Saturday, March 12, 2011

Saturday Hockey Notes and Thoughts: Bulldogs One Win Away From St. Paul

Writing while watching the Hermantown-St. Thomas Academy game is hard, but we'll try to persevere.

UMD looked strong Friday night at Amsoil Arena, winning 4-2 in front of a less-than-large crowd that appeared distracted at times by the Duluth East game that was going on at the same time.

The Bulldogs got an early lead and then gave up what has to be fairly categorized as a soft goal to tie the score, following the exact script of the team's 8-2 loss to St. Cloud State exactly a month earlier.

Then they flipped the script. They played strong defensively, giving little time and space to St. Cloud's top skill players, Garrett Roe and Drew LeBlanc. Coach Scott Sandelin was able to match his top line of Connolly/Connolly/Fontaine up with Roe's line effectively, which bears watching as the series continues Saturday night.

Line matchups can become important in the playoffs, and Sandelin's ability to use his top line against the Huskies' top group could prove huge as we move forward. UMD has a good defensive line, with Jake Hendirckson, Joe Basaraba, and David Grun. If necessary, Sandelin -- who gets the last line change as the home coach -- could work that group against Roe's line. But if FCC can play against them and be effective, there's no reason to do anything different.

Now, it's time for a follow-up. There are a few areas where UMD needs to be improved over Friday.

Kenny Reiter made a couple nice saves, most notably in the third period. He also allowed a soft goal to David Eddy, and was victimized by that odd goal through the five-hole in the third period. Not going to blame him on that, but it's a goal a lot of today's goalies -- with such butterfly tendencies -- probably wouldn't have given up. Reiter looked a bit uneven at times, like he might have been fighting the puck. He also came up big a few times, making it clear he was seeing the puck just fine, thankyouverymuch. Just need him to be a little more consistent. We know he can do it, as he was a huge factor in last year's playoff run.

Defensively, there were few breakdowns and few poor shifts. St. Cloud State is going to come hard Saturday, especially in the first ten to 15 minutes of the game. UMD has to exceed that intensity level and play the game at the level they did Friday, at the minimum. An early lead might be enough to get SCSU to break down a bit, given that they're playing from their season and know it.

The next time someone says "You make your own luck" to you, slap them. UMD hit five pipes Friday, and had two more go off SCSU goalie Mike Lee, meaning they counted as saves and not pipes. There's no real way to fix that, but UMD did a great job fighting off the bad luck and continuing to work hard and bear down on the net Friday. It's sometimes easier said than done, but it has to continue Saturday to avoid Sunday.

And we all want to avoid Sunday. Though we'll do it if that's what it takes to go to St. Paul.


Road teams tasted success Friday. Alaska-Anchorage won at Minnesota, Wisconsin at Colorado College, and Bemidji State at Nebraska-Omaha.

Not to say that St. Cloud State or Minnesota State can't come back, but it's a much more daunting task to win two straight on the road than it is to win one of two. Those Friday night road winners are in much better position to steal their series.

(No, I'm not looking it up, but I'm guessing it's not terribly common for the home team to win Friday and then lose Saturday and Sunday. It's probably happened the other way around far more often.)

I posted on Twitter during the week that I thought Wisconsin, Bemidji State, and UAA had the best shots at winning their series among the five road teams that weren't playing UMD. Nothing really shocked me there on Friday, as Dan Bakala carried the Beavers, Wisconsin rode a strong defense (I had looked at one point in the second period, and CC had 12 total shots on goal despite having five power play chances), and the Seawolves just keep playing well.

Based on the crowds I saw a couple times that I caught UAA on TV, no one in Anchorage had really noticed their improved hockey team. Hopefully, they'll get the message if the Seawolves can manage one more win in Minneapolis.

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