Friday, February 26, 2010

Bulldogs Searching for Mojo

2-6 in the last eight games.

Nine goals in four games.

10-3 aggregate last weekend in Grand Forks.


The UMD Bulldogs are surely looking for whatever magic -- mojo, if you prefer -- they had going earlier in the season. Instead of cruising to home ice and perhaps a WCHA title, UMD is left to wonder what went wrong.

Expect a jumbled line chart this weekend. Who knows what will happen in goal?

No matter what, the mission is clear. UMD has to regain the mojo before the playoff start, or they face the reality of a quick exit.

Hockey coaches have a reputation in general for being quick to panic and change everything. The reality is that no lines really ever stay together for an entire season. If you're so good that you can do that, you wouldn't have 12 losses in 32 games. Instead, chemistry wears out, guys get complacent, and you need to make changes once in a while to help your team find that ever-important spark.

While the offense has been a problem for around a month now, the issues that cropped up in goal last weekend in Grand Forks are new.

Yes, UMD's goaltending largely struggled against Bemidji State, but Kenny Reiter was outstanding in two games against Wisconsin and two against Michigan Tech. Very hard to blame anything bad that happened on him, because he was keeping UMD in a lot of those games.

However, Reiter wasn't sharp against North Dakota, and neither was Brady Hjelle. Each had their moments, but struggled with their consistency, and both goalies gave up costly goals that could (and probably should) have been avoided.

When looking for things UMD has to improve on this weekend, it starts with the goaltending, but it quickly transitions to the offense. They have to bear down in the offensive zone, get to the net, create havoc, and find the puck. It's easier said than done, but it's those second and third efforts that made this team so dangerous in January, and they have to get back to that.

It's not an issue that easily goes away. That's why the lines were tinkered with this week, yielding what could be some very interesting combinations.

(Based on what we saw at practice, look for Jack Connolly and Mike Connolly to break up, at least for now. Mike is centering Jordan Fulton and Rob Bordson, while Jack centers Travis Oleksuk and Justin Fontaine. I'll miss seeing the Connollies on a line together, but I have to think this will be temporary, because all line combinations are temporary.)

If UMD revives the offense and gets the kind of solid goaltending they've had for something like 90 percent of the season, things will be just fine. If only one of those things returns, they can still win games.

If neither of them back, the naysayers will have the last laugh.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

UMD needs to stick with Reiter in goal...through this skid, he's been the constant to the equation.