Friday, October 26, 2012

UMD Tries to Badger Visitors in Final WCHA Opener

History will be made at the end of this, the final of 48 seasons for UMD in the Western Collegiate Hockey Association.

The 2-2 Bulldogs host the 0-2 Wisconsin Badgers this weekend at Amsoil Arena, opening the last league schedule before many longtime WCHA members go their separate ways.

Outside of a ceremony commemorating the 1992-93 UMD team that won the school's last MacNaughton Cup championship, there is little time for looking back for a Bulldog team that is looking to get points to kick off the WCHA season.

UMD is in a similar position to Wisconsin. The Bulldogs possess a number of young players who will likely become key parts of the team over the coming months, and this is probably a really good time for an opponent to face UMD for the only time this season. For Wisconsin, however, the problem is that this exact same thing can be said about the Badgers.

UMD coach Scott Sandelin expects similar hockey to what UMD faced last weekend in South Bend, with a team that likes to forecheck and play with speed.

He also hopes his team continues to improve at both ends of the rink.

"We want to be a hard team to play against," Sandelin says, "and we know we have to take better care of the puck than we did last week."

Turnovers doomed UMD in a 4-1 loss to Notre Dame last Friday, and while Sandelin liked a lot of what he saw from his team, he knows the turnovers are going to be a factor if the problem doesn't get fixed.


The Badgers got to sit around last week and think about opening weekend, when they went to Green Bay and lost two games to Northern Michigan. It's an odd time for a bye week, but after a disappointing performance, it might not have been the worst thing in the world for UW.

"It allowed us to do some things in practice that we saw in the games, so you can look at that as a good thing," 11th-year head coach Mike Eaves said this week. "But do we need to play games now? The proof will be in the pudding when we play this weekend (in Duluth). We feel like we controlled the things we could. We tried to design practices with tempo. From a planning point, we think we did it well."

Wisconsin struggled last year, finishing 10th in the league despite a late-season surge. The Badgers lost their first-round playoff series to Denver when the Pioneers scored in overtime of the deciding third game.

Losing an All-American defenseman and Hobey Baker finalist like Justin Schultz is going to hurt any team, but Eaves likes the depth he has on the blue line, and he understands that no single player can replace Schultz.

"You do it by committee," Eaves noted. "You don't replace a Justin. You have people share the responsibility, and you try to get that gap closed."

Junior center Mark Zengerle and wingers Tyler Barnes and Michael Mersch have plenty of talent and experience, but there's no doubt that UW will miss having promising freshman Nic Kerdiles in the lineup.

Caught in an NCAA eligibility flap, Kerdiles was initially suspended for the entire 2012-13 season, but the former U.S Under 18 star had his suspension reduced to 30 percent of the Badgers' season after a UW appeal.

After committing to Wisconsin at the age of 15, Kerdiles (really) wanted to be a Badger. Eaves is appreciative of the youngster's maturity and loyalty.

"Through this whole thing, what stands out his how mature he is," Eaves said. "There were moments he was truly disappointed, but he was able to step back, see the big picture, and make the decisions he made."


The Bulldogs are nearly at full strength for the weekend, with only senior forward Cody Danberg (upper body) out of the lineup Friday (he could play Saturday). That's a hell of an opportunity for freshman Austyn Young, who made his college debut last week and will play in Danberg's spot in this series.

Other lines will stay the same, though there are some areas where Sandelin might consider changes in the near future. That means freshman Austin Farley is back on a line with junior Joe Basaraba and freshman Tony Camaranesi. Farley was a healthy scratch last Friday.

I've been consistently wrong on the goaltending situation so far this season. I thought Aaron Crandall and Matt McNeely would both play against Ohio State, but only Crandall did (I got this right after watching Friday's game, but was wrong heading into the weekend). I thought Crandall would start the opener against Notre Dame, and out came McNeely to play well.

Of course, "being wrong" hasn't stopped me from trying in the past, and it won't stop me now.

I think McNeely starts Friday, and no decision will be made for Saturday until after the coaches see how McNeely plays first. It'll mark his first game in Duluth since he played in an exhibition game against UMD while with the U.S. Under 18 National Team in January 2011.


Speaking of the Under 18s, they are at Minnesota Friday. Cloquet/Esko/Carlton forward Karson Kuhlman has confirmed via Twitter that he will play for Team USA. Kuhlman has committed to play at UMD. Kerdiles -- suspended from Wisconsin until Nov. 30 -- has also received clearance to play in that game.

The Gophers then host mighty Canisius on Sunday afternoon. The other non-conference action this weekend pits Colorado College against Cornell.

In league play, Minnesota State plays at St. Cloud State. The Mavericks are off to a good start, and this is the first look at two possibly improved teams in conference play. Michigan Tech visits Denver for what should be a pretty good series. Also, Alaska Anchorage travels to North Dakota. The Seawolves couldn't beat a seriously-shorthanded UND team last week in Fairbanks, so the odds look daunting in Grand Forks this weekend. The other league series pits Bemidji State against Nebraska Omaha. The history here is interesting. Despite being consistently ahead of BSU in the league standings over the first two years of WCHA membership, UNO is 1-6-3 head-to-head. Go figure.

UMD-Wisconsin coverage starts at 6:30 on 94X (94.1 FM in the Twin Ports, 104.3 FM elsewhere), as well as the Bulldog Sports Radio Network (KBAJ 105.5 FM Deer River/Grand Rapids and KAOD 106.7 FM Babbitt/Ely). You can hear the game via the internet either here or here. Both streams are free.

In addition, you can hear games on your mobile device by simply downloading the free Red Rock Radio App, available for iPhone and Android devices. Listen to 94X on that to hear the game.

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