Thursday, September 29, 2011

UMD Ready to Hit Someone Else

For the defending NCAA champion UMD Bulldogs, a month or so of captain's practice is about to end. Official workouts start Saturday morning at Amsoil Arena, and that leads right into UMD's season-opening exhibition game Sunday against Lakehead University.

As head coach Scott Sandelin, entering his 12th season at UMD, said Wednesday, it's a chance for both teams to see what they have. He noted that Lakehead is still in the process of putting their roster together, so the Thunderwolves will be evaluating while they play two NCAA teams this weekend (they are in Houghton to play Michigan Tech Saturday).

UMD will be able to play all member of its roster Sunday, outside of sophomore forward Max Tardy. Sandelin said Wednesday that Tardy is battling an injury and is not expected to play. Because it's an exhibition, teams are allowed to dress more players than the standard 20 (12 forwards, six defense, two goalies, usually).

It's live action. More importantly, it's a chance for the Bulldogs to hit players who aren't wearing the same colors. That's always a vibe you get at this point in the fall. Guys enjoy their time together, and they enjoy being on the ice. But they get sick of hitting each other and battling each other. They want to see different colors and not be fighting their own teammates.

As for things you can potentially watch for on Sunday ...
  • Who will be on the top line? Sandelin used the phrase "work in progress" to describe the offensive lineup. You can plug J.T. Brown and Mike Seidel up there, but don't be stunned if a different combination works better with center Jack Connolly. UMD had its top line together for almost the entire season a year ago, a luxury rare in hockey.
  • Only three really experienced defensemen are back, four if you count senior Scott Kishel, who didn't play much last season. Juniors Wade Bergman and Drew Olson and senior Brady Lamb are also back, but there is a lot of youth. Freshman Luke McManus might be a first-year player in terms of eligibility, but the year he got last year as a redshirt is valuable.
  • If you're looking for freshmen who might make an impact, don't sleep on forward Caleb Herbert. The former Bloomington Jefferson star will be a goal-scorer for UMD before he's done. On defense, the bloodlines help, but Derik Johnson is just a big, tough kid who will play the position well. Sandelin likes Johnson, and said he was a guy who Penticton (BCHL) used last year against top forward lines, so he has a lot of experience against top talents.
The goaltending situation -- Kenny Reiter and Aaron Crandall both return -- could be interesting, but that's not getting solved Sunday. I think both guys will see playing time as we get started in the next few weeks.

There is a lot to do for UMD Sunday, as the team tries to get its feet wet while integrating a lot of new faces. It's step one for a team that's ready to get back to the grind and go after more national accolades.

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