Friday, December 02, 2011

Saturday Hockey Notes and Thoughts: Mature Bulldogs Keep Winning

HOUGHTON, Mich. -- This is my seventh year with the honor of calling UMD hockey games. Over that time, I've seen a lot of different types of teams here.

The one that has started this season 10-3-2 might have the inside track on being the most mature team I've covered. Obviously, we have a long way to go, but UMD keeps showing its smarts and experience seemingly every time something bad happens.

Friday night, the Bulldogs used a three-goal third period to outlast Michigan Tech 5-3 in Houghton. While UMD didn't trail in the game for very long, they did trail for a while, and it could have been a lot worse along the way, were it not for a smart group of Bulldogs who refuse to panic when facing adversity.

Milos Gordic and Alex MacLeod scored goals 1:24 apart for Tech to erase a 1-0 deficit and give the Huskies their first lead. Shortly after that, back-to-back penalties on UMD put them down two men for over 90 seconds.

Not helping matters any was that Wade Bergman was one of the penalized UMD players, taking one of the Bulldogs' most reliable players and most effective penalty killers out of the picture. No matter. Despite Tech holding offensive zone control for most of the stretch, UMD got a couple clears and a handful of blocked shots and disrupted passes to hold MTU without a shot on goal during the two-man advantage.

It was the defining moment in the hockey game, showing again UMD's smarts and tenacity, along with a level of maturity that's hard to find on any team, especially this early in the season when most teams are still trying to find their way.

The Bulldogs just don't seem phased by anything, even situations that would have sunk them in previous seasons. The experience on this team is obvious. Three players have already cleared 100 games in their careers, and a handful of others -- including Jake Hendrickson, Keegan Flaherty, and David Grun, three of the top penalty killing forwards on the team -- will top 100 before we're done this season.

Having a championship helps, because these guys know what it takes to win at that level. However, you simply can't teach this type of maturity. It's a joy to watch, because no situation is too big for this team. They just get it.


It helps to have a guy like Jack Connolly around. Coach Scott Sandelin has been effusive in his praise of the two-time All American center in the last couple weeks, making it abundantly clear that he believes Connolly has been UMD's best player.

Connolly showed it in the third period. He scored the go-ahead goal off his skate after a nice pass from J.T. Brown. He then threw a great pass to Flaherty to spring him for the eventual game-winner, a breakaway goal while UMD was short-handed.

His three-point game gives Connolly 24 points in 15 games this season, 161 in 148 games in his UMD career, and a point-scoring streak of 13 games.

Connolly is now two points behind Mike Peluso (163) for 17th on UMD's all-time list. He trails former linemate Justin Fontaine by three points for 16th, and he is five points away from passing Skeeter Moore (165) and becoming the first UMD player to move into the top 15 in scoring since Chris Marinucci (173) got to 12th in 1994.

Realistically, we can see Connolly moving into the top ten, but it's going to take a hell of a run. He's 30 points behind some guy named Norm Maciver for tenth.


With Friday's win, the Bulldogs improved to 3-0-2 away from Amsoil Arena this season. Going back to last year, UMD is 7-0-2 over its last nine games away from Duluth. That's the longest such unbeaten streak since the 1983-84 team won ten straight road games.


Elsewhere, Minnesota held on to first place, using two third-period goals to top Minnesota State 4-2. The Gophers' leading scorer, Nick Bjugstad, was named Hockey Commissioners Association Player of the Month for November, a well-deserved honor.

St. Cloud State and Bemidji State played a goaltending-optional 6-6 tie in St. Cloud. The Huskies blew two two-goal leads and had to settle for a point at home. I'm guessing that would not be categorized as a good point by most coaches.

North Dakota scored three quick goals in the first half of the first period to beat Alaska-Anchorage 5-2. Don't look now, but the Fighting Sioux (I can call them that in December, and the NCAA can eat it if that's an issue) have won three straight and are climbing the ladder. No matter what you want to call them, we're not done hearing from them.

In a non-conference game, Alabama-Huntsville picked up its first win of its last season, beating Nebraska-Omaha 3-1 in Nashville. UAH was outshot 45-17, but goalie Clarke Saunders made 44 saves. He is now 1-10-1 with a 3.11 goals against, but his save percentage is an impressive .923. I'm sure we'll hear more about this game when it affects UNO's standing for the NCAA Tournament later.

In the main event of the evening, Alexander Krushelnyski scored on a penalty shot in overtime to give Colorado College a 4-3 win over Denver. It was his second goal of the game. The Tigers played without Rylan Schwartz (upper body), who had two hat tricks in UND's sweep of CC last weekend in Grand Forks. I haven't seen the play, but did see a couple Twitter comments intimating that it was at least a defensible call. You'd hate to see a game end on a penalty shot that wasn't deserved, but thankfully such a thing would never happen in the WCHA.

(UPDATE: Here is the video. No argument there. Thanks to Twitter user "jcieluch" for the link.)



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