-4 when the adversary scores first, and even ever-dangerous North Dakota is 9-10-1.

Look at some of the games UMD has won or tied when trailing. Tied UMass-Lowell when down three goals at one point, trailed St. Cloud State 3-1 in both games in St. Cloud and won them both 5-3, fell behind to Minnesota and SCSU at the North Star College Cup and managed to win both games. Oh, and who can forget the Friday game at North Dakota? Gave up the first goal in a hostile building, had two goals disallowed in the first period, had a UND goal count that shouldn't have, and still won convincingly.

Throw in Saturday's game that's hard to describe with actual words, and you have a tough squad that isn't easily phased.

******

Standing in the Bulldogs' way Friday will be a hungry Ohio State team that lacks that experience. Well, at least among the players.

"We tried to prepare them the same way this week," fourth-year head coach Steve Rohlik said this week. "Part of the experience is enjoying it for the first time. We have a lot of guys who are excited and anxious. Our group's going to be ready."

Rohlik and assistant Mark Strobel were both successful players at Wisconsin, with Rohlik a two-year captain and national champion. Strobel played in the NCAA Tournament each year of his Badgers career. This is old hat for them.

Players can't gain NCAA experience -- duh -- without playing in the tournament first. But these guys are adults. The idea of Ohio State being victimized by "wide eyes in the bright lights" is patently ridiculous. The Buckeyes earned their way here, and this is a dangerous offensive team.

Ohio State has a top line that can go, keyed by sophomore Mason Jobst (55 points) -- who lived a mile from the Indianapolis Motor Speedway growing up and still became a really good hockey player (he says growing up there "had a huge impact on my life, kind of formed who I am" -- and seniors Nick Schilkey and David Gust (41 points each, Schilkey has 27 goals). The Buckeyes rode a 32-plus percent power play to an average of nearly four goals per game this season.

"It's huge for our team now, the alumni who have worked hard to get this program where it is," Schilkey said of Ohio State getting back in the tournament. "Getting rewarded with being able to come here is awesome. We're really excited to be here, we feel like we deserve it. It means a lot."

"They play a pace game, score goals, and we like to play the same way," Sandelin said. "Hopefully it's an up and down game."

"We got to be ready to go from the start," Toninato said.

Rohlik conceded there aren't a lot of weaknesses with his adversary Friday, but wasn't about to concede the game.

"They still have to win the game," he said. "We'll be focused and ready to empty the tank (Friday)."

******

For UMD, senior defenseman Carson Soucy (lower body) practiced here Thursday. He didn't take part in team drills, but did plenty of work on his own, including some time at one end of the ice with Sandelin, working on skating, transitions, passing, and puck-handling. Sandelin said "probably not" when asked if Soucy would play this weekend, and went on to repeat the "week to week" timeline we've heard since the week after he was injured in Kalamazoo.

But the Bulldogs are otherwise healthy, with everyone available to play.

The same can't be said for Ohio State.

The Buckeyes will play Friday's game without two top defensemen, seniors Josh Healey and Drew Brevig. Healey picked up a two-game suspension from the Big Ten Conference after his third game misconduct of the season, a contact to the head major he took late in Friday's Big Ten semifinal loss to Wisconsin. Brevig has an injury suffered in the win over Michigan State the day before and did not play against the Badgers.

Rohlik talked up his depth players, noting how hard they've worked and practiced throughout the season, but Healey is the leading scorer among OSU defensemen and Brevig one of the top players in terms of ice time. These aren't insignificant losses, and we'll see if UMD can exploit some things back there Friday. If not, it will be a long evening for the regional top seeds.

Monday, March 20, 2017

Monday Musings: High-Intensity NCHC Title Game Goes UMD's Way; Bulldogs Book Trip to Fargo

You've undoubtedly heard it.

"Hard to beat a team (insert a number) times in a row during a season."

It's true. Just look at Saturday night, where UMD tried to beat North Dakota for a fifth time in five meetings this season (sixth time overall). It was anything but easy.

In an intense, emotional, penalty-filled game, the Bulldogs used a late five-on-three goal from Joey Anderson to beat UND 4-3 and claim their first conference tournament championship since 2009. It's the second conference title for UMD under Scott Sandelin, and now the Bulldogs head to the NCAA Tournament for the fifth time in seven years. It's the first time ever that any UMD team in any sport has made the national tournament five out of seven years.

Actually, calling it "intense", "emotional", and "penalty-filled" is probably understating it. This was as crazy a game as I've seen in a long time. There were more combined penalty minutes in the Colorado College game Feb. 18, but this game had a level of intensity that one never got to. Saturday was an example of two rivals fighting for something valuable, and it was the kind of night that would be difficult to duplicate.

Unless the teams play again ... with a spot in the Frozen Four on the line. In Fargo. But I digress.

The fact UMD found a way to win this game Saturday night is an unrelenting positive in a season full of them. It was far from a perfect performance, with North Dakota doing a fantastic job of putting the Bulldogs on their heels early, with the help of some sketchy penalty calls. But UMD was frustrated, as evidenced by sophomore defenseman Neal Pionk taking a five-minute major for charging UND goalie Cam Johnson during a short-handed rush.

(Frankly, wouldn't have been mad if Pionk had been tossed for it, but right before the hit, it looks like he loses his balance a bit, as if he were trying to stop and couldn't. Weird sequence looking at the clip, and it was probably enough to keep him in the game.)

After UMD killed the major (had already gone down 1-0 on a Brock Boeser power play goal, so that was a gigantic kill) and the first period ended, Pionk appeared to be speared by UND's Cole Smith. No call came, but UMD captain Dominic Toninato was irate after the period ended (justifiably so), and UMD carried that emotion into the start of the second period.

Toninato, Riley Tufte, and Adam Johnson scored goals 58 seconds apart in the second, and just like that UMD had a 3-1 lead. It took two more long five-on-three UND power plays -- one in the second and one late in the third -- for the Fighting Hawks to level the score on goals by Tyson Jost and Trevor Olson. That set up Anderson's goal, which came after back to back UND penalties gave the Bulldogs their first five-on-three of the game.

******

Deep down, I can't imagine either coach was pleased with the penalty minutes his team took in this game. But a deeper dive into the numbers shows that there may have been some mitigating factors involved.

First off, we need to throw out the coincidental penalties and operate under the assumption all those minutes were earned. That will take away 20 of the game's 57 minutes. Of the 37 remaining minutes that were assessed, I don't think any reasonable argument can be made against the following calls:

Pionk's major for charging (5)
Olson's roughing penalty in the second (2)
Jared Thomas' minor for tripping in the second (2)
Rhett Gardner slashing minor in the second (2)
Riley Tufte's penalty for interference late in the second (2)
Johnny Simonson high sticking penalty in the third (2)

That leaves 22 of 37 minutes that were either questionable or not-very-good calls, including the last two on UMD that gave UND the late five-on-three it tied the game with, and the last two on UND that gave UMD the five-on-three it won the game with.

This isn't to completely absolve the players of responsibility for their role in Saturday's various fiascoes. There is no excuse for Pionk blasting Cam Johnson like he did. Similarly, no excuse for Smith spearing Pionk. Gardner and Simonson for UND took silly, unnecessary penalties. This stuff happens, especially when a game is played at the level and intensity this one was. Emotions are bound to run high.

But referees Todd Anderson and Geno Binda have to be considered culpable. More than once, they rewarded both teams for clear embellishment and set a bad tone for the game. I don't know the last time I saw a college hockey game -- especially in the postseason -- where there were four five-on-three power plays. And three of the four were more than a minute in scheduled length. It was too much, and I stand by what I said on the air and on Twitter during the game: It took away from the game. That's unfortunate.

However, it's worth noting that they weren't working the conference championship game by accident. They earned that throughout the season, and that fact shouldn't be forgotten in everyone's consternation over how this game played out.

******

Many UMD players should be applauded for their efforts on Saturday. Toninato was a leader in every sense, getting the first goal and on multiple occasions trying to stand up for his teammates. Alex Iafallo not only has points in 11 straight games, but he has ten points in the last five. Anderson has re-emerged after his production slipped after returning from the World Juniors. He has six points in his last five games after being held off the board for five straight.

Osterberg blocked five of the 26 shots UMD got a piece of in Saturday's game. Brenden Kotyk blocked shots and was physical. Hunter Miska made a few brilliant saves in goal and had a fantastic weekend, erasing any questions about his ability to step up and play well in big games as a freshman.

(There were legit questions about Miska in a big-game environment, something CBS Sports Network analyst and brilliant mind Dave Starman referenced on Beyond The Pond Saturday. He answered those questions Saturday night, and did so emphatically.)

Tufte made a few plays, including getting by Christian Wolanin and steaming down the right wing before sniping a shot home to give UMD the lead in the second period. He was a beast at times in Friday's game, too, and it's just fun to watch him show more and more signs of his development.

More than anything, these guys stuck up for one another when necessary and stuck with the game. There were a lot of opportunities to be discouraged and wonder if this was UMD's night. Instead of that, they stayed with what they wanted to do, and as Toninato said Sunday after the selection show, "controlled what we could control."

"Lot of emotions in those games," Sandelin said. "We've played North Dakota a lot. I thought the kill (late in the first after the Pionk major) was outstanding. To get out of that period the way it was going being down one, I was pretty excited for our guys. We finally had a good second period.

"It was an interesting game for sure. Lots of ups and downs."

Plenty to be excited about, as UMD won a couple games playoff-style. By any means necessary.

******

Now, it's back to North Dakota. UMD is the No. 1 seed in the NCAA West Regional, and will play Ohio State Friday at 5:30.

The Buckeyes can fill the net, led by sophomore Mason Jobst (19 goals, 55 points) and senior Nick Schilkey (27 goals, 41 points). Ohio State averages 3.97 goals per game, but also concedes 2.98 per game.  The power play hits at 32.5 percent, including over 38 percent in Big Ten play.

tOSU is coached by former UMD assistant Steve Rohlik, who was with the Bulldogs from 2000-2010 and recruited many of the players UMD won a national championship with in 2011. Brett Larson was a part of the Ohio State staff before returning to UMD two years ago when Derek Plante stepped down.

"I've seen them a little bit," Sandelin said. "I know they have the ability to score goals and play a real pace game. We've got to keep doing the things we're good at."

Lots of talk about UMD and North Dakota meeting again in the regional final, which could certainly happen, but Ohio State and Boston University will have something to say about that first.

We'll be traveling to Fargo on Thursday morning. Expect content from the team press conferences that day at Scheels Arena. Full game preview coming as well.

Saturday, March 18, 2017

Game 38: North Dakota vs UMD (NCHC Championship)

MINNEAPOLIS -- Here we go with the 2017 NCHC Frozen Faceoff Championship.

UMD will face longtime rival North Dakota for a fifth time this season, trying to extend its program-record five-game winning streak over UND.

On Beyond The Pond (KFAN/92.1 The Fan) Saturday, head coach Scott Sandelin acknowledged UND "probably has this one circled, we've had success against them."

And that's probably an understatement.

"We've got a lot of respect for them," North Dakota coach Brad Berry said after Friday's 1-0 semifinal win over Denver. "We play similarly, we play hard, and we're looking forward to (Saturday). They've had our number all year, and the year before was the other way around."

Should be a great game. North Dakota has won five straight, and used a smothering defensive effort to get by Denver. The Fighting Hawks have outshot their adversaries in each game of this run, and oddly enough actually outshot UMD in two of the four meetings this season -- got shut out in both those games.

Denver beat Western Michigan 3-1 in a gripping third place game. Denver won without its top four scorers, as Troy Terry, Henrik Borgstrom, Dylan Gambrell, and Will Butcher all sat, and also starting goalie Tanner Jaillet. WMU played freshman Ben Blacker in goal, but was still without Sheldon Dries and Wade Allison up front. DU clinched the No. 1 overall seed in the NCAA Tournament, so UMD is playing for the No. 2 spot in this game. The Bulldogs could fall to third with a loss to UND, depending on other results.

Lines?

Lines.

UMD
Iafallo - Toninato - Anderson
Osterberg - Johnson - Mackay
Tufte - Peterson - Kuhlman
Young - Thomas - Exell

Pionk - Kotyk
Raskob - Hilderman
Wolff - Molenaar

Miska - Shepard - Deery

UND
Gersich - Jost - Poganski
Janatuinen - Gardner - Boeser
Smith - Simonson - Olson
Yon - Bowen - Gornall

Poolman (Colton) - Poolman (Tucker)
Ausmus - Peski
Wolanin - Shaw

Johnson - Hrynkiw

PairWise Notes and Thoughts: The Final Day is Upon Us

MINNEAPOLIS -- Greetings from downtown Minneapolis, where the sirens are loud and the buildings are tall.

This is the final day of the season in college hockey. There are six conference championship games that will decide automatic bids to the NCAA Tournament. Most of the teams involved don't need those automatic bids to get in, but there are still a few teams' seasons on the line.

Before we get to that, the schedule for Sunday's selection announcements was sent out Friday by ESPN PR.

10am - The four No. 1 regional seeds are announced on Twitter @NCAAIceHockey.
10am hour - ESPN host and Frozen Four VOX John Buccigross will tweet which regionals the No. 1 seeds are assigned to @buccigross.
11am - NCAA Selection Show airs on ESPNU to show all four regionals in full; game times and TV will be announced for each regional (we don't know any of them yet).

The two Friday/Saturday regionals next weekend are Fargo and Providence. Saturday/Sunday regionals are Cincinnati and Manchester. Of the four, only Fargo is sold out, which means very limited tickets available for UMD fans (UMD will have an allotment to sell, but it isn't much, and priority season ticket holders will get first shot).

Of course, Fargo is also the only one within reasonable driving distance. Take the good with the bad, I suppose.

Anyway, here are the games for Saturday.

Atlantic Hockey: Air Force vs Robert Morris (winner in, loser out)
WCHA: Bowling Green at Michigan Tech (winner in, loser out)
Hockey East: Boston College vs UMass-Lowell (BC out with a loss, UML in either way)
Big Ten: Wisconsin vs Penn State (Wisconsin out with a loss, Penn State in either way)
ECAC: Harvard vs Cornell (both teams in)
NCHC: UMD vs North Dakota (both teams in)

College Hockey News' Probability Matrix is a good resource when it comes to who will get in. Between that and the predictor tools readily available on the internet box, the following is clear:

The following teams are in the tournament, no matter what happens Saturday: Denver, UMD, Harvard, Western Michigan, Minnesota, Boston University, UMass-Lowell, Union, North Dakota, Cornell, Penn State, Notre Dame.

As explained above, Atlantic Hockey and the WCHA will each be one-bid leagues. Further, the Bowling Green-Tech winner will be the No. 16 overall seed. If Robert Morris beats Air Force, it will be the No. 15 overall seed. If the Fighting Serratores win, they quite possibly will be above the No. 15 spot (looks like No. 12 is the most likely landing spot if Air Force wins).

Right now, Providence and Ohio State are the last two at-large teams in. If we have straight chalk in the Big Ten and Hockey East, those two teams will get in, knocking Boston College and Wisconsin out. If either Boston College or Wisconsin win (but not both), Ohio State is sent packing. If both BC and UW win, Providence is out, too.

A Western Michigan non-loss in the NCHC third place game likely means the NCHC will have three of the top four overall seeds. UMD and Denver are locked into the top three, no matter what happens. Western joins them if it doesn't lose to Denver. That's it. A win or tie will do just fine. And if last year -- when Denver played its backup goalie and a handful of guys who weren't lineup regulars -- is any indication, Western has a real shot. Even if WMU rests guys, it's a 50/50 game at worst.

How does UMD get to a No. 1 seed? It more than likely must beat North Dakota and definitely have Denver not beat Western Michigan. Again, even a tie in the third-place game will be fine for UMD, but the Bulldogs must win the NCHC title to have a chance at the No. 1 overall seed. There is at least one scenario where UMD is No. 1 overall with a loss Saturday night.

Where will UMD go? Great question. Friday night, before the B1G semifinals were finished up (Penn State beat Minnesota in double overtime, on a power play goal, on an extremely lame call, but I digress), I ran a bunch of scenarios and was able to get UMD into each of the four regionals.

Right now, I have no idea what will happen. Here's the big issue: attendance.

The selection committee has shown the willingness in past years to bend the bracket -- i.e. sending Providence as a No. 4 seed to the Providence regional two years ago, even though Providence by rule didn't have to go there -- to drive attendance and try to create a championship atmosphere.

So, for example, if the Friars get in, they're almost certainly heading to Providence. Depending on how the final field looks, it might take some work.

I believe the No. 1 overall seed -- whether it's Denver or UMD -- will go to Fargo. I know it sounds silly, since UND will be there and that team is rolling right now. But UND can't be a No. 4 seed, which would create the need for a non-NCHC team to go to Fargo (conference rivals can't meet in the opening round unless there are at least five teams from that league that get in, and the NCHC can't get more than four this year).

I believe the committee will send Western Michigan to Cincinnati, especially if it is a No. 1 seed. So, if this happens for example, I think UMD goes to Manchester. But, again, it depends on how the committee wants to try to drive attendance. UMD will not help attendance at any regional (sorry, Bulldog fans, but the only regional you guys will want to go to is sold out).

But Harvard, UMass-Lowell, Boston University, and Boston College can help in Manchester and maybe Providence. This becomes especially important if Providence doesn't get in.

So the easy answer: It's way too early to tell. Lots of options on the table right now.

But no matter what, UMD will be a No. 1 seed wherever it goes. And UMD vs North Dakota at Target Center should be fantastic. Can't wait.

Friday, March 17, 2017

Saturday Hockey Notes and Thoughts: UMD Rides Defensive Improvement, Opportunism to Second Straight NCHC Title Game

MINNEAPOLIS -- Not going to lie. UMD giving Western Michigan a five-on-three at the 2:24 mark of the first period seemed like a bad omen. Instead, it was a bit of a tone-setter.

The UMD penalty kill was spot-on Friday, and a stellar third period effort helped carry UMD to a 5-2 win over Western Michigan in the NCHC Frozen Faceoff semifinals at Target Center. UMD will play North Dakota, a 1-0 winner over Denver, in Saturday's 7:30pm championship game.

Western had a goal disallowed in the second period, but ended up getting one that counted 1:09 later to tie the game 2-2. The Broncos earned that tying goal, as they had been able to bottle up UMD on a couple of occasions and generate scoring chances with numbers down low. UMD didn't do a great job covering guys, and Colt Conrad buried a rebound by Hunter Miska to draw the game even on one of those occasions.

But the Bulldogs tightened up after that, as did Miska. Alex Iafallo scored a beauty of a goal late in the second period that eventually gave UMD the lead for good. After Parker Mackay capitalized on a great play by Adam Johnson to make it 4-2 in the third, Miska held his ground against a hard-charging Broncos team, which got a four-on-three power play in the final three minutes of regulation and turned it into a five-on-three by pulling goalie Ben Blacker. Miska stopped Western goal-scoring specialist Matheson Iacopelli twice, including once on a really well set up one timer.

"It wasn't probably the prettiest game for either team," UMD coach Scott Sandelin said. "We stayed with it. Hard-fought game, which was what we expected.

"I think their second goal work our bench up for sure. Thought we played better towards the end of the period. Gotta get better in second periods. Didn't think our start was very good."

(Give Western credit, by the way. Andy Murray held three-year captain Sheldon Dries and stud freshman Wade Allison out with injuries. I'm not sure how badly Allison was injured crashing into the end boards in Game 3 against Omaha Sunday, but he was stretchered off and briefly hospitalized before returning to the arena. Either way, the Broncos were short-handed Friday and gave UMD everything it could handle for two periods and then some. This is a really good team that is fixing to do some damage in the NCAA Tournament, possibly as a one-seed if it can win the third-place game Saturday afternoon against Denver.)

Sandelin compared this game to the Saturday game in Kalamazoo on March 4. In that game, UMD kicked away a 2-0 second-period lead, only to get a goal from Johnson with 4.4 seconds left off a mad scramble in front of the WMU net. The momentum carried over into the third, and UMD ended up winning convincingly.

In this game, Iafallo got his goal with 3:49 left in the second, but there's no question there was some residual into the third period.

I thought UMD's defensive effort in the third was as good as we've seen in a while. Miska, yes, had to make some saves, but he was sharper and there weren't any glaringly blown coverages in front of him. The Broncos were coming after UMD, but couldn't get any super chances. The Mackay goal and a Jared Thomas length-of-the-ice empty netter iced the win for the Bulldogs.

The third period was what Sandelin has been looking for. A composed, defense-first effort. UMD didn't generate many chances, but capitalized on the Mackay goal, which was a thing of beauty by Johnson to set up. He waited out a sliding defender, walked back toward the front, bided his time, and sent a cross-crease pass to Mackay for a tap in after Blacker committed to Johnson. Brilliant play and a great goal.

