Saturday, November 12, 2011

Saturday Hockey Notes and Thoughts: We're Goin' Streaking!

Sorry. Sometimes I can't resist.

The streaking UMD Bulldogs bamboozled Alaska-Anchorage early and cruised to a 5-0 win at Amsoil Arena Friday night. UMD scored three goals in a span of less than two minutes in the first period, added one more later in the period, and then put the game in auto-pilot.

Kenny Reiter set a school record by running his scoreless streak to over 160 minutes. He'll carry that into Saturday's game, which is likely to be his tenth straight start in UMD's goal. I've already written a few superlatives about Reiter's recent play, and I'm not going to bore you with more.

As coach Scott Sandelin told me Wednesday, this isn't the NHL or even major junior, where you play enough games that you'd have to think about the potential of wearing down a goalie. Two games a week isn't going to do that to these kids. Minnesota isn't sitting Kent Patterson anytime soon, and as long as Reiter is putting up these kinds of numbers, he shouldn't be on the pine, either.

UMD got goals from five different players -- though it sure seems like Travis Oleksuk scored the second goal, which was credited officially to Chris Casto -- and the defensive contributions continue. Casto got that second goal, Brady Lamb had two assists, and Wade Bergman had an assist.

The Bulldogs started a tad sluggishly Friday, but quickly turned on the jets to a level UAA simply couldn't match. Jack Connolly threw a beauty of a pass to set up Joe Basaraba for the first goal, then Oleksuk's line -- with J.T. Brown and Caleb Herbert -- turned on the forecheck. A failed clearing attempt led to Casto's quick shot from the right point, one that looked relatively harmless until it was in the net. Before the game was seven minutes old, Connolly one-timed a superb pass from Scott Kishel to make it 3-0 and force Alaska-Anchorage coach Dave Shyiak to change goalies.

Chris Kamal played well in relief of Rob Gunderson, but he can't score goals for his team. The Seawolves were largely inept offensively for most of the night, and unless Kamal plays out of his mind in Saturday's finale, UAA better find a way to generate more of an attack than it did for most of Friday.

Sandelin told Kevin Pates after the game that he still wants his team to play better. It's not necessarily coach-speak, because UMD was in cruise control for most of the night, and outside of some great forechecking from Jake Hendrickson's line (with Justin Crandall and David Grun), the Bulldogs really didn't do much on a consistent basis.

Such is life when you take a 4-0 lead less than 13 minutes into a game. UAA couldn't really do anything positive to carry over into the series finale, which means it wasn't all bad. Like I told my wife, most of the time it's okay if a game is boring when your team has a 4-0 lead in the first period. Most of the scenarios that could make that type of game exciting -- comeback, big fight leading to injuries and/or suspensions -- are not good things.

UMD will need to match the opponent's intensity Saturday, though. No question UAA will be better, especially when it comes to one-on-one battles, many of which the Seawolves uncharacteristically lost Friday. Against Bemidji State two weeks ago, UMD struggled to match the improved level of play from the opponent after a Friday blowout. This time around, we'll see if UMD can pass the test.

If the Bulldogs do, we'll keep talking about this unbeaten streak for another week. I think we're all just fine with that idea.


Elsewhere, the Gophers figured out that you can indeed lose a game once in a while, falling 3-1 at Wisconsin.

The Badgers rang up a three-spot on eight shots in the second period, and that was enough to send Minnesota to its first WCHA loss, cutting their league lead to three points over UMD and about 15 other teams (okay, three). The Gophers offense, which is virtually unstoppable according to a gaggle of Twin Cities hockey geniuses, has scored 24 goals in seven league games, exactly three fewer than UMD in the same number of games. Looks like the Sacred Heart Offensive Inflation Factor -- which benefits everyone but Air Force, I guess -- is coming into play here.

Bemidji State got a goal from the vastly-underrated Jordan George in the final minute to tie Nebraska-Omaha 3-3 at home. The Beavers kept UNO from taking sole possession of second place in the league.

Minnesota State won its second straight, topping St. Cloud State 4-2. I think the Huskies are really going to miss injured captain Drew LeBlanc, especially with Mike Lee already on the shelf for them. Meanwhile, MSU might not have the most talented group they've ever had, but you have to give credit to the Mavericks for playing their tails off to rally back from a terrible start and a bunch of injuries.

Colorado College plays Denver Saturday night in Denver for a single game on the weekend. Michigan Tech and North Dakota are off, which means the Fighting Sioux will get a normal week out of their offense.

(Sorry, I had to play that card while I could. By February, this 1-5 WCHA start will be a distant memory for UND.)

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