The Bulldogs had a bye last week, a chance to correct the little errors that have helped cause a 2-3-1 start to the 2012-13 season. It's too early to panic, but there is definitely room for improvement.
Nebraska Omaha is the opponent this weekend. The Mavericks are 4-3-1 after sweeping Michigan Tech in Houghton last weekend. While UNO isn't blessed with great scoring depth, Dean Blais has some really hard-working kids up front on his third and fourth lines, and there are some trees in the back.
UMD coach Scott Sandelin has talked a lot to me about wanting his team to be hard to play against this year. If last weekend's series is any indication, he has no better example to show the kids than the Mavericks.
UNO was ready from the outset against Michigan Tech, and one of the things that jumps off the page is the fact that this was a really hard team for Tech to play against. Not much time and space. They were hard on pucks. They mixed in a little 1-3-1 at times, which seemed to frustrate Tech. Friday was really a perfect road game for UNO, as it took the crowd out of things early, and took advantage of opportunities.
Zach Raubenheimer had both goals in that Friday win, including a beauty of a short-handed goal. Dude has some hands, as he showed on his short-handed game winner in the final moments of the third period.
It's not surprising that a Blais-coached team would be tough to play against, nor that a team coached by one of Blais' students would want to be that way.
What's mildly surprising is that -- outside of a spurt here or a spurt there -- it hasn't really clicked yet for UMD. The Bulldogs were far too easy to play against in the Friday loss to Wisconsin, as well as for a chunk of the series against Notre Dame. The trend reversed for the first 40 minutes of the Saturday game against the Badgers, but the Bulldogs weren't sharp in the first part of the third period and paid for it.
It has to be a more consistent UMD team this weekend, and moving beyond. UNO, North Dakota, and St. Cloud State are the next three opponents, and they'll be ready to pounce if the Bulldogs are uneven in their effort and/or execution.
One thing I'll try to watch closely is how Blais tries to match lines up against UMD, and how Sandelin counters. As the home team, Blais' Mavericks get the last change, which should theoretically allow him to get his top forwards -- guys like Raubenheimer, Josh Archibald, Brock Montpetit, Matt White, etc. -- away from UMD's all-senior group of Jake Hendrickson, Cody Danberg, and Keegan Flaherty.
However, if the game has flow to it and few whistles, Sandelin could have some opportunities to get his defensively-responsible trio on the ice against a top UNO line.
Another point to watch for is the play of UMD's top players. A huge part of the Bulldogs' challenge this weekend is getting more opportunities for sophomore Caleb Herbert to make things happen in the offensive zone. Herbert has just nine shots on goal in eight games, with three of them coming in the last game, the first of six this season where Herbert played on a wing instead of center five-on-five. Even if he moves back into the middle, I hope he is heading in the right direction.
He still hasn't scored this season, but we saw glimpses of what made him so dangerous as a freshman in that tie against Wisconsin. Makes me think a breakout game isn't all that far away. If it happens this weekend, this will be a perfectly enjoyable road trip.
I don't know what to expect with the rest of the lineup. Without knowing, I'd guess that much of it stays the same, with some tweaks possible on defense as Sandelin and his staff try to find the right combination of players there (doesn't help that sophomore Chris Casto is banged up and won't play, though it opens the door for others to show their stuff). I finally got the goaltending situation right last time UMD played, and I'm guessing we'll see freshman Matt McNeely start Saturday, with Sunday determined by how things go Saturday.
But that's just a guess. Stay tuned.
Everyone else in the WCHA who is playing this weekend got things going on Friday. Being in Omaha and unwilling to pay to watch any of the games, I didn't see them. Here's what happened.
In Mankato, Denver took a 3-0 lead, watched Minnesota State creep closer, but held on late for a 4-3 win. Daniel Doremus scored on DU's only shot of the third period, and it stood as the game-winner after a furious Maverick rally fell short. MSU led in shots 36-20, including 30-11 over the final 40 minutes. Doremus and Nolan Zajac -- yeah, he's related -- each had a goal and an assist.
Clarke Saunders pitched a 32-save shutout as North Dakota won at St. Cloud State 3-0. It marks UND's first Friday win at St. Cloud since 1998, which was long enough ago that I was still single when it happened. Brendan O'Donnell scored at :48 of the first period, with Carter Rowney and Mark MacMillan (short-handed) adding the rest of the North Dakota offense.
Rylan Schwartz had two goals, including the game-winner late in the second period, as Colorado College beat Bemidji State at home 3-2. Jordan George and Danny Mattson had the BSU goals. At one point, the live stats humorously said that George scored twice, both at the 6:24 mark of the first period. He's fast, but he isn't that fast.
Late Friday, Minnesota scored twice in each of the first two periods in a 4-0 whitewashing of Alaska Anchorage. The Gophers shredded the UAA penalty kill, scoring all four goals over six power play chances. Kyle Rau had two goals, while Erik Haula and Nate Schmidt each had two assists. Adam Wilcox only had to make 14 saves for the shutout.
In local Division III hockey, UWS got a Michael Orosey overtime goal to beat UW-Stevens Point 3-2. The Yellowjackets are 4-1 after a fourth straight win. UW-Eau Claire stayed unbeaten by knocking off St. Scholastica 5-1.
Saturday's game starts at 7pm here, with Sunday's game at 2pm. I talked to senior defenseman Drew Olson during the week, and one thing that's worth watching is how the teams start out on Sunday. There won't be much of an atmosphere in the building, as UNO hasn't drawn particularly well this season, and their Sunday home games over the years have been played in front of very sparse crowds (last year's against St. Cloud State drew an announced 5,800 or so, but witnesses placed the actual number far below that).
Both games are live on 94X and the Bulldog Sports Radio Network. Download the FREE Red Rock Radio app to listen live on your iPhone or Droid, or check 94xrocks.com for streaming info.