Friday, October 29, 2010

Bulldogs Try to End Another Skid

Last weekend, J.T. Brown's overtime goal ended a streak of four straight meetings at the DECC in which UMD failed to beat Alaska-Anchorage. It was a bit of a puzzling streak, because it isn't like UAA has ever been a WCHA juggernaut.

Friday was hardly easy. UAA played very well. In fact, coach Dave Shyiak told the Anchorage Daily News it was their best effort so far this season.

"It was a good, good team effort on Friday, and everyone contributed," he said.

Saturday saw UAA lose a couple defensemen, and they just wore down as UMD did a much better job protecting the puck and generating chances. The Bulldogs won the game 6-0, and while it didn't feel like a 6-0 game, UMD was surely happy to pick up a blowout win over a team probably best described as a nemesis.

Now, it's Bemidji's turn.

The Bulldogs haven't won a game in Bemidji since late in the 2004-2005 season, despite playing once there most years.

(Before Bemidji joined the WCHA, UMD would play home-and-home series against the Beavers for two years, then the Beavers would play twice in Duluth the third year. This was the pattern most of the last 12 years.)

There have been painful losses, anemic offensive performances, and even bad nights for stout goalies. And when Alex Stalock gets yanked from a game, you know it isn't a good game for UMD.

Perhaps playing twice there will be enough for UMD to reverse the fortunes. The Bulldogs will play there Friday and Saturday nights, meaning we get to see two games in the brand new Sanford Center, a 4,000-plus seat facility built on the south shore of Lake Bemidji. It's an impressive facility, one bound to be more comfortable than the old John Glas Fieldhouse, which had a lot of character and a great atmosphere, but wasn't well-suited for Division III hockey, to be blunt.

Don't read too much into Bemidji's record. The Beavers might be 0-2, but they played mighty North Dakota in those games, and it was a weekend series wrought with distractions, as it served as opening weekend for the Bemidji Regional Events Center. Of course, these will be the Beavers' first games at Sanford Center, so maybe they'll still have issues focusing ...

Anyway, they boast one of college hockey's best players in senior forward Matt Read. Beaver coach Tom Serratore says they're not that deep, but Read, defenseman Brad Hunt, and goalie Dan Bakala make a formidable top group of players. Guys like forwards Jordan George, Ian Lowe, and Jamie MacQueen can hurt you, too, and in UMD's case, they all pretty much have at some point.

This is a relentless team, one that never stops coming at you. If they get caught up in their own zone, they've always seemed willing to just take an icing to slow the game down. No, you can't change lines after an icing anymore, but it still brings you a stoppage in play. More importantly, it gives a team the chance to win a faceoff.

UMD hasn't been particularly good on faceoffs yet, and it is something that could burn them this weekend if they're constantly giving up puck possession.

The Bulldogs are 5-0-1, but no one thinks they've played their best hockey yet. They're progressing in that direction, and now they have to prove they can beat a pesky team on the road. No more excuses about bus legs, because the team is already in Bemidji.

They're good. We know that. But now UMD has to go beat them anyway.

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