Saturday, March 03, 2012

Saturday Hockey Notes and Thoughts: UMD Blows Another Chance

ST. CLOUD, Minn. -- It wasn't long after Friday's game here started before those of us in the press box were well aware of the opportunity presented to UMD.

Wisconsin scored once in the first period, then added three in a stunning second period, on its way to a 4-1 win over Minnesota at Mariucci Arena. That Minnesota loss swung the door wide open for UMD to get in position for the WCHA regular season championship.

Instead of walking into the door, UMD stumbled, losing 2-1 to St. Cloud State.

Simply put, the Bulldogs were flat for a chunk of the game, and SCSU took advantage on its way to a 2-0 lead. UMD struggled with the Huskies' young and mobile defense at times in the first half of the game. There was a media timeout with 9:11 left, and UMD started to string together some good shifts after that.

Unfortunately, all the puck-chasing done over the first 30-plus minutes took a toll, and the Huskies appeared to be a fresher team at times in the third period, before UMD finally was able to string together more good play late. It just wasn't enough, as UMD hit a couple pipes, flubbed on some scoring opportunities, and was stood up by SCSU goalie Mike Lee (35 saves) on a bunch of others.

From my perspective, it just looked like UMD was a tick off for too much of this game. Yes, there were parts of the game where the overall effort wasn't all that good. But when UMD did get things cranked up, its execution wasn't there. Breakout passes either too far or behind the intended receivers. Centering passes when guys should have shot. Shots when guys should have held on to the puck and let someone go to the net. Guys not taking great care of the puck and turning it over as a result.

St. Cloud State's forecheck pinned UMD a few times because of the Bulldogs' execution just not being where it needs to be. It was a good performance for the Huskies, who needed it, but not UMD's best effort.

That's unfortunate, because there was an opportunity there. Now, UMD will have to hope for no more than a share of the MacNaughton Cup, and the Bulldogs know now that they will be in a first-round series against Minnesota State next weekend at Amsoil Arena. UMD will be seeded No. 2, and MSU is locked into the 11th spot.

Saturday, look for UMD to play a lot better. It won't necessarily be about anything St. Cloud State does, instead the Bulldogs simply have to play with the kind of jam and jump they did last weekend. Do that, and everything else will be fine.

A share of the MacNaughton would be nice, but what's more important is entering the playoffs on a positive note. Friday wasn't that far off, so it's not like anyone is looking for a complete turnaround.


Something was pointed out Friday that's really irritating me. The website Inside College Hockey has a regular Hobey Tracker feature, which is updated to show what the author(s) feel are the top candidates for the Hobey Baker Award.

This week's Hobey Tracker is available here, with the current choice being Colgate forward Austin Smith. Here's what was said about the second choice, UMD captain Jack Connolly.

There’s no denying Connolly’s consistency; he’s had at least one point in 31 of the Bulldogs’ 34 games to date and has been held scoreless in consecutive games just once. The issue, as was mentioned in the most recent INCH Podcast, is determining his impact independent of high-scoring teammates Travis Oleksuk (21 goals, 47 points) and J.T. Brown (20 goals, 42 points). Working in Connolly’s favor is the fact that whomever coach Scott Sandelin puts on his line—Brown, Oleksuk, Mike Seidel—produces offense.

Emphasis mine.

Listen. I don't pretend to be a great hockey mind, and I'm certainly biased in this case.

But whoever wrote this clearly hasn't watched UMD very much. Connolly has skated on a line with Oleksuk and Brown for precisely two-and-a-half games out of the 35 UMD has played to this point. Yes, he has a lot of power play points, but 1) he also has a lot of even-strength points, and 2) I fail to see how having a lot of power play points is a bad thing.

Beyond the "crazy simpleton" nature of the above statement is the undeniable fact that Jack Connolly has played a significant role in the career years being had by at least four UMD players, including Oleksuk and Brown, and including Mike Seidel and Joe Basaraba, Connolly's linemates for much of the 17-game unbeaten streak UMD had into January.

You can talk about Oleksuk and Brown being great players, and you're not at all wrong there. But to diminish the impact Connolly has had on them by pretending that they're the ones having the impact on him is borderline delusional, and points to a potential bias that would be simply inexplicable.

If you don't believe me, ask the guys Connolly has been playing with this season if they've been made better by having Connolly on the team. Hell, ask Oleksuk how he scored that late power play goal against Colorado College last Saturday. It might look like a sick, twisted wrister in the box score, but the tape tells a different story. Find a guy in the game who can make that pass.

I'm not here to pump Jack Connolly's tires. Honestly, I don't think I need to, because his play on the ice usually takes care of that.

Just pointing out that not everyone necessarily sees it clearly, no matter how hard they try.


It's going to shape up to be a great finish in the WCHA. Minnesota's loss to Wisconsin leaves the league championship in doubt. There is a three way tie for the final home ice spot, as Colorado College became the fifth team to take a spot in the top six. CC beat Michigan Tech 5-2 in Colorado Springs behind a Jaden Schwartz hat trick two goals from Jaden Schwartz.

Nebraska Omaha fell 3-0 to Denver, which clinched the third seed. Juho Olkinuora threw a 26-save shutout at the red Mavericks. With the loss, UNO is tied with the Huskies -- both Michigan Tech and St. Cloud State -- for the last home ice spot. If all three win Saturday, UNO will get home ice. Michigan Tech and St. Cloud State are Denver fans for the evening.

North Dakota got two Danny Kristo goals to beat Minnesota State 4-2. The loss locks the Mavericks into a matchup at UMD next weekend, while North Dakota knows it will be seeded fourth. Aaron Dell started and won in goal for the Sioux.

Late Friday, Bemidji State held off Alaska Anchorage 2-1. Jordan George had two first-period goals for the Beavers, who didn't take a penalty in the game. The Beavers could finish ninth with a win Saturday and a Wisconsin loss, and the difference is significant. A ninth-place finish means a two-hour bus ride to Grand Forks, while finishing tenth would send Bemidji to Denver one weekend after traveling to Anchorage. Beaver fans rooting for the Gophers? It could happen.

1 comment:

vizoroo said...

Jaden--2 goals
Rylan--2 assists
That may be a Schwartz trick