Friday, November 01, 2013

Reunion of Sorts Steals UMD-Ohio State Spotlight

COLUMBUS, Ohio -- Whether it's a WCHA title, a national championship, or an individual milestone like his 200th career coaching victory, Scott Sandelin is always quick to say that it isn't about Scott Sandelin.

So it wasn't a surprise to hear Ohio State head coach Steve Rohlik remind me that this weekend isn't about Steve Rohlik.

These guys are die-hard hockey coaches. They are as intense and as driven as anyone I've worked with in the sport, and their success in the business is no surprise. The success of their teams on the ice means an awful lot to them, and no one goes into a game more prepared than they do.

They also get it. This isn't about them, no matter how hard we may try.

The storyline this week is simple. Rohlik and associate coach Brett Larson are both former UMD assistants. Rohlik recruited a big chunk of UMD's 2011 national championship team. Larson had a hand in bringing in many of the current players, along with serving as an assistant coach during that magical 2011 run.

The guy who hired them at UMD is still there. Speaking to the Duluth News Tribune this week, Larson was exceptionally complimentary of Sandelin's impact on his career.

“I owe my coaching career to Scott Sandelin. I was kind of an out-of-the-box pick when he hired me. I had just finished playing and didn’t have a ton of coaching experience. Without him taking me on at UMD, I’m not where I’m at right now."

While this "reunion" is taking many of the headlines into this weekend, it isn't the story.

That'll happen on the ice, where UMD looks to figure out what has been a bit of a Friday night slumber the previous two weeks. The Bulldogs were not sharp for 40 minutes of a 3-1 loss at Colorado College two weeks ago, or of a 3-2 loss to Notre Dame last week.

"Our first third of the weekend, the first two periods, were not as good as the last four," Sandelin said of the Notre Dame weekend. "We gotta figure that out."

Rohlik, who calls his Ohio State team a work in progress, says his team also has to "figure out how to play 60 minutes."

Whichever team does that this weekend will clearly have a leg up.

Ohio State has some guys. Ryan Dzingel has six assists and seven points in six games. Darik Angeli has four goals. Nick Oddo has a point per game so far, and Alex Szczechura is off to a good start. Rohlik knows his team can score, and they should test UMD's young defense and a goaltending group that had questions surrounding it before the season started.

That goaltending has been a forgotten storyline with this team so far. UMD's team save percentage was unacceptably below .900 last season. It's .922 through six games. Matt McNeely and Aaron Crandall have combined for a 1.68 goals against, with McNeely starting three straight before Crandall started three straight.

In my opinion, Crandall has been the better of the two. He's seeing the puck well right now, and he's doing a good job playing aggressively in goal and making sure he gets the space he needs to make saves.

Ohio State's goaltending hasn't been as good. Sophomore Collin Olson is off to a horrid start, and so far it's been freshman Matt Tomkins carrying the load. tOSU's only got a save percentage of .868 so far, so neither has been great, but Rohlik said they're seeing improvement.

It could be a tough weekend for UMD in another way. The Bulldogs are accustomed to quality atmospheres in buildings they go to on the road. This will not be one of them. Value City Arena seats 17,500, but when we dropped off the players' equipment Thursday night, the upper deck was already blocked off by curtains. The Buckeyes' game Tuesday against Bowling Green drew a paltry 1,782, and even if those folks are happy to be at the game and make a lot of noise, it isn't much of an atmosphere to play in.

Look for UMD to utilize quick shifts early in the game to try to get everyone involved quickly. The sooner someone throws a big hit or makes a big play, the sooner the bench comes alive. The upshot is that the Bulldogs have some experience in these situations (hello, Anchorage). It shouldn't be a big deal, but I've seen it affect teams before. When playing games you expect to win, you can't afford to get tripped up by something relatively minor like this.

I'll be back later Friday with line charts once we get to the building.

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