Friday, February 19, 2010

Emotionally Spent, or Galvanized and Motivated for Surge?

GRAND FORKS, N.D. -- This the ultimate question surrounding this weekend's UMD-North Dakota men's hockey series.

It's one that no one is remotely qualified to answer.

In November, when UMD faced North Dakota at the DECC, the Sioux were still reeling from a November injury to All-American defenseman Chay Genoway. The injury -- a concussion -- was bad enough, but the circumstances -- a dirty hit from St. Cloud State forward Aaron Marvin -- made it even tougher to swallow.

You can move on quickly when you watch a key player suffer a concussion in a freak accident or a clean hit. It's harder when you see him go down from a dirty, vicious, unnecessary hit, and you know you have to face that player and his team again later in the season.

North Dakota went into a slump after Christmas, winning just one of seven games. It was a streak that started with a one-point weekend at Minnesota. The reeling Gophers had life, if only for a week or so.

Last weekend, the slump continued. The seventh game in this painful stretch for UND was at St. Cloud State last Friday. The Huskies were outskated, outplayed, and badly outshot, but they somehow came out of the game with a 4-3 win. Once again, North Dakota played well, and they had nothing to show for it.

They took out their frustrations in St. Cloud Saturday. A game that featured a near-fight and a third-period scrum ended up 8-1 in North Dakota's favor. The Sioux pumped in six goals in the second period, scored a total of five power-play markers, and chased a once-hot goalie in Mike Lee from the game.

Afterwards, the Sioux talked about how important it was to get back in the win column, but also how important it was to take care of the Marvin storyline.

So where does this leave North Dakota? This is a talented, mature, well-coached hockey team. As UMD comes to town, however, do they have more emotions in the tank to draw from?

Did they spend it all getting a measure of revenge on Marvin? Was that the turning point, and the start of a huge run from a team very familiar with huge runs?

UMD may find this out the hard way.

Now, this won't be a Sioux-per weekend for UND without a little effort. The Bulldogs get energeting junior Kyle Schmidt back in the lineup. UMD's best even-strength goal-scorer has ten on the season, and the team clearly missed his spark while he was out. It's hard to explain, but Schmidt's dynamic speed and hockey smarts make his linemates better, and he's learned how to use his speed and play more consistently this season.

This is a good place for Schmidt to return. It's the site of his first collegiate goal, back in November of 2007. That was UMD's last trip to Grand Forks, and it ended in a split.

For the Bulldogs to clinch home ice, they have to bring the pain both nights, from the start to the finish. North Dakota will forecheck the daylights out of UMD, making it hard for their defensemen to move the puck up the rink. The forwards will have to be active in supporting their mates and limiting the effectiveness of the forecheck.

Of course, the best way to beat a forecheck is to get the puck up the rink and create odd-man situations at the other end. Get a couple two-on-one chances, and suddenly UND may be a bit hesitant to throw the kitchen sink into the offensive zone.

UMD is in a good position, despite a 2-4 record in their six games before the break. Now, they have to improve on that position and make this a truly special season.

No comments: