Saturday, February 25, 2012

Saturday Hockey Notes and Thoughts: Welcome Back, JT Brown

JT Brown's first shift Friday night ended with a shot on goal.

So did his last.

In between, you could see why UMD so badly missed the sophomore winger, even though it got three points out of its one series without him, last weekend against Minnesota State. Brown led UMD with nine shots on goal, was a factor all over the ice, and ended up scoring the game-winner in overtime to give the Bulldogs a 4-3 win over Colorado College at Amsoil Arena.

Brown's 19th goal of the season came on a play we've seen UMD run quite a bit. Brown stood behind and a bit to the left of center Travis Oleksuk. The play relies on a clean faceoff win to work, which is fine, because Oleksuk is a beast -- or, as Barry Melrose said after the NCAA title game winner last year, a "tower of strength" -- on faceoffs.

For the third time this season, Oleksuk won a draw clean to Brown, who made no mistake with the quick shot. It's a play that can only really be stopped two ways: don't let Oleksuk win the draw clean (easier said than done), or block the shot (good luck). Brown can shoot, and this might have been the best shot. Colorado College goalie Josh Thorimbert likely isn't stopping that missile even if he knows exactly where it's heading.

Before the overtime winner, Brown had already shown he had no rust after missing a week. He was really a factor in all three zones, and it was one of those nights where his game-breaking speed was especially noticeable. He used it to run guys down from behind and steal pucks. He used it to get behind unsuspecting CC players. He used it to drive around Tiger defenders and try to create scoring opportunities.

It was fitting Oleksuk's line got UMD's game-winning goal, because it was a factor all night. It was also the line that drew UMD's power play in overtime, as Caleb Herbert was tackled on a dump-in, and Joe Marciano was whistled for interference.

All four UMD lines created scoring chances or goals in the game. Once again, junior Jake Hendrickson was a rock. He won faceoffs, forechecked, and he and linemates Joe Basaraba and David Grun created a myriad of problems for Colorado College. Max Tardy's fourth line scored a goal (Justin Crandall) and also had a little jump to its step, though there were a couple times it got bottled up on the wrong end of the rink.

For the most part, though, UMD was pretty good in this game. It needed to be, because Colorado College had impressive pushback all night after a pretty stale first period both ways. The Tigers kept fighting down 3-0, got a huge goal late in the second to get on the board, shut down back-to-back UMD power plays that could have iced the game in the third, and eventually got two goals in 72 seconds to tie it.

Once CC tied the game, UMD did regain some control over the affair, outshooting the Tigers 8-1 from that point. Brown's goal was officially the only shot of overtime, though UMD did generate plenty of pressure during its power play.

It's great to have a guy like Brown back in the lineup. His speed and pure goal-scoring ability make him a big-time game-breaker, and we saw that first-hand on Friday night.


In other WCHA games, North Dakota held off a furious Denver rally in a 4-3 win at Magness Arena. Danny Kristo scored on a penalty shot, and Carter Rowney and Stephane Pattyn added third-period goals to chase DU starting goalie Sam Brittain. The Pioneers rallied, getting goals from Joey LaLeggia and Jason Zucker in the final minute, but couldn't get an equalizer. Brad Eidsness is unbeaten in three starts since taking over for Aaron Dell in Duluth two weekends ago.

Oh, and since it was a nationally televised game (NBC Sports Network), of course there was a controversial hit that resulted in an ejection.

Since I tend to think time served is enough on this one, it will probably result in me getting an email from the WCHA announcing a one-game suspension for UND defenseman Andrew MacWilliam.

(Honestly, I'm starting to lean towards the camp that says we need to start making an example of bad hits and be more liberal with issuing suspensions. So maybe we do need to suspend MacWilliam. I don't know.)

Anyway, big win for North Dakota, pulling within a point of Denver for third place. I know the Sioux are somewhat short-handed, but this should give ungrateful UND fans everywhere a greater appreciation for the work Dave Hakstol has done as the head coach there. Getting this team -- with little depth, especially on the blue line -- into WCHA contention shows that guy has a pretty solid grasp on what it takes to win at this level.

Of course, as soon as UND loses a game again, we'll be back to the familiar "Hak doesn't know what he's doing" refrain from the prairies. Such is life as the head coach of the Fighting Sioux. But in a year where many people are assuming Mel Pearson has already won WCHA Coach of the Year, Hakstol should at least get a couple votes, especially if his team keeps playing the way it has been lately.


Minnesota stayed in first, using a Jake Parenteau goal in overtime to win at Nebraska Omaha, 3-2. It's Parenteau's first goal of the season, and it came at exactly 5:00 of a five-minute overtime.

Wisconsin held off Bemidji State, 4-2. Three Badger defensemen -- Justin Schultz, Frankie Simonelli, and John Ramage -- scored in support of Joel Rumpel, who was pretty solid in net.

Also, St. Cloud State won 5-2 at Michigan Tech. The Minnesota version of the Huskies got 34 saves from Mike Lee, whose return combined with the continually improved play from guys up front, makes this a dangerous team in the postseason, even if it will be a road team in the playoffs.

Non-conference, Alaska-Anchorage got a huge 3-2 win over Alaska. 27 saves from Chris Kamal were enough to make three second-period goals stand up. Alaska outshot the Seawolves 29-17. Over 5,000 fans attended the opening game of the annual Governor's Cup home-and-home series.

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