Wednesday, April 06, 2011

Frozen Four: How Dylan Olsen's Departure Changed UMD

ST. PAUL -- Dylan Olsen left UMD in late December, choosing to sign with the Chicago Blackhawks during the World Juniors and report to the American Hockey League's Rockford Ice Hogs.

Olsen hasn't exactly been lighting the world on fire in Rockford, as he has just four assists in 38 games, and he has a minus-14 rating, second worst on the team (Kyle Beach has a minus-23 in 67 games).

This isn't meant as a slam on Dylan. No matter the circumstances of his departure, or how poorly it was handled by the player, he's a good kid, and we wish him well in the pros. His success is a win for UMD, no matter how long he stayed or when he left.

When Dylan left, it was abundantly clear that UMD had some work to do to account for his loss. This wasn't going to be a simple case of "plug someone else in that role and we'll be fine." It was likely something that would take time, and it might not always look like it's going well.

In fact, I wrote on Jan. 2 that UMD will "have to adjust on the fly to not having him (Olsen) again this season. For the likes of Wade Bergman, Brady Lamb, Mike Montgomery, Drew Olson, and Faulk, the job is tougher. Olsen not being around doesn't make this a better team."

It still doesn't make this a better team.

"He's a good player, and it was a loss," senior captain Mike Montgomery said Thursday.

Oddly enough, though, Olsen's decision may have helped bring on what you see today, which is UMD preparing for their first Frozen Four since 2004.

Before the season, many were wondering how the Bulldogs would be able to manage playing time for ten defensemen. The answer? Have Olsen leave early, redshirt freshman Luke McManus (who is going to be a good player), and suddenly you're down to a manageable eight defensemen.

For guys like Trent Palm and Drew Olson, whose playing time had been spotty in the first half, this was an opportunity.

"It opens it up for other guys to step in and make contributions," Montgomery said. "We really had a lot of depth to our D-corps. Before that, we were really rotating a lot of guys in. In the past two months or so, we've really solidified the six guys we have."

That doesn't mean it was easy.

"Dylan was a second power play unit guy, he was having a great year," coach Scott Sandelin said.

In his place, UMD has used guys like Montgomery, Brady Lamb, and Wade Bergman to fill that hole on the second power play unit. Justin Faulk has been the only defenseman on the top power play unit for some time now, with UMD rotating Mike Connolly and Justin Fontaine at the other point, and Jack Connolly working down low with either Connolly or Fontaine and a combination that has included David Grun, J.T. Brown, and most recently, Mike Seidel.

It allowed Sandelin to throw a lot of different looks at teams, and it didn't really seem to cause any ill effect to the power play's performance.

On defense, Bergman has been up and down at times, but mainly on the up side, despite spending much of the season battling through injuries. Bergman is just a rock-solid guy on the blue line, not a high-scoring player, but a highly-effective one in all areas.

Lamb fought off an upper-body injury that could have been much worse than it was, and he's been very good since his return in early March. After struggling at times, Lamb has undeniably played his best hockey as of late.

As for Olson and Palm, they've battled and worked their tails off, and while neither is a high-scoring player who will make a huge impact, Olson's speed can make a difference when he gets the puck. Palm has seen virtually everything there is to see, and his experience is a valuable part of this defensive group.

These are things that might not have happened if Olsen had remained eligible and stayed. It's easy to say UMD would still be in the Frozen Four, but that's not a given. You change circumstances like that, and sometimes it can affect results, even if it doesn't seem like it would.

"He left, but you know what? I guess it's his loss for not staying and being here," Sandelin said.

If only it were that easy ...

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