Friday, November 18, 2011

UMD Ready For Odyssey

UMD has only had two road trips so far this season. The Bulldogs will get to spend a lot of time on buses coming up in the next two months.

This weekend, UMD hosts Minnesota State at Amsoil Arena. Once we hope to hear "Holiday Road" after a UMD win and (again, hopefully) get a stick salute Saturday, it will be the last time Amsoil Arena's lights come on for a UMD men's home game until January.

Late January.

It will be eight weeks before the Bulldogs host Alabama-Huntsville Jan. 20-21.

Over those eight weeks, the Bulldogs will play four road series and have four weekends (next weekend, and then three weekends for Christmas break) off.

It's a lot of bus travel, with one plane trip (Western Michigan), and a lot of team bonding.

As for the 14-game run to start the season, so far it's gone pretty well. UMD is 7-3-2 on the season, and the Bulldogs are unbeaten in eight heading into this series against the Mavericks.

While Minnesota State certainly presents some challenges, there's no question UMD is favored to win. So far, UMD has played that role well, sweeping Bemidji State and Alaska-Anchorage for eight huge points on home ice, and UMD also got a win and a tie at Providence, which still stands as the Friars' only blemishes at home (6-1-1 at Schneider Arena).

It's tough to get a read on this MSU team. The Mavericks have dealt with a rash of injuries, and they're clearly a tough-minded, gutty team, because after a 10-2 blowout loss at Denver in which the Mavs only had 14 healthy skaters at the end, things have started to turn around.

MSU got a win at Michigan Tech -- the Huskies' only home loss so far -- and also beat St. Cloud State at home last weekend.

Freshman JP Lafontaine (uncle Pat might be somewhat familiar to hockey fans) is their leading scorer, and he's not the typical big, bruising, Backes-like power forward MSU has sported in the past. Instead, Lafontaine is more like his uncle, a guy who could fly on a pair of skates. This kid can go, and his skating ability will challenge UMD's defense this weekend.

Guys like Zach Lehrke, Michael Dorr, and Adam Mueller are smaller guys who can move and make plays. They will challenge UMD, but the Bulldogs should be up to the test.

The defense has played well for the most part, limiting scoring chances and protecting the front of the net very well. When they have broken down, Kenny Reiter (1.23 goals against, .955 saves over eight starts) has been more than good lately.

To run the unbeaten streak to ten, UMD needs to keep building off the good things they've been doing. Jack Connolly has been very good lately, and the Bulldogs' third line (Hendrickson centering Crandall and Grun) continues to set a great example for the rest of the team with its work ethic and ability to create turnovers off the forecheck.

Enjoy the games this weekend. Unless you have satellite TV, a really good cable package, and/or are willing to fork over for online coverage, you're stuck with me for the next eight games. Smiley

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