After nine weeks, it's nice to have a home game to look forward to again.
UMD is back at Amsoil Arena to host Alabama-Huntsville in a two-game series. The Chargers aren't having a good year -- 2-22-1 playing an independent schedule that includes just ten home games out of 31 total -- but they are coming off a weekend split at Denver Jan. 6-7, a split that came after it was announced the program wouldn't be dropping to club status after this season.
"For their players, that gives them a little new life," UMD coach Scott Sandelin said about the program's revival. "In college hockey, if you're not ready to play, anybody can beat anybody, and they've proven that."
UAH's only two wins this season are against WCHA teams, as the Chargers also beat Nebraska-Omaha in Nashville.
"They've got a guy who is good in net and can win games for them and give them opportunities," Sandelin said of goalie Clarke Saunders. A sophomore, Saunders has a 3.72 goals against, but his save percentage is .904 in 21 appearances for the Chargers. Upon learning of the program's demise, Saunders was able to secure a spot with North Dakota, and because of all the uncertainty surrounding UAH, he will be eligible next season.
With a non-conference series, there often isn't a ton of preparation for the opponent. When the opponent is 2-22-1 and has just 28 goals all season, there is even less preparation. This is similar to last year's January series at Michigan Tech. That weekend, UMD focused on itself, instead of preparing to face an opponent on a long winless streak and in the midst of a record-setting scoreless drought. The approach worked, and UMD won 5-0 and 3-0.
There's a lot of good reason for UMD to take a similar approach this weekend against UAH.
"I think that's our message most weekends (focus on playing well and not the opponent)," Sandelin said. "Coming off Saturday's game, and the disappointment our guys had, and the excitement of playing at home for the first time in two months, I think all those things are good things. If we can just go in there and do what we need to do ... we gotta worry about how we need to play and get back on track."
The Bulldogs are facing a team that is statistically not very good. UAH has been outscored 104-28 overall, 33-6 on the power play, and outshot by an average of 37-22.
But the Chargers have wins over two WCHA teams, and the Bulldogs need to come out from the outset Friday determined not to let it become three.
Focus will be a key. There are some huge weekends coming up for UMD, starting with Michigan Tech at home next weekend. The Bulldogs don't have a weekend off down the stretch of the regular season, and they can't act like this is a bye.
If they do, UAH will add another notch to its belt.
UMD has done little wrong this season, so there's no reason to start. Get two wins, stay relatively healthy, and get on to the league schedule.
No lineup changes are expected. JT Brown practiced all week and will play despite a knee injury suffered last Saturday on that hit by UNO's Dominic Zombo.
Expect the normal rotations to continue, with Dan DeLisle and Adam Krause splitting the left wing on UMD's fourth line. I expect to see Derik Johnson and Tim Smith in the back, though Luke McManus might play one of the games. The three have each played twice over UMD's last six games.
Senior forward Cody Danberg is working out and hopes to begin skating soon. He suffered a shoulder injury on his first shift Oct. 7 against Notre Dame that required surgery.
Danberg told me this week he hopes to be able to return in late February. His return would be a huge boost to the room, as Danberg is a popular guy on that team and was expected to be one of the leaders heading into the season.