Saturday, February 18, 2012

Saturday Hockey Notes and Thoughts: UMD Keeps it Simple

MANKATO, Minn. -- For the UMD Bulldogs, Saturday's win over North Dakota wasn't necessarily a shining example of how to play a third period with a lead.

Friday did the trick, however.

Travis Oleksuk scored two second-period goals, including a back-breaking tally with 0.8 seconds left in the period, as UMD beat Minnesota State here 4-2 Friday night.

The Bulldogs displayed a suffocating forecheck and played an incredibly simple game in the third period. They were all over the puck, chipping it deep, forechecking the snot out of the Mavericks' defensemen, getting scoring opportunities, playing physical, and generally keeping MSU from mounting any sort of attack.

Over the first 18:45 or so of the third period, MSU had four shots on goal. Coach Troy Jutting was able to get goalie Phil Cook off for an extra attacker in the final 75 seconds, but the Mavericks still couldn't do much, only scoring after JP Lafontaine found a loose puck off what appeared to be an errant clearing attempt. Either that, or someone was trying to thread the puck back to goalie Aaron Crandall for a cover. Something, but it wasn't good.

It wasn't just the Jake Hendrickson line, though it was a big part of the third period. It was everyone. Scott Sandelin rolled all four of his lines out for shifts in the third period, and all four did something significant in terms of generating a forecheck and some offensive zone pressure, even if they didn't get a lot of scoring chances.

If I were to go through the list of guys I thought played well, we'd be here virtually all day. I thought freshman Adam Krause -- playing with Hendrickson and David Grun -- had his best game of the season, and that's coming off a noticeably strong performance in Anchorage two weeks ago. He had the primary assist on Grun's goal, but beyond that, Krause was strong on the puck, smart, physical, and his presence on this line in place of Keegan Flaherty didn't seem to cause any dropoff in its overall play.

I also want to acknowledge what I thought was a strong two-way game from Mike Seidel, who busted his ass down the rink in the first period to beat what would have been an icing call against his tired line (they'd been out for around a minute at the time, if memory serves, and the line was changing behind him as he worked to beat the MSU player -- who had a head start -- down the rink). Linemate Jack Connolly was all over the puck, and Flaherty just isn't afraid of anything. Joe Basaraba had a nice night, too.

Former Superior Spartan Tim Smith also played well, I thought. He made smart, simple plays with the puck, and he did a good job protecting the puck with his body a few times in the defensive zone, avoiding turnovers. He is doing well with freshman Chris Casto, who committed a bad turnover late in the first but did everything else right on his way to a plus-two.

In place of Kenny Reiter (virus), Aaron Crandall played well. He wasn't fighting the puck at all, he saw it through screens a couple different times to make difficult saves look easy, and the few times he did play the puck, he did it with poise and generally did the right thing. I expect Reiter to start Saturday's series finale, but Crandall's last two appearances -- two periods of that disastrous loss to Tech Jan. 28 and then Friday -- have been strong (33 saves on 36 shots). That has to be a nice boost to his confidence, as well as the confidence of the guys in front of him. It was Crandall's first WCHA win in almost a year (Feb. 19, 2011, 6-2 at Minnesota State, of all places).

UMD looks to make it a four-point weekend on Saturday. A win or tie will clinch home ice in the WCHA playoffs for the Bulldogs. Moreover, it keeps them very much in the conversation for the MacNaughton Cup, something that hasn't been won by this program in nearly 20 years (1993). It might be looked upon as a sort of kiss of death by some, given how long it's been since the MacNaughton winner won it all in April, but these kids care, and they want to win it.

I'm not one to tell them "No."


It was a total team effort Friday, and one that makes a little bit more history for this group. Friday was UMD's 20th win of the season, marking the fourth straight season UMD has reached that total. It's the first time since Mike Sertich's first four years at UMD (1982-1986) that the Bulldogs have posted four straight 20-win seasons. For Sandelin, it's his sixth 20-win season in 12 years at UMD, something that was never accomplished under Sertich.

(Not being said to besmirch Sertich, a wonderful coach and better man, in any way. Just pointing out that this is success UMD has never really seen before.) 

Expectations have changed at UMD over the years. 20-win seasons do that, but so do NCAA appearances and national titles. UMD is virtually assured of home ice in the WCHA playoffs for the third year in a row. It is also almost a mortal lock to make the NCAA Tournament for the fourth time under Sandelin.

I know expectations can be a funny thing, but one of the perks of this job over the years has been watching them change on the outside. Sandelin's biggest accomplishment, in my opinion, has been working his players hard and driving them to be different. The culture in that room is not what it was when I arrived on this job in October 2005. Now, the culture on the outside is also not what it was. People saw the team playing well, and they just waited for something bad to happen. Usually, it did.

Now, however, when something bad happens, people act with surprise and disbelief. A 5-0 home loss to anyone is wholly unacceptable, but it was a regular occurrence -- or at least felt like it was -- not too terribly long ago. Now, it's cause for near-panic among the fans, who just don't see such things happening anymore.

This is a good thing. The coaching staff and the players that staff has been recruiting have made it happen. They won't accept accolades at this point, but that doesn't mean said accolades aren't warranted.


