Saturday, October 27, 2012

Saturday Hockey Notes and Thoughts: Badgers Keep it Simple to Beat UMD

Friday night looked like the home opener against Ohio State for a little bit, minus the frantic goal-scoring.

The game between UMD and Wisconsin started with a great pace. Both teams were flying up and down the rink, and there were scoring chances to be had. Wisconsin had a couple good opportunities blocked, and UMD was able to generate a superb flurry that started on a shot by defenseman Tim Smith.

However, unlike the home opener, UMD couldn't score. And unlike the home opener, the pace settled down quickly, which was a distinct advantage for the visitors.

Wisconsin took control of the first period, began dominating the shot chart, and eventually scored on a scramble play in front. Basically, UMD freshman goalie Matt McNeely couldn't control the initial shot, then couldn't contort himself to cover the puck. Meanwhile, UMD's skaters couldn't locate the puck and had trouble tying up UW players as they jammed at the loose biscuit. Eventually, Badger forward Tyler Barnes jammed it home for a 1-0 lead.

At one point, shots were 14-6 in Wisconsin's favor. The first period was all sorts of ugly, and even a late run of shots for UMD didn't lead to many grade-A chances.

Looking at the shot charts, the second period was particularly ugly for UMD. There just wasn't any ability shown to get to the net and pressure UW goalie Joel Rumpel. Meanwhile, Mark Zengerle -- who is good, but that shouldn't be news to anyone -- ripped a low wrister for a power-play goal late in the period for a 2-0 lead.

At times in the second, 1-0 felt like 5-0 with the way the game was going. The Bulldogs just didn't have anything generated, despite having some energy and working pretty hard in the defensive zone. When the period ended, each of UMD's six shots on goal appeared to be from at least 30 feet away, outside of a bad-angle shot from Justin Crandall and a chance in the slot from Austin Farley, both during the Bulldogs' lone power play chance of the stanza.

A five-minute third period power play allowed UMD to get a lot of shots, but many of them (13 in the period) were blocked. The Bulldogs got some momentum and got some pucks to the net, but Rumpel stood tall and stopped 29 in the game.

The story of UMD's struggles could be told in the faceoff circle. Wisconsin won 28 of 54, including 15 of 23 in the third period. Zengerle was dominant, winning 19 of 26. His teammates combined to go 9-19 on 26 draws. On the UMD side, freshmen Cal Decowski and Tony Camaranesi -- who were on the ice virtually every time the Bulldogs had a decent scoring chance, it seemed -- were picked on in the circle a bit. The two won seven of 26 draws (even though the numbers match up, not all of these were against Zengerle). UMD's other draw-takers were much more successful, going 19-9.

The Bulldogs have to find a way to win more draws, especially in the third period. After going 8-15 last night, UMD is 12-33 on 45 third-period faceoffs over the last two home games.

A lot of this is inexperience. Camaranesi and Decowski are quality young centers, and they simply have to learn what they can get away with when taking a draw. It's a process, and until they get it figured out, they will take some lumps on draws.

What we saw in the third period was UMD start to move the feet more consistently, creating turnovers and scoring chances. The next part of that equation is playing that way for 60 minutes, as well as getting more bodies and pressure to the front of the net. To beat the Badgers on Saturday, the Bulldogs have to break through the proverbial picket fence UW had in front of Rumpel, especially after taking the lead.

As for lineup changes, don't ask. We saw Decowski centering Caleb Herbert and Justin Crandall late, and I think that might be a preview of the top line in Saturday's game. But I just don't know. Camaranesi should be in the top six, too, but I'm not sure who he'll have with him.

Defensively, too many guys are playing average-ish in my view right now. UMD has eight defensemen who can play, as Scott Sandelin noted in our pregame interview Friday. I don't know if there's any way that the two who didn't play Friday -- Luke McManus and Derik Johnson -- sit again Saturday. This group is capable of being better than it's shown so far, and part of this process early in the season is figuring out who can play with who.


A couple things that happened in the third period bothered the hell out of me, for different reasons.

One of the keys to Friday's game, we surmised, was going to be discipline. UMD is averaging way too many penalty minutes per game, and it's affecting the team's ability to play effectively. In the third period, Adam Krause of UMD and Sean Little of UW took matching minors. It was a 2-0 game at the time, and the Bulldogs were very frustrated with the way things were going. The normally mild-mannered -- dare I say "nice"? -- Krause took a ten-minute misconduct to go along with the minor.

We like to say that it's the little things. Whatever Krause did or said, he knows he's not allowed to do or say. Part of playing well is keeping your composure, and Krause lost his long enough to cause UMD to play with a shortened bench for 12 minutes. It's the second straight week that a UMD player has taken a ten-minute misconduct during a game.

Doesn't sound like much, but continuing to pile up misconducts -- either of the ten-minute or game variety, since both count as ten-minute penalties in the book -- is a hell of a good way to brand your team as undisciplined. Officials notice these things, and they don't give a lot of breaks to teams they think aren't disciplined.

In the final seconds, UW captain John Ramage appeared to slew-foot Camaranesi while the two chased for a loose puck. There aren't many plays in hockey more dangerous than the slew-foot, which happens when a player sweeps the leg of an opponent out from behind, causing the opponent to fall on his back. It can lead to head injuries in a lot of cases. I wrote about one in December of last year, when former UMD defenseman Matt Niskanen was slew-footed by Boston riot-starter Brad Marchand.

In this case, Ramage -- a smart and physical player who deserves all the ice time he gets and is in his second year as UW captain -- would have been better served tying Camaranesi up along the boards and letting other players battle for the puck. The game was over at that point, and there's just no need for such a dangerous move.

Ramage was then called for a contact to the head minor at 20:00, which must have been related to the scrum that happened after the apparent slew-foot.

Also in the third period, UW's Morgan Zulinick was thrown out for a hit from behind on UMD's Dan DeLisle, who went down in a heap near the Wisconsin penalty box. Since the officials jumped in right away, there was not really a chance for anyone from the Bulldogs to retaliate, which probably saved UMD more penalty minutes. DeLisle returned to the game.


Elsewhere, Denver beat Michigan Tech 5-1. Nick Shore and David Makowski each had two points, and Sam Brittain made 27 saves. Tech goalie Pheonix Copley -- who frustrated the Gophers last week -- allowed four goals on 15 shots before sitting down in favor of Jamie Phillips.

Ben Hanowski had two goals and Drew LeBlanc had four points in St. Cloud State's 5-1 win over Minnesota State. Danny Kristo had three assists as North Dakota won at home over Alaska Anchorage, 4-1. Zane Gothberg became the first Thief River Falls native to start in goal for UND since some guy named Ralph Engelstad. You might have heard of him.

Nebraska Omaha blew a 3-1 lead and had to settle for a 3-3 tie against Bemidji State. The Beavers are now 6-1-4 against UNO since the teams joined the WCHA.

In non-conference play, Cornell beat Colorado College 2-0 in Ithaca, N.Y. In an exhibition game, Minnesota had to score two goals in the second period for a 2-2 draw with the U.S. Under 18 Team. The Gophers play Canisius Sunday afternoon.

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