Wednesday, December 26, 2012

UMD Preps for Florida Excursion

There are worse things in the country to prepare for than a late-December trip to Florida.

Yes, UMD is still a game under .500 (7-8-3), but at 4-1-1 over the last six games, the Bulldogs got things going in the right direction before a weekend off. During that off week, UMD players wrapped up final exams for the first semester, and also got to take some time away from the rink to celebrate Christmas.

The team returns to practice Wednesday, then flies to Florida on Thursday to play Maine (2-11-2) on Friday evening in Estero, a community of around 18,000 people located not too far south of Fort Myers.

This is the 13th annual Florida College Classic, an event that is hosted by the ECHL's Florida Everblades and played at Germain Arena, a building that seats around 7,000 fans. The Classic is co-hosted by Maine and Cornell, both of which have played in the event in each of its 12 previous years. The Black Bears have won the event five times, including two of the last three years, while Cornell has won it three times. One of those was in 2005, when the Big Red beat UMD in a shootout after a 1-1 tie in the championship game. UMD beat Maine 4-1 in the opening round.

(In case you're wondering why there's a hockey tournament in Florida, Everblades owner Craig Brush is a Cornell alum who played on the Big Red's 1970 NCAA title team.)

The weather looks awesome, with sunshine and temps in the 70s expected, outside of a small chance of a thunderstorm Saturday. But make no mistake: This is a business trip for UMD first.

The business starts Wednesday, as the players try to shake off the rust after a layoff. Before the layoff, things were going well, as the Bulldogs put together four wins in six, including their first sweep in Anchorage since 1996. It doubled as UMD's first WCHA road sweep since Dec. 2-3, 2011, at Michigan Tech.

On Friday, UMD faces a Maine team that has scored just 20 goals in 15 games, but seems to be gaining some footing as of late.

In its last six games, in which Maine has gone 1-3-2, the Black Bears have allowed 12 goals after surrendering 24 in their previous six and they have scored 10 goals after scoring just five in the six prior games.

Also, Maine is 4 for 27 on the power play (14.8 percent) and 20 for 23 on the penalty kill (87 percent) after going 1 for 32 (3.1 percent) with the man-advantage in the previous six games and killing off 31 of 40 (77.5 percent).

Doesn't sound like much -- coach Tim Whitehead said it's been "baby steps" -- but they had to start somewhere. If the Black Bears are going to start scoring, expect a lot of it to center around senior Joey Diamond. The abrasive star scored 25 goals last season, but has just three in 14 games this season while battling injury.

A win over Maine could lead to a matchup with a Cornell team that should be a tournament contender, making the matchup quite valuable for a UMD squad that enters the weekend with a pedestrian 2-2 record in non-conference games.

As the Bulldogs look to head in the right direction, it's paramount that they avoid a slip this weekend. Do well in Florida, take another week off, and then look ahead to a lot of home games in the second half.

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