Saturday, February 04, 2012

Saturday Hockey Notes and Thoughts: UMD Shows Improvement in Win

ANCHORAGE, Alaska -- Before Friday's game, UMD head coach Scott Sandelin identified four areas he wanted to see his team improve in.

He noted that "battle level" was atop the list. The others -- execution, defensive zone play, and special teams -- partially relied on the first in order to see the necessary improvement.

Alaska Anchorage would be a great test for UMD's battle level. The Seawolves love to play the game along the wall, engaging in constant one-on-one and two-on-two puck battles. Win those battles, and create scoring chances. Lose them, and just get the puck on the wall to start battling again.

Friday night, UMD used a strong early forecheck to render that game plan fruitless in a 4-1 win over the Seawolves. Sophomore JT Brown had all four UMD goals, including one on his first shift just 2:30 into the game. The goal came after numerous clearing attempts by UAA failed, with Brown and Travis Oleksuk providing relentless pressure. Eventually, the puck came to Adam Krause left of the goal, and the freshman found a wide-open Brown in the slot.

Brown made it 2-0 later in the period, one-timing a puck by UAA goalie Chris Kamal after an Oleksuk faceoff win. He scored from a bad angle in the final minute of the period to make it 3-0 and complete the first natural hat trick by a Bulldog since Feb. 5 of last year (Mike Connolly vs. the Gophers).

The Bulldogs got a power play goal by Brown late in the second for his fourth goal of the game and answer UAA's only goal, which came on the power play.

UMD still has some issues with the penalty kill, especially when it loses faceoffs. That's how UAA scored its goal. The Bulldogs struggle with getting pressure up high on the kill, leaving people too much time and space. It's unlike previous UMD teams, really, and something that needs to be remedied, because a 78 percent penalty kill is not going to get the job done.

The power play looked really good, I thought. UMD tweaked it a bit, adding a fourth forward in Caleb Herbert and going with more of an umbrella look. The puck moved pretty well, and UMD had a more-than-respectable five shots in two power plays. It was a solid improvement after a scoreless drought that lasted 21 power plays.

UMD is just four for its last 35 power plays going back to Christmas. But things turned the right way on Friday in limited opportunities.

Brown had a special night. He's up to 15 goals and 36 points this season, and his plus-24 leads the country. He's a near-lock to leave after this season, but you can't really argue with the impact he's made, with 73 points in 69 career games.

Oleksuk celebrated his 23rd birthday with four assists.

UMD was pretty sound defensively, clearing pucks from the slot when necessary, and Kenny Reiter made a couple great saves among his 17 on the night.

It was a solid performance against a team that has now lost eight in a row. UMD needs to finish the job Saturday, completing its first sweep here since 1996. It's not a must in terms of the team's NCAA chances, but it is probably a must-win if UMD is serious about winning its first MacNaughton since 1993.


Elsewhere in the WCHA, St. Cloud State stomped Wisconsin 5-1. Ben Hanowski scored two goals, and Jared Festler had three points. There was also an interesting incident in the first period, as Wisconsin captain John Ramage got the boot for a hit on SCSU's Nick Oliver.

It was ruled contact to the head. At regular speed, it's hard to argue the call. On replay, it does look more like a clean hit, but it's not the kind of hit that officials are going to ignore in this day and age.

The head just didn't look like the principal point of contact to me. But again, you're going to see more and more officials err on the side of caution in these spots, as they should. It stinks for physical players like Ramage. There's little chance of being able to throw a clean hit in a situation like that, and Ramage can't just let the guy skate along. It's a part of the game we are all going to have to get used to.

With 20 seconds left, Brendan Woods was given a major and a game disqualification for a check from behind. I have not seen video of that hit, but Woods will not be eligible to play Saturday.

In Denver, Jaden Schwartz' power play goal in the first period was enough for Colorado College to beat Denver 2-0. The game included matching game DQs for fighting after CC's Aaron Harstad and Denver's Dustin Jackson. They will miss Saturday's game in Colorado Springs.

Matt Leitner's third period goal lifted Minnesota State past Michigan Tech 5-3. Also, Bemidji State and Nebraska Omaha played to a 1-1 draw.

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