Sunday, November 11, 2012

Undisciplined and Unlucky: UMD Must Shed Labels

OMAHA, Neb. -- It's hard to win hockey games when you're undisciplined. Killing off a ton of penalties is a good way to wear down your best players -- most of whom will kill penalties. It's not a good way to be successful.

When you're snakebit, life becomes even more difficult.

UMD enters Sunday's game averaging over 20 penalty minutes per game, and with just five goals over a four-game winless streak, its longest such streak since late in the 2008-09 season.

Saturday's 3-2 Omaha win was contentious, with both teams engaging in some chippy play. However, UMD was the only of the two teams to commit a major penalty, and the Bulldogs had two of them.

As a result, UMD piled up 38 penalty minutes in the game, and the Bulldogs had to kill off nearly seven minutes of major penalty-triggered UNO power play time in the third period. It was too much to ask, as Michael Young netted the game-winning goal in the third period after Adam Krause was ejected for a hit from behind.

Earlier, defenseman Derik Johnson was ejected for pulling the facemask of a UNO player. The public address announcer described the penalty as a game disqualification, meaning Johnson is out for the rest of the series. Subsequent stat sheet updates in the press box labeled the penalty as a misconduct, which would allow Johnson to return to the lineup Sunday. The official stats -- viewable here -- have a DQ listed.

(Coaches Scott Sandelin and Jason Herter were in the hotel lobby working on a game plan, and I didn't feel like interrupting them. I've been given no reason to think the official stats linked above are wrong, but I can tell you that the communication of this decision to the UMD bench Saturday night could not have been good.)

Either way, it's another in a series of undisciplined penalties on a team that is having enough trouble scoring without filling its foot with bullet holes.

UMD outplayed UNO five-on-five, but UNO had the only even-strength goal. The Bulldogs have to figure out a way to score at even strength. They are the only WCHA team that has gotten half or more of their total goals so far with the man advantage. If that trend continues, UMD won't realize its full potential.

Of course, the Bulldogs seem to be battling Murphy's Law right now. Lots of goofy bounces, bad breaks, and other such issues that aren't completely in their control.

"You make your own luck" is a farcical statement. It's a loser's lament and a winner's apology. It diminishes the meaning of luck and the influence it can have on the outcome of games. I have abhorred its use for some time, but it doesn't stop the words from coming out of coaches' mouths.

You don't make your own luck. Hell, that sentence is contradictory. Luck can't be created (unless it's Andrew). Luck happens. And just because you admit to being lucky (or unlucky) doesn't mean it's the only reason for your team's success (or lack thereof).

Examples? Sure. I have one that hits close to home.

The 2011 national championship game.

Am I saying -- or implying -- that UMD won because of luck? Hell, no. UMD earned that baby.

However, it's rare to see a 9-4 split in power plays in a closely-contested game that has so much on the line. It's hard to dispute many of the calls or non-calls in the game, but the fact of the matter is that most officiating crews wouldn't have the stones to call a national championship game the way that crew did on that night. It didn't help UMD win, because the Bulldogs ran into a very good penalty kill, but had the split not been as large, it would have changed the way the game was played. That could have made it tougher for the better team to win.

Going the other way, last year's Final Five saw UMD run into a white-hot Sam Brittain in the semifinals. By losing that game, the Bulldogs were shipped to the Northeast Regional, and ran into a clearly-superior Boston College team. If UMD had found a way to beat Brittain one more time on those 70 shots on goal, the regional destination could have changed, and so may have UMD's fortunes.

It's a fine line, but right now it's clear UMD is working hard, generally playing very hard, and not getting a lot of reward for the effort. Teams go through runs like this, where it seems every mistake or bad bounce ends up in the back of their net. It's happened to UMD before. The key here is how the Bulldogs respond.

Perhaps a quick turnaround helps. No time to sit around and think ... only time to recharge the body and get back on the ice.

In a matter of hours, we'll see if UMD can start to turn things back in its favor, or if the slump will extend to Grand Forks on Friday.

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