Naturally, since there was a WCHA game on national television, there has to be a controversy. It's like some sort of magnetism.

Anyway, Friday's Nebraska Omaha-Colorado College game was on CBS Sports Network. To celebrate, the WCHA sent Don Adam and Timm Walsh to officiate the game. They inspired confidence in their abilities with their performance in Duluth last weekend (insert proper levels of snickering here). With time winding down and the home team up 4-3, this happened.

(Can't say enough good things about CJ Fogler -- @cjzero on Twitter -- for his work in getting many of the college hockey videos you see on YouTube as quickly as he does. Dude's a rock star, so at the very least, give him a follow and a holla.)

The NCAA hockey rule book notes the following -- Rule 6, Section 18 (a):

A goal shall not be allowed if the puck has been kicked or directed into the goal off an attacking player’s skate or any body part. When in doubt, the goal shall be disallowed. A goal shall be allowed if a puck deflects off an attacking player who is in the act of stopping.

The last part is key.

When in doubt, the goal shall be disallowed.

Basically, this encourages officials to go against their own instinct ... go against the call on the ice. It's vague enough that it can be safely applied to any close call. In this case, the rule appears to be written to disallow this exact goal.

UNO's Dominic Zombo clearly redirected the puck with his skate -- and I believe he did so intentionally, based on the replay. He did not kick the puck, but go read the rule again. In college hockey, you don't have to kick it to get the goal disallowed. Simply directing the puck into the goal off your skate is enough, by the letter of the law.

And by the letter of the law, Adam and Walsh got this one right.

(This isn't meant to rip the CBS Sports Network announcers in any way, by the way. That rule is screwed up and confused all the time. Matt McConnell is the TV guy for the NHL's Phoenix Coyotes, and Dave Starman spends his spare time scouting for the Toronto Maple Leafs. The NHL rule on this requires a "distinct kicking motion" to disallow a goal. So, basically, you have to go all Pele in the NHL, but the same standard is not applied in the college game. It's actually not a big deal for the TV guys to not necessarily be aware of that, since they're part of a very, very large group of people -- even diehard college hockey fans -- that don't get it.)

Oh, and yes, you just read words -- written by me ... and not under any kind of duress -- that state WCHA referees got a controversial call correct. Satan is looking for his parka.


Colorado College ended up winning that game 4-3, as Zombo's potential game-tying goal was disallowed, and the Tigers held UNO to four shots on goal in the third period. Jaden Schwartz got credit for the game-winner, and also assisted on brother Rylan's 20th of the season earlier in the game. Brock Montpetit had two assists for the red version of the Mavericks.

Alaska Anchorage had played 34 games at the National Hockey Center in St. Cloud. It had lost 30 of those games, while tying the other four. Heading into this weekend, UAA was coming off a miserable 1-5 homestand, while St. Cloud State had been playing better hockey as of late, perhaps getting itself in a position to push for home ice. That, however, didn't matter on Friday. Eric Scheid's second goal of the game gave UAA a 3-2 overtime win, its first win in St. Cloud since 1987, when the Huskies played home games at the Municipal Athletic Complex.

Minnesota shut out Bemidji State 3-0 behind two Zach Budish goals. Kent Patterson somehow stayed awake amid an onslaught of 13 shots by the Beavers, who did not have a power play in the game -- and it sounds like they didn't really deserve one. The win keeps Minnesota one point ahead of UMD in the WCHA, two points ahead of Denver.

Denver did indeed keep pace, winning 3-0 at Wisconsin. Luke Salazar, Jason Zucker, and Nick Shore had the goals in support of Sam Brittain, who tossed a 28-save shutout at the 11th-place Badgers.

Also, North Dakota got two goals each from Corban Knight and Carter Rowney in a 4-2 home win over Michigan Tech. It was a night for players to score twice, as that's what Jacob Johnstone did for Tech in a losing effort. UND lost goalie Aaron Dell to an undisclosed injury, and Brad Eidsness made the start. Like he did in Duluth last Saturday, he played well and got the win for the Sioux, who move into fifth with UNO losing.


In local Division III hockey, UWS upset UW-Stevens Point 2-1 in the opening game of their NCHA Peters Cup quarterfinal series in Stevens Point. Andy Singerhouse had the third-period game-winner for UWS. The Yellowjackets need a win or tie in Saturday's 7pm game to clinch the series and avoid a winner-take-all minigame.

St. Scholastica blew a 4-0 lead and had to settle for a 4-4 tie against No. 7 seed UW-Stout at Mars Lakeview Arena. Former Duluth Denfeld forward Chris Stafne -- a one-time UMD recruit who ended up not attending the school after a May 2010 arrest -- had the game-tying goal with 1:50 to play. The teams play a winner-take-all game at 7pm Saturday, but will play a minigame to decide the series if the regularly-scheduled game ends in a tie.

The UMD women beat Minnesota State 4-1 Friday at Amsoil Arena to clinch home ice in the first round of the WCHA playoffs next weekend. The Bulldogs will play Ohio State in a best-of-three series starting Friday.

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