Saturday, November 05, 2011

Saturday Hockey Notes and Thoughts: Change We Can All Believe In

DENVER -- Before Friday's game, UMD coach Scott Sandelin and I were having our normal pregame conversation, and I asked him what he thought of his forward line tweaks made for the previous weekend's series against Bemidji State.

Predictably, the 12th-year head coach wasn't terribly excited about what he saw in Saturday's 1-0 win. But I wasn't expecting to hear what I heard.

"You might see some changes this weekend," Sandelin said. "We're on the road, we can't really match. We might move some guys around, to create some balance if it's not going well."

By the second period, the threat had been carried out, so to speak. UMD had tweaked its four forward lines, moving Caleb Herbert to left wing with center Travis Oleksuk and right wing J.T. Brown. Jack Connolly was centering Mike Seidel and Joe Basaraba.

The top six looked drastically different than it did at the opening faceoff. While none of the new forward lines put the puck in the net (UMD's only even-strength goal came in the first, before all the changes), the lines did provide a spark. Oleksuk's line had some especially good shifts in the third period and moreso in overtime. Seidel and Connolly both drew penalties in the third period with good plays (and Seidel showing some athleticism with a couple nice moves on his way to the net), and UMD rallied from two two-goal deficits to gain a 3-3 tie.

What it means for Saturday is uncertain as I write this Saturday morning. The Bulldogs hadn't made these types of drastic changes in the lineup during a game at any point this season. It will happen once in a while, but it always serves as a bit of a surprise when it actually does.

I thought Oleksuk's line established itself as the best of the new groups late in the game, but Connolly's line put together some nice shifts. I think Connolly and Seidel play pretty well together, though Seidel isn't a high-end skill guy like Connolly's previous linemates. He's a gritty, no-nonsense, drive-the-net player who is very good in small areas (and has really nice hair). I'm not sure Basaraba is the best compliment for those two at this point, but if the lines we saw late Friday are the direction UMD is heading in for the short term, there are few choices for Sandelin.

Since the coach has talked about pairing two players together to really make a line go, he might be on to something with Oleksuk and Brown reunited as center and right wing, and Connolly paired with Seidel. Now, it's just a matter of filling those lines in a way that provides both chemistry and balance.

(Look at Denver's top line for an example of this. Drew Shore and Jason Zucker are the engine that make it work. Those two play off each other very well. Luke Salazar might be considered a bit player on that line, but as shown Friday when Salazar got open on the right wing and was able to drive the net for a chance on Kenny Reiter, he can also make plays when called upon.)


Reiter, by the way, shook off what I thought was a bit of a slow start, and put together a very strong performance. By no means am I saying any of the goals were soft (DU's third goal was the closest to being that, but I don't think I could say it was). Instead, it looked like Reiter might have been fighting the puck a little bit early, but he got better as the game wore on.

He gave up a lot of big rebounds, and was fortunate that UMD's defending in front didn't break down more often than it did. I can remember Drew Olson and David Grun clearing away dangerous rebounds in the first half of the game.

But the goalie settled down after that, and he made the save of the night on a short-handed rush by Zucker and Drew Shore. Brady Lamb went to Zucker, who had the puck down the right wing. Zucker was able to saucer a pass over to Shore, who was wide open down the middle. Shore made a move to his left, and appeared to have an open net, but the athletic Reiter was able to get his stick on the shot by Shore. Zucker was then stopped on a quick rebound attempt. At the time, the score was still 3-2, and a shortie there would have been awful disheartening for UMD.

The Bulldogs played well, showed a lot of mettle in rallying from two goals down, and got a good point on the road. They can thank a lot of people for that, including Reiter for an outstanding save.


Elsewhere, Michigan Tech stayed unbeaten at home with a 1-0 win over Minnesota State. Ryan Furne had the only goal, and Josh Robinson picked up a shutout. The Huskies are 6-2-1 overall, and every win they pick up makes them an even better story going forward.

Colorado College and Nebraska-Omaha met for a wild, entertaining game in Omaha. The Mavericks led 3-0 and 4-1, but Colorado College got three goals 2:01 apart in the second period to tie the score at 4. CC took a 5-4 lead, but the Mavericks rallied back. Goals :24 apart gave UNO the lead back, and an empty-netter iced it. The WCHA is now out of unbeatens, and UNO was able to run its home winning streak to three.

St. Cloud State rolled past Wisconsin, 7-2. David Eddy and Ben Hanowski each scored twice, and Ryan Faragher got another win in goal.

Also, Minnesota goalie Kent Patterson picked up his fifth shutout in a 2-0 win over North Dakota. Yeah, five shutouts in nine games. That's a'ight. Nick Bjugstad and Tom Serratore (the Bemidji State coach's nephew, in case you didn't know) had the goals for Minnesota. The Gophers are still perfect in WCHA play.

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