"Didn't really have much," Johnson said of the play. "Just tried to wait, and Parker got to the net."

******

It's cliche, but coaches talk about a team's best players being its best players in crunch time.

Let there be no doubt that UMD's top line -- Dominic Toninato, Iafallo, and Joey Anderson -- were good again, and Johnson, centering the second line, was brilliant with three assists, including the dazzler to Mackay.

Again, the six-man defensive corps managed without Carson Soucy, who will not play this weekend (week to week, so we don't know what the plan is beyond this week). Jarod Hilderman's blocked shot set up Kyle Osterberg's goal late in the first, Hilderman's first point in these colors. Neal Pionk was a freaking beast, with an assist, three blocked shots, and a plus-three.

Iafallo has points in ten straight (6-10-16), goals in four straight. Toninato has goals in three straight and is 8-5-13 in the last 11 games. Johnson now is 6-7-13 in the last ten games. Mackay had his first two-point game since the season opener and now has six points in the last six games.

Osterberg's goal snapped a ten-game drought, but he now has four points in the last two games.

Production is coming from all over the place, and there couldn't be a better time than this for it to happen. UMD's last five games: 5, 5, 5, 6, and 4 goals. Not going to lose a lot this time of year when you average five goals per game.

******

UMD will face North Dakota for a fifth time this season in Saturday's championship game. The Bulldogs dominated the regular season series, going 4-0 with two shutouts and outscoring North Dakota 17-5.

I will guaran-damn-tee you Saturday won't be nearly as easy as an average score of 4.25-1.25 might suggest. UND is grinding teams down right now, impressively shutting down a potent Denver team Friday night at Target Center. Cam Johnson is playing well in goal, though Denver had a hard time really getting to him on Friday. Remember, as good as UND looked defensively in the semifinal, this game gave up five to St. Cloud State just this past Saturday. It is not an impenetrable defensive group. No one is, for that matter.

This will be a meat-grinder of a game, though. Mark my words. UMD will need to bring the proverbial lunch pails, because North Dakota is going to make the Bulldogs earn every inch of ice throughout the rink if Friday is any indication. The Fighting Hawks -- yes, it's still weird, sorry -- have won five straight games to put themselves back in the NCAA Tournament. Now they're coming for their first NCHC playoff title. And so are the Bulldogs. Someone's hoisting that thing for the first time Saturday, and I know who I want to see do it.

******

The dream of an All-NCHC Frozen Four may have died Friday night. North Dakota's win makes it difficult (I couldn't do it) to get UND to a No. 4 regional seed, which I figured was the only way to guarantee the possibility of the four NCHC teams in the tourney being assigned different regionals.

Maybe the committee ends up making that happen, but I don't see it as likely. I believe an NCHC team -- either UMD or Denver -- will join North Dakota in Fargo.

I'll likely jump back on Saturday morning and update PairWise scenarios, but I'm too tired right now to wrap my head around any of that.

We hit the air Saturday at 7pm on 92.1 The Fan. Join us for what should be a fun championship game. Looking forward to it.

Game 37: Western Michigan vs UMD (NCHC Frozen Faceoff Semifinal)

MINNEAPOLIS -- Greetings from Target Center and their giant new "Eat Your Heart Out, Craig Leipold" scoreboard.

Gotta be quick on this post, as technical terrorism reigns supreme. Need to get the in-house internet working.

Lines?

Lines.

UMD
UMD
Iafallo - Toninato - Anderson
Osterberg - Johnson - Mackay
Tufte - Peterson - Kuhlman
Young - Thomas - Exell

Pionk - Kotyk
Raskob - Hilderman
Wolff - Molenaar

Miska - Shepard - Deery

WMU
Courtnall - Rebry - Hadley
Molino - Tiffels - Iacopelli
McGing - Conrad - McMullen
McKee - Zehnal - Stoykewich

Goff - Bafia
Schueneman - Fleming
Lee - Moldenhauer

Olson - Blacker - Gorsuch

(You know the drill with the goalies. Also, Aidan Muir is listed as an extra skater for warmup. Twitter if he's in blah blah.)