Friday, February 18, 2011

Not Your Mother's .500 Team

A four-game road stretch begins for UMD Friday night in Mankato.

It's a critical set of games, and none of these eight points will come easily.

The fun starts with a tough, hard-nosed Minnesota State team. The Mavericks haven't had a ton of success in WCHA play this season, but that's not for a lack of trying. Eight of MSU's 13 WCHA losses have been by one or two goals, and seven of those were one-goal defeats.

Earlier this season, Minnesota State had a stretch of seven league games they failed to win, but none of them were decided by more than two goals.

Bottom line: MSU is in virtually every game they play, home or away. They're not blessed with a ton of goal scoring threats, but they have been playing strong defensively all season, and they have good goaltenders in Phil Cook and Austin Lee.

Michael Dorr, a one-time UMD commit, and defenseman Kurt Davis are the Mavericks' top players. In a league full of solid to very good defensemen, Davis is almost forgotten when people talk about guys like Chay Genoway and Jake Gardiner. He'll quarterback the Mavs' power play, and he is the guy they call on to take the big shifts in the big minutes at the end of close games. Since MSU has been in a lot of close games, they know what to do when it's crunch time, even if they don't always find a way to score that big goal.

It's a recipe for a tough 120 minutes of hockey, especially when you look at how they play. They get in their opponents' faces, they don't give up a lot of room, and they like when masses of humanity collide, especially when they initiate the contact.

Simply put, it won't be any easier for the Connolly-Connolly-Fontaine line than it was last weekend, when St. Cloud State hounded them and hit them (sometimes against the rules) from the opening faceoff Friday to the end of overtime Saturday.

It was 125 minutes of what UMD doesn't want. Their opponent out-physicaled them and generally out-played them.

Don't think that isn't motivation for this team this weekend. There is something to be said for redemption after a tough weekend. That's what the Bulldogs are shooting for in Mankato.

Their opponent might be listed in tenth place, and might be a .500 team in the overall standings, but they don't really look like that. They look like a team that could be really dangerous if you take them lightly, or if you're not sharp in your own zone.

In other words, they look a hell of a lot like St. Cloud State did a week ago at this time.

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