Saturday, February 19, 2011

Saturday Hockey Notes and Thoughts: Get Your Finger Off That Thing!

MANKATO, Minn. -- Definite disappointment here Friday night, as UMD continues to hurt their own MacNaughton Cup cause.

On Friday, early defensive breakdowns led to mid-point disciplinary breakdowns, and then a 28-shot third period couldn't get UMD on the board again in a 3-1 loss to Minnesota State.

I mentioned numerous times during the second period that UMD was continuously stubbing their toe by committing some dumb, undisciplined penalties.

Naturally, a three-game winless streak, and a "fall" to eighth in the Pairwise means that UMD fans are going to start reaching for that big red fictional button.

That's not a shot at them. Virtually any fanbase in college hockey that had just seen their team fall off in the second half and miss the NCAA Tournament the year before would do the same thing.

With that being said, get your finger away from the button. This is hardly a time for such rash actions.

UMD had 41 shots on goal Friday, with 28 of those coming in that third period surge. Austin Lee was sharp, but there are areas where UMD needs to be better to help their own cause offensively.

It starts by being able to get bodies to the net when they can be helpful. Bumping Lee when he has already secured the puck won't do anything but get the officials mad. Shooting the puck before anyone can get to the net is just a recipe for padding Lee's stats, especially when he can trap the shots easily with his glove or his chest. Getting traffic to the net -- something UMD did a better job of in the closing minutes when it was an onslaught -- is the way to get him uncomfortable and make him less effective.

Defense and goaltending aren't a mirage for MSU. The Mavericks haven't allowed more than four goals in a game since Nov. 13, a span of 21 games.

More than the fact that they only scored one goal (it's not like UMD suffered from a lack of opportunity or effort in the offensive zone), the penalties and defense in front of Kenny Reiter are the biggest problems right now.

You can live with penalties like the boarding call on J.T. Brown in the first period. Without the benefit of replay, it looked borderline at best. Simply put, coaches can't tell their players to stop being aggressive, especially against a physical team like Minnesota State. When you play a game in Mankato, it's "hit or be hit."

However, the Bulldogs simply can't afford a number of the penalties they took Friday. Justin Fontaine got beaten to a puck at the four minute mark of the first period, so he hooked a guy down near the MSU blue line. I'll stop short of calling that a selfish penalty, but it certainly wasn't a good one to take. You don't want to let the MSU guy just have the puck, but UMD had numbers up the ice, and it wasn't like the Mavericks were about to spring a three-on-one or something.

Trent Palm, Brown, and Mike Connolly all had their share of undisciplined, drive-your-coaches-batty penalties in the second period. Again, without seeing a replay (what they did show on the video board during the game was such poor quality that it was useless in this regard), I felt Brown's hit -- what appeared to be an elbow to the chops on MSU's Chase Grant -- was ejection-worthy. Nonetheless, it was cheap and unnecessary, as Grant didn't have the puck, and Brown went out of his way to stick his elbow out.

Mike Connolly admitted as much to Kevin Pates afterward.

“We took ourselves out of the flow of the game in the second period with some undisciplined and unnecessary penalties," he said. "I took away a lot of the momentum and I accept the responsibility. I need to control my emotions and make better decisions.”

MSU didn't score on any of those second-period power plays, but it's hard to score goals when you're killing penalties. UMD was on the penalty kill for 9:41 of the 20-minute second period. Once UMD got their feet moving in the third, they magically were able to avoid any further infractions (the 3-1 score and 6-2 power play disparity through two periods may have had an impact on this, but how could I dare be so cynical regarding WCHA officials?).

Saturday is not a must-win, but it's a big game for UMD. Splitting in a tough place like Mankato is no sin. The Mavericks have given fits to the top teams in this league throughout the season. They'll give UMD fits Saturday.

The Bulldogs have to be the better team and get the job done.


Top five WCHA teams Friday night went 0-4-1. One of them lost at home to Michigan Tech, a team that had been winless in 26.

As happy as I am for Michigan Tech -- because like I said when we were in Houghton, there are a lot of good people both in and around that hockey program who have suffered a great deal this season, even if they aren't as emotionally invested as, say, I can be sometimes -- this is probably a bigger panic point for Denver than the last three games are for UMD.

The Pioneers were unbeaten in eight before a loss two weeks ago at Colorado College. Last Friday, they squeaked out a 2-1 win at Minnesota, and were then resoundingly thrashed 7-3 on Hockey Day Twin Cities. The follow-up to that was a 3-2 home loss to a team that hadn't won since the Minnesota Vikings were still thought to be a threat in the NFC. In that game, DU coughed up two short-handed goals while going scoreless in their four power plays.

Call me crazy, but I'm guessing that if anyone should be reaching for the magic red button that no one has ever really seen, it's Denver fans on this Saturday morning.


Loving all the trades Toronto has made. That organization has always been good to college hockey, especially since Brian Burke took over. As if having Matt Frattin lighting up the WCHA wasn't enough for Burke, he's added former Denver star Joe Colborne and current Wisconsin defenseman Jake Gardiner in recent trades.

Beyond the college hockey ties to these trades, Burke has added two first-round picks to a team that didn't have any before the last few days. He dealt his 2011 first-rounder to Boston in the Phil Kessel trade. Instead of worrying about watching his division rivals draft high because his team stinks, Burke has moved back into the first round, and with the picks and prospects he's acquired in the Kris Versteeg and Tomas Kaberle deals, he's a real threat to move higher.

That means he'll at least have a shot at drafting a young impact player in June.

One thing is practically for certain. Burke's not content to sit at the end of the first round and draft two junior prospects. He wants to move up, and he will do everything he can to get that done.

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