Saturday, December 10, 2011

Saturday Hockey Notes and Thoughts: Bulldogs Fit to be Tied

MADISON, Wisc. -- The UMD Bulldogs and Wisconsin Badgers have danced this dance before.

In fact, it seems like routine at this point.

Going back to the 2007-2008 season, the teams have been involved in plenty of close games at the Kohl Center. In the previous five meetings over that span, UMD had won four, with all of them being one-goal games, and three of them going overtime. The game Wisconsin won was a one-goal game with an empty-net goal late to ice it.

It's probably going to be a close game when these two meet in Madison, making it a bit out of character for the Badgers to have jumped to a 2-0 lead in the first period Friday. Had to figure that wouldn't last too long, and it didn't.

As usual, UMD rallied, this time to earn a 3-3 tie in a game the Bulldogs never led. It marks the first time since Nov. 4 (at Denver) that UMD failed to hold a lead at any point in a game. That game also ended in a 3-3 tie.

Some notes of significance from Friday's game, which was just another rally by this UMD team that is so accustomed to rallying that it will only be news at the point where it fails to rally in a game:
  • The unbeaten streak is now 13, one off the all-time school record of 14, which happened during the magical 2003-2004 season (Junior won the Hobey, Todd Smith hit the hell out of people, UMD made the Frozen Four). That incredible streak was 13 wins and one tie. This one has been ten wins and three ties up to this point.
  • UMD tied beloved rival Minnesota for first place in the WCHA standings with 20 points. As someone quickly noted on Twitter Friday, the Gophers do still own the tiebreaker. That, of course, is moot. UMD has finally erased the lead Minnesota jumped out to at the start of the season. Considering that Minnesota is 10-3 in league play, it's not like the Gophers have blown this lead. We all knew they weren't going 28-0 in the league, and UMD has caught them by playing some pretty good hockey along the way.
  • UMD has now gone without a loss in its last 11 road/neutral games going back to a 3-2 overtime loss to Bemidji State in the WCHA Final Five. That's a school record, breaking the mark of the 1983-84 Bulldogs, who won ten straight road games. No, not all of these 11 games have been true road games, because four of them were in the NCAA Tournament last year. But the Bulldogs were sleeping in hotels and riding buses for all the games, and six of the games (regionals in Bridgeport last year, series at Providence and Denver this year) have necessitated planes to get to.
Travis Oleksuk's line was UMD's best on Friday. Centering Caleb Herbert and J.T. Brown, Oleksuk had a hand in two of UMD's three goals, and there were some other superb chances that couldn't quite be finished.

Jack Connolly had an assist to run his point-scoring streak to 15 straight games. That tied him with Mike Peluso (163 points) for 17th all-time at UMD, and moved him one point behind former teammate Justin Fontaine for 16th. Connolly's point-scoring streak will tie an all-time school record if he can get at least one point in Saturday's series finale.


The Bulldogs employed a trap for portions of Friday's game, eschewing forechecking to clog up the neutral zone. That forced Wisconsin to play a dump-and-chase game that was largely unsuccessful, and a big part of why UMD led in shots 36-24, and led in even-strength shots 31-16.

While I'm not a huge fan of the trap, it was used pretty well in this game. It negated Wisconsin's speed through the neutral zone, and UMD did a good job retrieving pucks on the dump-in plays.

The Badgers did the stand-behind-the-net-and-hold-the-puck-forever bit a couple different times, which only served to take time off the clock.

The Bulldogs don't usually trap that much during a game, which might be a really good reason why it seemed to work as well as it did at times.

It also makes sense to employ it against Wisconsin. The Badgers have a lot of skill and poise on their blue line, with experienced guys like Justin Schultz, Frankie Simonelli, Eric Springer, and John Ramage. These are good players who are not going to be easily shaken by forecheck pressure.

The young forwards, on the other hand, didn't adjust terribly well to the clogged-up neutral zone, and while the Bulldogs allowed some odd-man rushes in the first period, those became much more rare as the game wore on.


The ice is going to suck Saturday. Basketball at 1pm, and a hockey game at 8pm. Yeah. Good luck with that.

UMD doesn't have ice time Saturday morning, but will still meet and get some sort of exercise in. It's the final game before a three-week holiday break, so there's no reason to leave anything in the tank.


Elsewhere in the WCHA, Michigan Tech beat Minnesota 3-2 in overtime on a Brett Olson unassisted goal 33 seconds into the extra session. It was a good night for road teams, as Denver won 3-2 at Bemidji State thanks to two Jason Zucker goals, Nebraska-Omaha got a Ryan Walters goal in overtime to beat North Dakota 2-1, and Alaska-Anchorage exploded for four power-play goals in a 6-3 win at Colorado College. Non-conference, Minnesota State beat Alabama-Huntsville 4-2.

In the UAA-CC game, the Seawolves had ten power plays compared to one for the Tigers. It's a truly incredible box score. UAA scored four power play goals, and added a short-handed goal during CC's only power play. Mitch Bruijsten had a hat trick for the Seawolves. CC lost Rylan Schwartz for the last five-plus minutes after he took a major penalty for slew-footing Brad Gorham of UAA, which is one of the most despicable, gutless things one hockey player can do to another.


Don't forget that our game Saturday in Madison starts at 8pm, one hour later than usual, because of the basketball game in the afternoon.
This is the last Saturday column of the year. It'll return Jan. 7, when UMD returns to action against Western Michigan in Kalamazoo.

Thanks to all of your for reading the column, which is usually just an excuse for me to do something productive at the hotel during a road trip. It's become a ritual, and it's enjoyable, so I'm glad you make it part of your weekend.

No comments: