Friday was the season opener. Coaches will talk about starting points.
And UMD's coaches have to be happy with the starting point their players provided at Amsoil Arena.
UMD won the faceoff battle, dominated in shots, shut down a potent Michigan Tech power play, and got a bad-angle goal from Justin Crandall late to get a 2-1 victory.
The Bulldogs probably deserved a better fate than sweating out a one-goal win, but Tech goalie Pheonix Copley was stellar, making 39 saves while getting peppered regularly throughout the proceedings.
Copley stoned a number of UMD players close in, including Crandall, Austin Farley, and Alex Iafallo. He stopped a pair of three-on-one rushes in the second, though the one Iafallo got a shot on was executed much more crisply than the other, which featured a tough-angle shot by Dominic Toninato.
It was a physical game that featured a couple interesting calls on what looked to potentially be clean hits (that happens in October), plenty of special teams hockey, five on threes that came up empty, and a lot of things coaches can pick apart when they watch the videotape. There were also a couple scrums that led to penalties.
UMD's five on threes featured some quality puck movement, but you can tell it was the opening game, as not everything was crisp. Tech's long five on three was all sorts of ugly, as UMD did a great job getting into lanes and clearing pucks when opportunity existed to do so.
The Bulldogs got bottled up a couple times early in the game, as they struggled a bit to control MTU's top line of Tanner Kero, Alex Petan, and Blake Pietila. The hitch was that the pressure didn't lead to many shots on goal. Instead, Tech had only six in the first period and 16 for the game.
I would expect the Huskies to be a much stronger team Saturday. They need to get more pucks to the net. 41 shot attempts when the opponent has 41 shots on goal (70 attempts) isn't going to cut it. The Huskies have to establish more offensive zone puck possession and do a better job getting into the dirty areas and putting pressure on UMD's relatively inexperienced defense.
For the Bulldogs, Andy Welinski had a great game, I thought. He was active in the defensive zone, he stepped up and used his body, and he moved the puck well. Freshman Carson Soucy also stood out on the blue line, as did his defensive partner, Luke McManus. He's been cursed by injuries during his UMD career, but McManus may have played his best game on Friday. He was rewarded with the primary assist on Crandall's winner.
Speaking of that, Bulldog fans have to like the fact that the fourth line was as good as it was Friday. Crandall, Max Tardy, and Kyle Osterberg were creating offense, and the more they can do that, the more dangerous this forward group is. I'd argue 12 forwards had pretty good games Friday, and the staff has some tough decisions to make if they are to get Friday's scratches -- Sammy Spurrell and Austyn Young up front, Dan Molenaar and Willie Corrin in the back -- into the lineup Saturday.
Matt McNeely did fine in goal. Most notably, he kept his concentration despite not seeing a lot of pucks for long stretches of the game. That can be a huge challenge for goalies sometimes.
Saturday should be a quality game, but UMD got off to a good start Friday. Following up before league play starts would be a huge step.
Elsewhere in the NCHC, Miami won at Ohio State 6-2, ruining the debuts of former UMD assistants Steve Rohlik (head coach) and Brett Larson (assistant) on the tOSU bench. Sean Kuraly had three assists as the RedHawks got goals from six different players and outshot the Buckeyes 38-28.
Notre Dame beat Western Michigan 4-0 behind a shutout from goalie Steven Summerhays. WMU could struggle to score this season, so this might be more a trend than a mirage.
North Dakota scored the last four goals in a 5-3 win over Vermont in Grand Forks. Mark McMillian got the game-winner in the third period. Clarke Saunders allowed three goals in 17 shots before getting the hook, and Zane Gothberg shut out UVM the rest of the way for the win.
St. Cloud State held off Bemidji State 3-2 in St. Cloud. Nic Dowd scored the short-handed winner late in the second period. BSU tried to rally, but only had one shot on goal in the third period. Joey Benik had the other two SCSU goals.
Denver found a way to hold off Merrimack 1-0 in Denver. Daniel Doremus' power play goal in the first held up as the winner. DU outshot Merrimack 30-25, as Sam Brittain pitched the shutout for the Pioneers.
In the shocker of the night, Bentley won at Omaha 6-4. The -- hold on, let me look it up -- Falcons took a 2-0 lead early and never trailed in the game. Bentley led 5-2 before UNO rallied to close within one, but an empty-netter with 20 seconds left sealed the deal. UNO led in shots 38-25, but Ryan Massa only made 19 saves in a losing effort.
Same matchups Saturday, except Miami and Ohio State move their series to the RedHawks' home rink in Oxford, and Notre Dame and Western Michigan will play in front of the Lunatics in Kalamazoo.