Friday, October 28, 2011

Bemidji State Visit Means Bulldogs Must Roll Up Sleeves

Just think. Had the 2010-11 season played out differently, we could be sitting here talking about how the Bulldogs are trying to exact a measure of revenge this weekend.

Instead, it's just another opponent that will try to measure itself against the defending NCAA champions. Weird how that works out, isn't it?

Last March, Bemidji State got a controversial power play in overtime against UMD at the Final Five, and turned it into the winning goal. Had that been the end of UMD's season, the tone of this series would be immeasurably different.

Instead, UMD looks at another step in the right direction this weekend. There have been seven WCHA series played so far. Six of them have ended in home team sweeps. The only one that didn't? Minnesota's sweep at Amsoil Arena two weekends ago.

Now, the Bulldogs come off a relatively successful weekend in Providence, and it's time to get the first league points of the season. Bemidji State comes in trying to build more momentum off their sweep of Michigan Tech last weekend in Bemidji.

The Beavers are a solid team, largely because of their work ethic, skating ability, and an in-your-face style that tends to cause problems for UMD on occasion. They're like Michigan Tech and Alaska-Anchorage, two teams that give UMD tons of fits, but senior defenseman Brady Lamb says there are differences.

On Tech and UAA, Lamb says they like to center things around puck battles on the wall. With Bemidji, "sort of general principle is the same. They aren't so much along the wall, but they sort of wait for opponents to make mistakes and jump on them. There's a lot of dump and chase of pucks, and wait for an opportunity there."

UMD needs to show they can win that more grinding style of a hockey game. They got a taste of it last weekend in Providence, and for the most part, the Bulldogs showed they can handle it. Head coach Scott Sandelin said he wasn't thrilled with the third period UMD played on Saturday, a period that saw Providence twice rally from one-goal deficits to eventually force overtime. Other than that, he seemed pleased with what he saw from his team.

Despite that, Sandelin has made some changes to his forward lines. The Crandall - Herbert - Grun group remains intact (and that's cool, because that was UMD's most consistent line last weekend), but Travis Oleksuk moves to left wing on Jack Connolly's line. Mike Seidel moves to right wing on the second line, now centered by Jake Hendrickson.

Oleksuk - Connolly - Brown is the second attempt by UMD to create a line that is a threat to score every time it hops the boards. That's the dynamic that FCC brought this team that is almost impossible to duplicate, but yet you have to try. Having a top line that dangerous makes everyone else more dangerous, because eventually, someone will make a mistake and forget about a player because he isn't on that top line.

As UMD moves forward with this season, there is no guarantee the OCB line (every time they score, they go back for more) is going to stick the way FCC did. But Sandelin can push other buttons if necessary. The production and consistency that UMD has gotten out of the Herbert line allows the head coach to try a few different things without giving off an aura of panic about things.

A Bemidji team without Matt Read (NHL player with Philadelphia now) might seem less dangerous, but the Beavers' work ethic and intensity makes them a threat every time they play.

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