Friday, January 27, 2012

UMD Wants To Go Streaking Again

Two weeks ago, UMD experienced the unfamiliar feeling of a loss. The Bulldogs hadn't lost in 18 games, and it doesn't sound like they enjoyed the feeling very much.

"It was pretty special," sophomore forward Joe Basaraba said of the streak. "We can't sit back now that we've started a new one. We got two here, we're looking for number three on Friday night."

I've mentioned this before, but the pride this team took in the streak was notable.

"We knew once we got up there in the early teens that we had the chance to something special that this program has never done before," Basaraba said. "It was a great opportunity for our team to bond together and create some special moments."

The opportunity to run this new streak to four comes this weekend, when Michigan Tech visits Amsoil Arena. It's the second week of a two-week homestand for the Bulldogs, who played in front of a near sellout last Friday and a sellout crowd Saturday. This weekend looks similar, with Friday's game showing only limited seats remaining, and Saturday's game sold out.

That right there isn't bad, considering UMD sold out just one of its first ten home games.

Michigan Tech is an interesting opponent, one that isn't the same as the last time it visited Duluth. This Tech team is much more skilled and plays a different system, one that is much easier on the eyes. Senior leaders Brett Olson (Superior native) and Jordan Baker are joined by skilled freshmen David Johnstone, Blake Pietila, and Tanner Kero. The latter three were recruited by former coach Jamie Russell, who was let go after last season's beyond-disaster and is now an assistant at Providence. It's a bit of a shame that Russell wasn't allowed to see these players develop in a Tech uniform, but Mel Pearson is a pretty good coach in his own right.

Pearson's in his first year at Tech, and the Huskies are one win -- one that could easily come this weekend -- away from tripling their win total from last year (four). He's leaned on his seniors a fair amount, but the freshman class is promising, too.

"I'm really pleased with their progress," Pearson said. "They're the future of our team. I would say those two guys (Johnstone and Pietila) have been really good."

Pearson knows his seniors are a huge key, though.

"This is their team. We're only going to go as far as they take us. They're key players who play in a lot of different situations. I just want them to have their best year and their best half year of hockey here, and have no regrets."

As UMD saw last weekend with Alabama-Huntsville, there is no gimme in Division I college hockey. Playing an 11-win Tech team itching to break a seven-game losing streak to UMD is not going to be a picnic, either.

"I think they're much improved," UMD coach Scott Sandelin says. "We had to have two good third periods to win at their place. They've got a healthy Olson, and Baker, and (Steven) Seigo, so they've got some depth.

"Every time we play them, it's always a battle. We expect the same thing. As you head down the stretch, every game's going to be tight."

In order for UMD to add two more notches to its new belt, the Bulldogs will have to be at their best. They weren't necessarily at their best last weekend, but the ability to grind out two wins is not lost on this team.

Neither is the need to keep playing better hockey as the playoffs approach.

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