Friday, December 07, 2012

Opportunity Ahead for UMD as Christmas Approaches

There are four games left in the 2012 calendar year for UMD. Those four games could tell the tale of the Bulldogs' chances in the second half of the college hockey season.

Heading into Friday's game with Bemidji State at Amsoil Arena, UMD sits at 4-7-3 overall, 2-5-3 in the WCHA. Those seven points are good for an eighth-place tie, and leave the Bulldogs three points behind a home-ice position in the WCHA playoffs.

Yeah, 18 league games remain for UMD, but there can be no more coughing up points if there is going to be a chance at home ice in the playoffs.

No more blowing leads late in games. No more no-shows for home games when a series sweep is attainable.

(You think the Saturday loss to St. Cloud State stings? As recently as Thursday, in an appearance on KQ, UMD coach Scott Sandelin quipped "We played against St. Cloud State that Saturday?" He's still bitter about that game, and that should tell you something regarding how bad it was.)

With Bemidji State in town, and a trip to Alaska-Anchorage to follow, there is no avoiding the need to get points before the holiday break.

The going theory is that 28-30 points will get you home ice in the WCHA playoffs most every season. The math here is obvious.

This weekend will mark the 11th and 12th league games on the UMD schedule. Next week will be Nos. 13 and 14, and UMD will be at the halfway mark.

Half of 30 is 15. UMD is at seven. Two sweeps is tough to ask for, but I have said I think UMD can get six points out of these next two weekends. Doing that should leave the team feeling pretty good about itself going into the second half of the season.

And it'll be a home-heavy second half.

UMD will play eight of 14 league games at home in the second half, including series against Michigan Tech, Minnesota State, Nebraska Omaha, and Denver. They'll all be difficult, but if UMD can become a strong home team -- as it's been for a few years now -- there's no reason to think UMD can't get 10 of 16 points, if not more.

On the road, UMD matches up with Minnesota, Bemidji State, and Colorado College. Get six of 12 points, add the 10 from the home games, and the seven UMD already has, and you have 23.

Want to get to 28? That means the Bulldogs need only five points out of the next two weekends, a number that should absolutely be attainable.

This isn't mindless optimism. It's optimism, but hardly mindless, and it's backed by pretty simple math.

Bemidji State is traditionally a tough team to play against. This isn't the same team without outstanding defenseman Brad Hunt, who graduated last year after tormenting UMD and others for four years. Coach Tom Serratore acknowledges that it's been hard to replace Hunt, as he knew it would be, but he doesn't feel his team has played as strong defensively as he expected it to.

Goalies Andrew Walsh and Mathieu Dugas have faced a lot of pucks so far, and while the goals against average isn't impressive, the veteran coach feels both have played well.

Senior Jordan George is the top forward, but I really like what I've seen from freshman Cory Ward. He's stepped in, won some draws, and has been a factor in all zones. He provides strength in the middle, which is an area BSU isn't particularly deep in.

The Beavers will struggle with UMD's power play, led by freshman Tony Cameranesi and senior Mike Seidel, who has points in nine straight games. Freshman Austin Farley really seemed to ignite the second line with sophomores Justin Crandall and Caleb Herbert last week, which made UMD a much more dangerous team at even strength. That will create tougher matchups for opponents if it continues to evolve.

UMD needs to be smart with the puck, especially through the neutral zone. The Beavers won't apply a suffocating forecheck, but if an opponent isn't smart with the puck in the offensive zone, said opponent won't get a lot of scoring chances.

It's an area the Bulldogs have improved in, but need to get better. If they don't, this goal of accumulating points in the final two weekends before the break won't get accomplished, and optimism will be harder to come by.

No comments: