Thursday, October 21, 2010

The Alaska Conundrum

February 24, 2007.

My son had just turned five. I'm pretty sure Brett Favre was still a Packer, and no one thought anything weird would ever happen.

Hell, Alex Stalock was riding the pine at this point in his freshman season.

My, how times have changed.

That was the last time the UMD Bulldogs beat Alaska-Anchorage at the DECC. Granted, the Seawolves haven't been here every year since, but it's still not a good streak for UMD fans. UAA is 3-0-1 at the DECC during that span.

It's not just about UMD "playing down to its competition," as many fans will suggest. While the Bulldogs have their occasional struggles with the likes of Michigan Tech, they swept the season series from Minnesota State last year, and they usually do pretty well against the Techies (only four of eight points last year, but six of eight the year before, and five of eight in each of the previous two years -- and most of those UMD teams struggled overall, too).

The point? There's something about the Seawolves.

You can blame pests like Kevin Clark, or talented players of the past like Paul Crowder, but the reality is that UAA is not a good matchup for UMD, especially at the smaller DECC.

The Seawolves present problems for the Bulldogs because of their size and their style of play. UAA likes to bang bodies, and while UMD isn't opposed to some hitting here and there, they aren't as physical of a team. They also aren't as big.

Dave Shyiak likes him the bigger and older players. These are guys who have cut their teeth with (usually) multiple years of junior hockey. They get in your face. They get in your goaltender's face. They love to play that hard-nosed style and make life tough on skilled players.

For UMD, there are some keys to success this weekend. It starts with their defense. They don't have the biggest group on the blue line, and they can't let UAA players get position in front of the UMD goal. Some of those guys can block out the sun if you let them.

The Bulldogs may not be able to use stretch passes as often as they'd like. Instead, they're going to have to rely on smart, accurate, shorter passes, as they use their speed to get the puck up the rink. From there, get it deep in the UAA zone, and win battles to get scoring chances.

The Seawolves have a ton of inexperience on the roster. For a lot of these guys, this is foreign territory ... a long, long flight, three-hour time change, and an unfamiliar environment with the small rink. Shyiak smartly got his team here Wednesday, giving them a chance to skate Wednesday night at the DECC, then again Thursday, followed by the traditional morning skates Friday and Saturday. The extra time in Duluth will get them acclimated to the major time change, along with the difference in rink dimensions.

This won't be easy at all for UMD. As in the past with UAA, they'll have to work for everything they get. The games will be low-scoring, and if UAA's freshman goalie(s) outplay UMD's goalie(s), it could be a long weekend at the DECC.

I certainly hope not, but I also tend to think the recent struggles against UAA are more than just the Bulldogs not taking care of business. This is a matchup issue to an extent.

We heard Providence was a Michigan Tech-type of team. That didn't really work out, as the Friars were overmatched and really looked it, especially on Saturday. It's unlikely that UMD will get a similar break from Alaska-Anchorage. Instead, these four points will have to be earned.


Anonymous said...

Great article Bruce. Great points. Gives more things to watch this weekend.

Anonymous said...

Made my way from the Donalds UAA Blog. With two freshman goalies still trying to prove themselves, and the explosive offense that UMD shows, I wouldn't be surprised to see at least one blow out.

Anonymous said...

to add onto what I just said, it is a great article written.