Friday, March 04, 2011

UMD Wraps Up Regular Season

In a way, the long journey ends this weekend.

Of course, the real journey is just beginning.

Seems like just a couple weeks ago when we were in Sault Ste. Marie, Mich., getting ready for UMD's season opener, hoping not to have to kill three hours in a hospitality room because they needed us out of our hotel rooms early.

Now, we're getting ready to shut the door on another regular season.

Nebraska-Omaha is the opponent this weekend, which means former North Dakota coach and two-time NCAA championship-winning coach Dean Blais -- now in his second year at UNO -- is in town. Blais was UMD coach Scott Sandelin's boss at North Dakota, then went 6-1 against him during Sandelin's first year at UMD.

The student is 3-5-1 against the teacher since that season, but the two haven't faced each other since 2004, and UMD hasn't beaten a Blais-coached team since the 2003 WCHA Final Five.

The Mavericks come in off a solid run of five wins in six to close out their home schedule, including a sweep of Wisconsin that sent the Badgers into a tailspin. UNO has 20 wins, and is guaranteed a top-four finish in the WCHA standings in their first season in the league.

They've got some guys up front who can score, and Blais has gotten the most out of some upperclassmen he had no hand in recruting, including senior forwards Joey Martin, Matt Ambroz, and Rich Purslow. Goalie John Faulkner is nearing the school record for wins in a season, and he leads the league in shutouts.

He should be ready to play this weekend, too, as he was pulled during his last start, a loss to Denver Saturday.

UNO is a typical Blais team, with plenty of speed, great puck skills, toughness, and smart two-way forwards leading the way. He's molded the team to his identity, and he's a favorite for WCHA Coach of the Year (or, at least, he should be).

UMD has struggled as of late, going 1-3-2 in their last six games. The Bulldogs have to play smarter in front of their net, which should have Kenny Reiter in it for Friday's game. This is Reiter's chance to cement his status as the No. 1 goalie going into the playoffs. Aaron Crandall struggled last weekend in Colorado, and Reiter played very well both in relief Friday and then in his start Saturday.

Defensively, the Bulldogs have to support the goaltender, limiting chances and doing a better job possessing the puck. A big issue lately has been their ability to support the puck out of the defensive zone. Forwards have -- at times -- been heading up the rink without the puck, leaving defensemen vulnerable to aggressive forechecks. UMD has to chip the puck out and get after it aggressively.

The Bulldogs are at their best when they play an in-your-face, aggressive style all over the ice. If that sounds familiar, it's something Blais drills into his teams, too. If all goes as planned, there should be plenty of up-and-down, exciting hockey played at Amsoil Arena this weekend, because both teams want to push the pace, and both teams have the horses to make it happen.

--> We'll see if junior defenseman Brady Lamb gets back in the lineup this weekend. Lamb has been battling an upper-body injury suffered Feb. 11 against St. Cloud State. The hope is that he'll be able to play one game this weekend, at least.

--> Five seniors -- forwards Justin Fontaine and Kyle Schmidt and defensemen Chad Huttel, Mike Montgomery, and Trent Palm -- will be honored during the first intermission of Saturday's annual Senior Night game. The five are right back on the home rink next weekend for what will really be their final home series, as UMD hosts a yet-to-be-determined opponent in the first round of the WCHA playoffs.

--> Junior Jack Connolly has an 11-game point streak, a career high, and he's at 49 points for the season. If he gets one point this weekend, he'll become the first UMD player since Judd Medak in 2001-02 to reach 50 points in the regular season. Junior Lessard and Evan Schwabe both had well over 50 points in 2003-04, but neither got to 50 points before the WCHA playoffs started.

--> Fontaine hit 150 career points last weekend in Colorado, in his 150th game. Mike Peluso (1994-98) was the last UMD player to play four years for the Bulldogs and end his career with an average of a point per game.


Biddco said...

How much do you believe the loss of Olsen has effected the team? Could he be the reason why our second half record is not that great?

Bruce Ciskie said...

Our defensive play has been not great at various points this season. Sometimes, the goalies have bailed them out, and sometimes they haven't.

Like coach said at the luncheon today, we're not "bad" right now, and we're not "great" either. Gotta get back to where we were earlier, when we were closer to great more often than not.

I know 1-3-2 over the last six doesn't look great, but there's still a good chance this weekend to get it turned around.