Friday, February 10, 2012

Amsoil Arena Ready for Spotlight; Bulldogs Better Be Ready for Sioux

North Dakota. UND. The Fighting Sioux. As someone said this week, the Fighting Who (thought that one was funny).

No matter the name, it's shaping up to be a hell of a weekend at Amsoil Arena. The new building makes its national television debut Friday, as CBS Sports Network broadcasts the series opener. The crew of Ben Holden, Dave Starman, and Shireen Saski took in practices on Thursday, and seemed impressed by the building.

Now it's time to show them the building at its best. A sellout crowd will take in Friday and Saturday games, and UMD is taking the chance with the spotlight to honor its four previous Hobey Baker Award winners during Friday's first intermission.

On the ice, the Bulldogs better be ready. UMD was last Friday, scoring early in a 4-1 win over Alaska Anchorage. It wasn't an overwhelming effort by any means, but it was a good step in the right direction after a rough weekend against Michigan Tech. Then on Saturday, the Bulldogs gave up the first goal in the first 90 seconds of the game, and it took about half the game before it looked like UMD really had started to play its game.

A big issue Saturday was the ability of UMD to win faceoffs. UAA was 46 percent for the season on draws going into the series, but draws were 50/50, and it seemed the Bulldogs really struggled in that area Saturday.

"There were a lot of faceoff draws that were either to the right or left of the center, and we didn't win a lot of those battles," head coach Scott Sandelin said. "It's not just the center. It's the wings. Even when we win draws, it seems teams are on top of us. It's a lot of those little things."

North Dakota is a team that will make you pay for those faceoff problems. The Sioux use offensive zone draws to set up shot opportunities for their defensemen, led by workhorses Ben Blood and Andrew MacWilliam. If UMD doesn't close the gap and get out on those point guys, there is the potential for real trouble in front of the net.

Further, going back to UND's win over Wisconsin two weeks ago, the first goal was set up by one of these faceoff "ties" Sandelin is referring to. The puck is dropped and ends up a smidge to the right of UND center Carter Rowney. At least one and possibly two Wisconsin players have a chance to chip the puck away from the circle, but they're preoccupied. UND left wing Michael Parks one-times the puck toward Wisconsin goalie Joel Rumpel and finds a hole, giving his team a 1-0 lead.

These are the types of plays Sandelin is talking about. He likes to talk about getting his team to play "hard hockey," and it's not just the hitting part of the game he's referring to.

"It's winning those battles," he said. "Maybe you're not always going to make a play in those situations, but you're going to get to pucks. It's one of those things that's been missing. It's effort within the game, and we have to get committed to doing those things."

Another key this weekend will be how UMD tries to match up with North Dakota. The Sioux have a really good line, with Corban Knight centering Danny Kristo and Brock Nelson. It's the top line for a reason, and it's UND's three best offensive players. It's a matchup UMD has to win, especially being the home team (UMD gets the last change before faceoffs, meaning it can dictate what matchups it wants on the ice).

Blood and MacWilliam will be on the ice a lot, but they're not unbeatable (Blood is minus-nine this season). The top line is a plus-16 combined, so that might be a tougher nut to crack for UMD.

Look for Sandelin to try Jake Hendrickson's line against Knight's line at some point this weekend, though it wouldn't surprise me if he tried to match top line against top line -- something he's been known for doing in the past. It's Sandelin's choice, so the earlier he finds something he likes, the better off UMD will be this weekend.

This North Dakota team isn't as deep as it was last year, when the Fighting Sioux had serious scoring across all their lines en route to the Frozen Four. This team is well-coached, plays very hard, gets physical, and has a lot of high-end skill up front, even if it isn't as much as previous seasons. There's nothing here to suggest that North Dakota will make anything easy on UMD.

"We need to have the intensity level very high," Sandelin says. "We need to be on pucks. We need to have more offensive zone sustained time than we've had in the last three or four games. We've got to make good decisions coming up the rink, and make them go back and get pucks under pressure."

Sandelin wants to see his team forecheck with a lot of intensity. He wants pressure on UND's defensemen, no matter which pair is on the ice. He wants his team to take a step in the right direction this weekend, and do so emphatically and without a Saturday stumble.

The opponent won't make that very easy.

The environment will be great this weekend. Hopefully, the home team can make it special with its play.


Look for similar lines for UMD this weekend. What was in effect for Saturday's game in Anchorage still is the way things line up now.

Seidel - Connolly - Basaraba
Herbert - Oleksuk - Brown
Flaherty - Hendrickson - Grun
DeLisle - Tardy - Krause

The Bulldogs will be missing freshman forward Justin Crandall this weekend, out with an upper-body injury. Crandall isn't exactly pleased about having to miss the UND series, but he does expect to be available in Mankato next week. The test will come with whether or not he can get back out on the ice for practice early next week.

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