Friday, February 24, 2012

UMD Stretch Run Includes Drive for MacNaughton Cup

As freshmen, UMD's current senior class was a part of the team that won three games in three days to earn the WCHA Final Five title and an automatic berth in the NCAA Tournament. The Bulldogs won the Broadmoor Trophy.

(Yes, I know Cody Danberg was a sophomore on that team. But you get the point.)

As juniors, this group celebrated the first NCAA title in program history, thanks to a 3-2 overtime win over Michigan that forever popularized the phrase "We'll keep playing 'til someone puts the puck in the net" among KQ listeners. Smiley

Now, the Bulldog senior class will try to add one more trophy to its already-impressive haul.

The MacNaughton Cup hasn't been won by UMD since Derek Plante and company did it in 1993. The trophy signifying the WCHA regular season champion is often looked upon as a curse, but this group of Bulldogs is hard after the only significant hardware that has so far eluded it.

"That'd be unbelieveable, not just for us but our program," senior forward David Grun said. "We haven't won it in a while. For this senior class, to have a third championship (would be special)."

Much like the 17-game unbeaten streak was a point of pride for these players, the MacNaughton Cup chase is, too. Don't bother telling them that no team has won the MacNaughton Cup outright and then taken the national title since Northern Michigan in 1991 (two teams that have shared the Cup have gone on to win a national title since, most recently Denver in 2005).

The stretch run continues with a series against Colorado College this weekend. The Tigers are in the middle of a push to make the NCAA Tournament, and right now they need wins more than anything. CC is tied for fourth in the league, three points clear of Michigan Tech in seventh place. Those two teams go head-to-head in Colorado Springs next weekend, and if CC doesn't get points this weekend, the two teams may be going head-to-head for home ice.

"Like a lot of weekends, it's going to end up special teams," assistant coach Derek Plante says. "They're going to be a skilled team that can skate."

Plante says the best way to slow down their dangerous power play is to not take penalties. He was kidding in a sense, but it's also not completely untrue.

"You stop them by not taking bad penalties," Plante said. "It starts in the back end with our goaltender. If he's good, you have a good chance of killing penalties."

The Tigers like to float Jaden Schwartz along the right wing boards, similar to how Jack Connolly quarterbacks UMD's power play from the half wall. Schwartz is extremely dangerous, and he can dish to older brother Rylan or Alexander Krushelnyski, both of whom are dangerous goal scorers.

One area I noticed some struggles during last Friday's game with Nebraska-Omaha was in the defensive zone. Numerous times, the Tigers struggled with UNO's forecheck pressure. Luckily for UMD, it's an area the team excels right now. UMD has four lines that can forecheck, and I think you'll see them doing a lot of that this weekend, especially if they are to have any success.

Of course, you have to be careful running a hard forecheck against Colorado College. One false move, as UNO can attest, and Gabe Guentzel is going tape-to-tape with a perfect stretch pass that springs Krushelnyski behind the defense for a breakaway.

Guentzel is such a good passer. He handles the puck with poise, and he's not afraid to get hit or face pressure. He has a very low panic point. He's also very good atop the power play formation. He'll play a lot of minutes, and he's earned the right to be out there in all key situations for Colorado College. Clearly, Guentzel is a player Scott Owens trusts, as he should.

For UMD, there is some pomp and circumstance, as there always is for the last home weekend. If the Bulldogs are to realize their goal of running down another elusive trophy, they have to block out the distractions and find a way to get four points this weekend. It can't be ruled out, but it sure won't be easy.

1 comment:

Brad said...

I remember the night UMD wrapped up one of their MacNaughton's. The PA announcer was giving regular updates for UMTC's game, against Wisconsin I believe. It would be wonderful if the PA would do that again, audible ones instead of the video board updates.