Thursday, March 15, 2012

UMD Readies for Final Five Test

Some of what you're seeing here is similar to last year, when UMD made the trek to St. Paul knowing it had an NCAA Tournament bid locked down.

Armed with that knowledge last year, UMD laid a bit of an egg at the Final Five, losing to Bemidji State 3-2 in overtime in the quarterfinals. We all know what happened from there.

And, yes, that was an excuse to embed this video again. Enjoy.

This time around, UMD is heading down I-35 with not only an NCAA bid in its back pocket, but also the chance to earn the tournament's No. 1 overall seed with a pair of wins at the WCHA Final Five.

"That one stung for a while," senior captain Jack Connolly said. "Obviously you don't want to go down and lose in the play-in game like that."

The Broadmoor Trophy was last won by UMD in 2009.

"We've put ourselves in a great position to try to do that, and it would mean an awful lot for the program to get another one of those," Connolly noted.

Just because it worked out for UMD to lose in the Final Five last year doesn't mean it's a good idea to go that route again.

This Bulldog team is hungry for a shot at Minnesota. Connolly admits it would be great to play the Gophers again. This Bulldog team is also hungry to, in a way, atone for last year's performance in the Final Five.

"I think we're in decent shape," head coach Scott Sandelin said this week. "I know our players are excited to get back there. It's the fourth time for our seniors to play in this tournament."

UMD's fourth straight trip to the Final Five starts with a Friday semifinal game against either Denver or Michigan Tech. Even though Denver is the higher seed, there are arguments for UMD fans to root for that matchup to happen.

For starters, UMD and Denver always seem to play good hockey together. I don't know if it's just a perfect match of playing styles, or if it's because the teams don't hate each other enough to play any other way, but it seems like -- for lack of a better way to describe it -- there is good chemistry between the two. Not only that, but UMD goalie Kenny Reiter has a .943 save percentage in four games (three starts) against the Pioneers.

The Bulldogs, though, might have some unfinished business with Michigan Tech. Hopefully, you haven't forgotten the teams' last meeting, a 5-0 Tech win at Amsoil Arena. I know I still haven't forgotten it, despite my best efforts.

No matter who UMD plays, the goal is clear. Win two games. By doing so, UMD will help its NCAA Tournament seeding, and also head into the tournament on a strong note.


As for what will happen on Sunday, when the brackets are announced, it's too early to say for sure. I'm of the belief that UMD will be placed in the West Regional in St. Paul unless UMD and Minnesota are on the same or opposite seed lines (meaning they'd play in the first round of the tournament, which can't happen per the NCAA handbook unless a league has at least five teams in). If UMD is not placed in St. Paul for that reason or some other, it will head to Green Bay.

But I think St. Paul is most likely right now.

For those wondering, Michigan Tech would be automatically placed in the Midwest Regional (Green Bay) if it wins the Final Five, because it is the host of that regional. But if that happens, UMD can't be a No. 1 regional seed, and neither can Minnesota. UMD would still end up in Green Bay, as Minnesota can't be moved from the regional in St. Paul.


Six UMD players have consecutive game streaks higher than 60 games heading into Friday. Jack Connolly is at a school-record 163, Travis Oleksuk 112, and David Grun hit 100 on Saturday. Keegan Flaherty has played in 78 straight games, and Wade Bergman and Jake Hendrickson are both at 62.

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