Monday, January 03, 2011

UMD Tries to Find Itself Again

CANTON, N.Y. -- For the UMD Bulldogs, the grind has resumed.

After a two-week break that followed a simply bizarre weekend at Minnesota -- nearly 20 inches of snow postponed a game and brought down the Metrodome, which was within view of our hotel -- the Bulldogs fell 5-0 to North Dakota Thursday in the Amsoil Arena opener.

It was a good hockey game that turned into a thrashing and an embarrassment for UMD. Throw in the injury to Kyle Schmidt and the departure of Dylan Olsen, along with the absence of Justin Faulk, and you have a lot of negativity introduced to a team that was rolling out of the gates.

Of course, nothing eliminates negativity more than a few goals and a couple wins, and the Bulldogs have that opportunity before them in upstate New York. It's UMD's first-ever visit to Cheel Arena in Potsdam, N.Y., and these goofy Monday-Tuesday games will probably help set the course for UMD's second half.

(In case you're wondering, the Monday-Tuesday series was necessitated by Clarkson basically double-booking itself. The initial plan was for UMD to be here for Thanksgiving weekend, but Clarkson was already scheduled to play in the Denver Cup. Denver normally has that event the weekend after Christmas, but moved it to Thanksgiving for whatever reason -- attendance, worries about World Junior losses, whatever. So Clarkson needed to move the UMD series, and the Bulldog coaches were kind enough to oblige. Personally, I would have made them forfeit. Smiley)

UMD does have to figure some things out. Quickly. Even at 12-4-3, there isn't much time to mess around and miss out on wins.

Where will the secondary scoring come from? Schmidt's absence isn't just a loss in terms of hockey smarts and speed. Schmidt has 18 goals over the last season and a half, and 16 of those have come even-strength. Without Schmidt, and with the second line of Schmidt, Travis Oleksuk, and J.T. Brown already struggling a bit at times recently, the coaches are challenged to find combinations on the second, third, and fourth lines that can generate chances and occasional goals.

A key player in this will be Mike Seidel. The sophomore didn't have his best game against North Dakota, but he's good around the net, is an offensive threat, and is still developing his game.

Will the FCC line force de-regulation? At this point in the season, there's little doubt that Mike Connolly (above) is UMD's best player. He drives opponents batty with his constant hustle and willingness to put his stick where some might argue it doesn't belong. He's a key cog in the power play, penalty kill, and top forward line. Frankly, there isn't much he doesn't do well. He even knows how to break glass.

However, the top line hasn't been humming as it was early in the season. One has to wonder if they can re-gain some of that lost mojo, or if it might be time to spread the proverbial wealth. We brought this up during Thursday's broadcast, and the idea isn't as easy to resist as it was in November.

No switch would be permanent, of course. There's always room for having your three best offensive players on a line together, and there's no doubt these three can handle large gobs of ice time.

Of course, in the end, the best way to keep defenses from stopping your three best offensive players might be to have them separated a bit, thereby keeping them from focusing all their juice on one line.

Who steps up on defense? A friend texted me last night to play the "What If?" game. After all, if you keep guys like Evan Oberg and Dylan Olsen from leaving early, you could have them working defensively with Mike Montgomery, Justin Faulk, Wade Bergman, and Brady Lamb right now. That would be pretty scary for opponents.

However, we've already seen one player step up his game this season, and now it's time for a second. Sophomore Drew Olson has vastly improved. He can skate, he isn't afraid to bring the puck up the rink, but he's also strong in his own zone and can play the physical game.

Throw in Bergman's ferocious hip checks, and Lamb's ability to hit, and you have some solid physical play on the blue line.

Now, we'll see if Scott Kishel can become the every-night player we all want to see him be. No one figures to benefit more from Olsen's departure, as Kishel can play the power play and is improving with the puck. He has to keep getting better defensively, but we're seeing signs that he can get the job done.

Once Faulk returns, Kishel will have to battle Lamb for power-play time, but that would probably be good for both guys. They're both capable offensive players who haven't yet blossomed in that area this season.

It all starts with Monday Night Hockey in Potsdam. Follow me on Twitter for updates, or listen to the game live at

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