Saturday, December 29, 2012

Saturday Hockey Notes and Thoughts: One Step Forward, Two Steps Back

FORT MYERS, Fla. -- Just when things started to show signs of looking up, it's gone back into the swirl of negativity for the UMD Bulldogs.

4-1-1 over six games going into the Christmas break, the Bulldogs spent 40 minutes looking like they ate too many cookies during the bye, and a two-win Maine team got the one break it needed to burn UMD.

The break happened when Martin Ouellette made a save off a hard point shot, and the puck bounced right to Steven Swavely. He fed Ryan Lomberg out of the penalty box for a breakaway. Lomberg beat UMD freshman goalie Matt McNeely for the only goal of a 1-0 Maine win.

The Bulldog power play -- No. 1 in the WCHA for much of December -- was in a slumber Friday, scoreless in five chances, and often outworked badly by a Maine kill that has continuously improved this season. Things got so bad that UMD used its fourth line of Austyn Young, Charlie Sampair, and Adam Krause for the final seconds of the last power play, and the trio generated more good energy in 25 seconds than the two main power play units did at any point in the game.

Unquestionably, Maine played well. It executed the game plan to a tee, and Ouellette made some big saves. However, UMD spent too much of the game on the perimeter, not working hard enough to get in the tough areas and make the goalie's life difficult. Division I goalies are going to stop most unscreened shots from the outside. It's just the way it is. If a team is looking to win games by scoring goals from the perimeter, it better find a way to screen a goalie, or hope to be facing a bad goalie.

Because the Bulldogs weren't working hard enough as a unit, Maine got more of the advantages to be had out of the plethora of goofy bounces to be had on a terrible ice sheet with pucks that appeared to have been heated in a microwave before use. The Black Bears played a simpler game, while UMD tried too many times to do the fancy thing instead of just getting pucks and bodies to the net.

That lack of bodies to the net is what -- in part -- led to the game's only goal. Because UMD didn't get any real traffic in front of Ouellette, he was able to steer the rebound from a point shot right to a teammate in the slot, and that teammate -- Swavely -- had an easy outlet. It helped that no one for UMD sagged back when Lomberg got out of the box, so all he had to do was wait for the puck. Caleb Herbert and Drew Olson got on their proverbial horses, but had too much ground to cover.

It would be easy to sit here and rip the team, but it also doesn't take a genius to figure out that the effort was much better in the third period. Herbert's major penalty -- hard to argue the call based on the live look and one hard-to-see replay -- took five minutes of life out of the comeback effort, though the penalty kill was quite good.

Actually, the kill was good all night, which is a major reason why it was only a 1-0 game. Maine had trouble throughout the game generating good looks on the power play over its five opportunities, including the five-minute one. Had it not been for the shortie, the special teams game would have been dead-even, despite UMD's power play doing virtually nothing positive in five chances.

I thought Joe Basaraba had another good night. He continues to be a physical threat who does go to the tough areas and does wreak havoc in front of the opposing net. Joe is quietly having a very good season. I know a lot of you out there expect him to score more, but that's not necessarily his role at the moment.

Another guy I wanted to make sure to point out is Young. The freshman played limited minutes as the fourth-line center, but he was noticeable every time he was on the ice. The ejection of Herbert was an opportunity for him, as he got some time in the third period with Justin Crandall and Austin Farley -- another guy who brought some want-to, especially in the third period.

It seemed Tony Cameranesi and Mike Seidel had their struggles through the first 40 minutes with the crappy ice and microwaved pucks, but I thought they simplified things a bit in the third and did a better job of getting pucks to the net.

The third period was the way this team needs to play for 60 minutes. It knows that, and Saturday against Ferris State will be a chance to prove once again that it's capable.

Losing to a two-win team does nothing good for any team's NCAA at-large hopes, but as our good buddy John Forsyth (@blackbear93 on Twitter) pointed out after Friday's game, it isn't insurmountable from a mathematical perspective.

Where it becomes difficult is that we are 19 games into the season, and outside of the six-game run before Christmas, UMD has shown little consistency. Disappearing acts similar to Friday's first 40 minutes can't continue to happen -- not even once a month -- if this thing is going to get turned around.

Beat Ferris State, hit the beach, and get ready for Michigan Tech in two weeks. That's all that can happen now.


Wondering about potential lineup changes? Well, because it's a non-conference trip, everyone is here. Virtually anything imaginable might be in play, and I don't have any answers as to what things will look like for Saturday afternoon's game.

The one thing I will say is I think McNeely has earned the right to start a fourth straight game, simply by virtue of his play. Doesn't mean that will happen, as it's only my opinion, and my input on the lineup is usually not required or requested!

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