Saturday, October 15, 2011

Saturday Hockey Notes and Thoughts: Special Teams Not So Special

When Nate Condon made a great play to bat the puck out of the air past UMD goalie Kenny Reiter in overtime Friday night, it marked the first time UMD lost an overtime game in Amsoil Arena, and it marked the first time the Gophers scored a goal in the game while each team had five skaters on the ice.

The Gophers took advantage of opportunities presented to them by an undisciplined UMD squad, scoring three power play goals in the first two periods. UMD paid for a relatively passive penalty kill, and had its best kill of the game in the third period when they were more aggressive in the defensive zone.

(In UMD's defense, it's a lot easier to be aggressive when you start a penalty kill by winning the faceoff and dumping the puck. It was something missing from a lot of UMD penalty kill shifts Friday.)

Then, after Justin Crandall's first collegiate goal gave UMD a 4-3 lead, the Gophers scored with the extra attacker, when Erik Haula's centering pass bounced in off the skate of UMD defenseman Chris Casto.

Before the game, UMD coach Scott Sandelin told me he wasn't sure if he would be comfortable with a pace similar to the four UMD-Minnesota games last year. He got a quicker pace out of both teams, and his team held up very well for most of the game.

Heading into Saturday, the big keys for UMD start with finding a way to tighten up a bit in the defensive zone. You don't need Reiter facing 45 or so shots in every game, because he's eventually going to have to make the types of saves you can't expect goalies to make very often. UMD also has to improve on the penalty kill. They gave Minnesota way too much time and space for much of the game, and the Gophers captialized.

UMD's power play, meanwhile, struggled at times, especially on its first chance in the first period. The Bulldogs seemed to solve the aggressive Gophers' penalty killers as the game wore on, even when it wasn't producing glorious scoring chances or goals.

After three games, the special teams haven't been all that good, but it's after three games. And if you look at the special teams depth chart from a year ago, you'll see the names Fontaine, Connolly, Montgomery, Faulk, and Schmidt a lot. It's a lot to replace at one time.

Don't expect significant personnel changes, especially up front. After Caleb Herbert's performance Friday, it might be tempting to put him on Travis Oleksuk's line, but there's no reason to mess with the obvious chemistry he has with Crandall unless you really think he can add something to the second line.

Coach Scott Sandelin might tinker with the defensive personnel, and it's going to be up to those six to keep a few more pucks away from Reiter.

All in all, Friday was a very good effort and a fun hockey game. And though it probably kills UMD fans to hear it, this Minnesota team is going to be good. They have an edge to them to go along with some real good talent, and that edge could help carry them a long way once the spring rolls around.


Hats off to Mel Pearson, whose Michigan Tech Huskies are 3-0 after a 2-1 overtime win over Wisconsin. It's a nice story if the Huskies can keep it up, because they're going to have a lot of people around the sport rooting for them to keep on winning.

Jordan Baker got his second winner in as many Fridays, this time in the extra session. The Huskies actually outshot the Badgers by a healthy margin, which doesn't tell you a whole lot, except that Pearson must have his guys skating more effectively than they did last year.

Tech started 3-0-2 last season, so sustaining this run is going to be the next challenge. No one expects them to win the league, but it sure would be nice to see them not finish overwhelmingly last, if that makes sense.

Colorado College topped Bemidji State 3-1 in its league opener in Colorado Springs. Give BSU credit, because they played a strong defensive game and stayed disciplined, allowing only four power play chances.

Denver waved the WCHA banner proudly in a 4-2 in at No. 1 Boston College. The Pioneers play at Boston University Saturday, and could be stepping into a hornets' nest, as the Terriers fell 5-3 Friday at Providence.

Alaska-Anchorage beat Nebraska-Omaha at the Brice Goal Rush in Fairbanks, UMass-Lowell topped Minnesota State, and Northern Michigan got the best of St. Cloud State.

No comments: