I got an e-mail late last night from a fellow named Dean, who says he's a UMD fan. He said he didn't see the movie Mystery, Alaska, and he didn't understand my reference.
(He actually called me an "idiot" for making an obscure reference, and I take some offense to that. Just because you don't get it doesn't make it obscure. I tend to believe that most hockey fans have at least heard of that movie enough to understand the reference. But thanks for the e-mail.)
Unfortunately, there are not any photographs from the shooting of the movie that illustrate what I am talking about. You're just going to have to take my word for it.
The guys of Mystery played pond hockey. Some weasel came back to town after writing a piece about them in Sports Illustrated, and he said he had worked a deal to get the New York Rangers to fly up there to play an exhibition game.
The catch was that they would have to build an actual rink with boards and stuff. Of course, the rink wasn't NHL-sized, and it wasn't Olympic-sized. They never said how big the dimensions were, but it was more to the tastes of the pond hockey players.
It's a bit campy, but I've always enjoyed it because the hockey scenes were very well done. Not only that, but hockey is revered in Mystery in a way that many of us wish it was for real all over the place.
Anyway, that's where the reference came from. I stand by it. I look at the ice sheet at the World Arena, and I can only marvel at how big it is.
With that in mind, the well-known five-letter word is the biggest key to this weekend for UMD.
Colorado College has built their program around having guys who can skate. They're made to play in that big ice, and they will make sure UMD has to use every square inch of it. To be successful, UMD has to do just that. Move their feet. Use the boards. Pass accurately. Make CC work for their offensive chances.
Doing all the little things, even on the big ice, means UMD will be doing everything they can to help out sophomore goalie Alex Stalock, who stopped everything Denver threw at him, including the kitchen sink, in UMD's last outing 13 days ago.
Also key this weekend is physical play. UMD is not a lot bigger than Colorado College, but a visual scan of the rosters leads one to believe that they're a little bit bigger. All of UMD's defensemen, except freshman Chad Huttel (not expected to play this weekend), are at least six feet tall. UMD has 20 skaters on the trip, and 15 are six-feet or taller. Of the 20 skaters for Colorado College who have played four or more games so far, ten are at least six feet tall.
The Bulldogs have to use their size advantage (however minimal) as an advantage. Sure, CC can skate, but you can't let them hide. It's easier said than done, because there are a lot of places to hide on the big sheet. You can't obsess with lining guys up for big hits, because those opportunities are limited. You have to take the chances when they come, and take the initiative to create those physical opportunities.
Goaltending will be huge. It stands to reason that we'll see CC freshman Richard Bachman both nights. He's played incredibly well so far, shutting down Minnesota twice and then getting the win in the Saturday game at North Dakota last week. For a freshman, he's very poised, and there isn't much he can't stop if he can square to the shooter, which makes him much like UMD's Stalock. It should be a great battle between these two.
UMD needs to get the power play going. They're taking a donut in their last 14 chances, and while they did step up and get some chances on the weekend, the power play was a bit disappointing in the Denver series. Hopefully, playing on the big ice will open up some opportunities for them.
The penalty kill will be challenged by the big ice and CC's quick forwards. The best remedy is to play disciplined hockey and stay away from those bad situations. Duh. When they're out there, UMD has to maintain positional discipline and keep CC on the perimeter. Block shots and don't miss clearing chances.
I smell a split here. Stalock and Bachman are too good for either team to get swept. I think the best either team can hope for is a three-point weekend. If UMD can come out of here with two points, it will be a great achievement for them. It will serve as a good way to set up for the next four weekends, which will serve to be interesting. UMD plays at home next weekend against Michigan Tech, travels to North Dakota and Minnesota State, and then wraps up the pre-Christmas portion of the league schedule with a home series against Alaska-Anchorage. Counting this weekend, that's ten games and 20 available points. With the thought that they should get five points out of two tough home series, and maybe six out of these three road series, UMD is in line to have 16-19 WCHA points at the holiday break if they continue to play well. With how balanced the league is, that's not going to be a bad start at all, especially if the old theory of 28 points for home ice in the first round holds up, and I think it will.