Friday, March 11, 2011

Playoff Hockey: Forget About the Past?

The UMD Bulldogs open WCHA playoff action against St. Cloud State Friday night.

When the pairing became official last Saturday, it invoked screeches of horror from UMD fans, who clearly haven't forgotten what happened at Amsoil Arena one month ago Friday.

That was when the Huskies rolled into town and -- as a certain KFAN talk-show host likes to say -- kicked six different kinds of dog manure out of UMD.

8-2 was the final. Obviously, in terms of wins and losses, it wouldn't have mattered if it was 3-2, and in the eyes of UMD fans, it might as well have been 18-2.

UMD had nothing for the Huskies on that night. As Kraig Karakas said at the end of the game, it's the kind of tape you just have to burn and forget about. UMD coach Scott Sandelin said the next night that he did watch the tape, but there wasn't much to draw on from it.

It was such a bad game that neither team can take anything significant from its result or its flow. UMD was bad in multiple areas, including battle level, passing, skating, hitting, and goaltending. But they failed elsewhere, too, and their result to falling way behind was less than desirable.

Since then, the Bulldogs have shown push-back while behind in games against St. Cloud State, Minnesota State, Colorado College, and Nebraska-Omaha. They're only 2-3-2 in that stretch, but they fought back while down, and were able to get a point out of a game (SCSU) in which they trailed 3-0.

There is no question the UMD side remembers that night. Oddly enough, it's SCSU coach Bob Motzko who is trying to forget it now, telling Kevin Pates it will have no bearing on this weekend.

I'm not sure I agree, though I normally feel the way Motzko does.

It doesn't seem like the Bulldogs are trying to cast that game from a month ago aside as insignificant, or an aberration, or anything remotely like that.

Instead, it sounds like they're trying to use that performance as a means for motivation. Granted, the ultimate motivation has to come from what's on the line, but it seems UMD is bound and determined to not let that -- or something close to it -- happen again.

The potential pitfalls this weekend are incredible for UMD. By all accounts, the Bulldogs could finish with a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament if they win the Final Five, but they could also play themselves out of the tourney altogether by not performing well this weekend. It's not a likely scenario, but no team wants to take their fate -- so to speak -- out of their hands by not getting the job done on the ice.

This is not an ideal matchup for UMD, but there wasn't one to be found in the range of potential opponents UMD had by Saturday. Denver won, eliminating the best possible scenario, which was Minnesota State as an opening-round foe.

That left Bemidji State, St. Cloud State, and Alaska-Anchorage as the options. Losing the UNO game Saturday eliminated Bemidji from the list, and with Dan Bakala and their defense, that wasn't ideal anyway. UAA plays a tough, physical style that can be akin to football at times. In the playoffs, where so much more is usually let go by officials who don't want to be part of the outcome, that's not always a good kind of team to play against.

That left the Huskies, who out-everythinged the Bulldogs for that one game a month ago, then watched in horror as UMD stormed back from 3-0 down the next night, looking very much like the 20-win Bulldogs.

St. Cloud has talent. Garrett Roe has been on fire, Aaron Marvin -- for all his obvious faults -- is one of the best two-way forwards in the league, and their defensive corps has some impressive young talent, most notably freshman Nick Jensen. Mike Lee has been good in goal lately after an up-and-down start to the season that played a huge role in the Huskies' struggles out of the gate.

Which UMD team will St. Cloud State see this weekend?

Quick answer: If it's the one that lose 8-2, it doesn't matter who the opponent is. If it's the one that pushed back the next night, this will be a fun weekend at Amsoil Arena.

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