The Bulldogs found some of what was lost on Saturday, when a strong power play and solid third-period goaltending led UMD to a 5-4 win over North Dakota. It was an exciting game, and UMD's best players stepped up when needed most. Jack Connolly had a career-high five points on two goals and three assists, Travis Oleksuk had three points, and J.T. Brown had the game's first goal before an injury forced him to leave the game.
"For us, it was a much-needed win," head coach Scott Sandelin said. "We talked about doing some things to simplify our game. It wasn't about Xs and Os. Our captains did a great job. They met with our team. We didn't overmeet. They went out and were certainly ready to play."
When your best players step up in times of need, it's a good feeling.
However, a big key heading into this weekend series against Minnesota State is maintaining that level of play from one weekend to the next.
"I thought the first 40 minutes (Saturday) was much, much closer to how we need to play," Sandelin said. Outside of a failure to close the game out strong in the third period, he was happy with what he saw. But talk about this being a defining type of victory has to wait.
"You win by playing that way, and guys understand that's how you have to play."
The carryover will be incredibly significant. Minnesota State has won seven if its last 11, four of five, and the Mavericks are coming off a pair of one-goal victories in Anchorage. This isn't the same team UMD saw in November, when MSU wasn't feeling good about itself and UMD swept by a 12-5 aggregate while never trailing in either game.
"They went through a rash of injuries," Sandelin said, noting they had "zero confidence" when they were in Duluth, largely because of injuries and guys being moved around and playing different positions.
"They've been a little more stable and have played very well. They've always played well at home. It's a very hard-working team."
MSU moved Eriah Hayes onto a line with freshmen Matt Leitner and JP Lafontaine. The three have played very well together and now occupy the top three spots on MSU's scoring chart. Head coach Troy Jutting gets to play the matchup game this weekend, and while he wasn't tipping his hand at all this week, it makes sense he will try to keep this group away from UMD's third line, centered by Jake Hendrickson.
Injuries will prevent Sandelin from keeping Hendrickson, Keegan Flaherty, and David Grun together, breaking up what may be UMD's most consistent line at the moment. But Hendrickson and Grun are so responsible that it still makes sense to assume the Bulldogs will find a way to get them on the ice in some key spots in close games.
"They bring a lot of energy, and I think they work very well together," Sandelin said of that group. "They're hard on the forecheck, and they give us sustained offensive zone time. I can't say enough about how well that line's played together."
It'll be interesting to see how Jutting tries to match lines up on Friday. The Mavericks aren't the deepest team, but they have some size and experience, and UMD has been a bit uneven this year on the big sheet. Perhaps to try to alleviate that a bit, the Bulldogs left by noon Thursday, and practiced at Verizon Wireless Center in the afternoon, a bit of a break from the normal routine of practicing before departure for a bus trip.
For UMD, it's all in the name of consistency. The Bulldogs need a good start Friday, especially considering how good the opponent has been feeling about itself lately. Play well from Kenny Reiter out, and watch the good things happen.
With Brown (upper body) out this weekend, and Justin Crandall (upper body) questionable, the Bulldogs have switched a few things around on the forward lines. Assuming Crandall can go, here is how things will look.
Seidel - Connolly - Flaherty
Herbert - Oleksuk - Basaraba
Krause - Hendrickson - Grun
DeLisle - Tardy - Crandall
If Crandall can't play, UMD will dress 11 forwards and a seventh defenseman. The defensive pairings shouldn't change from Saturday, meaning either Luke McManus or Scott Kishel would dress as a seventh and skate on the fourth line occasionally with DeLisle and Tardy.