Friday, February 11, 2011

Resilient Bulldogs Look to Establish Dominance Defensively

So far this season, the UMD Bulldogs have overcome a lot of on-ice and off-ice adversity. The night before the Amsoil Arena opener, senior Kyle Schmidt broke his hand in practice, necessitating a five-week layoff and shaking up the team's cohesive forward lines the night before a huge event in Duluth. UMD entered that game already without defensemen Justin Faulk and Dylan Olsen (World Juniors), and they were pasted 5-0 in the opener.

The next day, Olsen signed with the Blackhawks, becoming the scourge of UMD fans across the Northland.

This was a point where negativity among UMD fans couldn't have been higher, but the Bulldogs simply flew out to New York, overcame freak illnesses to at least three players, and swept Clarkson to right the ship, so to speak.

(As much as a 12-4-3 team needed their ship righted, UMD did, and they got it done.)

UMD is now 6-1-1 in the calendar year 2011, including a 4-1-1 mark in WCHA play that's allowed them to move into a share of first place in the league.

Frankly, there isn't much to complain about right now. And that's coming from a guy who tends to find things to complain about sometimes. Smiley

With St. Cloud State coming to town, the Bulldogs are trying to do a few things. For starters, they need to keep getting better. Yes, even Mike Connolly.

The Bulldogs won't turn down more production from a power play that's been struggling at under 20 percent since Olsen left, and they probably would like to see more scoring from their third and fourth lines.

(That's not to say that Keegan Flaherty's and Jake Hendrickson's lines haven't played well. Hendrickson, Max Tardy, and Joe Basaraba have been very good as of late, and are on the verge of breaking out.)

More than that, though, I think UMD would like to see a bit more responsible play out of their defense. There have been some mishandled pucks, bad passes, and bad decisions (when to get back and when to pinch in the offensive zone, for example) that have led to turnovers, scoring chances, and goals recently.

If there's something about UMD's play right now that could really hurt them in the NCAA Tournament, this is it. No matter what it takes, the Bulldogs have to find a way to take better care of the puck, especially on their side of the red line. As we get closer to the tournament, teams will feed more and more off those transition opportunities. The team that does the best job preventing odd-man rushes the other way will have a great chance to win games.

With guys like Garrett Roe and Ben Hanowski on the ice, St. Cloud State will provide a good test for UMD's defensive responsibility. If you give Roe an inch, he'll either take a mile or perhaps find a way to make it look like he did. He's great with the puck, and he can frustrate opponents with his tenaciousness and ability to draw attention from officials (read: dive).

You have to be careful with Roe.

Don't sleep on the Huskies goaltending, either. Mike Lee's numbers are improving, and we'll probably see a lot of the former Roseau Ram this weekend.

Speaking of people not to sleep on, David Eddy's been clicking at a point per game since he returned from an academic suspension. He's talented and bears watching.

There's a lot for UMD to play for here. The Bulldogs have the stated goals of winning the MacNaughton, Broadmoor, and NCAA trophies this season. Every weekend in these final four needs to be considered important, because it can get UMD closer to the MacNaughton.

From there, it's one down, two to go.

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