Saturday, December 14, 2013

Saturday Hockey Notes and Thoughts: UMD Hits a Wall

Kraig and I said it on the air a couple times.

When the fourth line is the best line for UMD in a game, it isn't really a good thing.

Sure, it's good for the line. In this case, it was really nice to see Cal Decowski, Sammy Spurrell, and Charlie Sampair keep going the way they've been going. I'm sure this stretch has been good for their confidence, and their chemistry actually seems to be growing.

However ...

In no other way is it good. Guys who aren't used to big minutes are suddenly asked to play big minutes because, you know, they're the only ones really doing a whole lot. And while a line chart is nothing but a piece of paper, the fourth line is usually listed there for a reason.

(Unless you're Andy Murray, and you think you can fool people into thinking your top line is three guys who have zero points combined entering the game. But I digress.)

If the fourth line is your best line, it's because not enough guys on the top three lines are doing their part.

Throw in a suddenly leaky defense and shaky goaltending, and you have a recipe for a three-game losing streak. UMD has that after a 5-3 loss to Western Michigan Friday. Those three losses have all come at home, marking the second three-game home losing streak for UMD since Amsoil Arena opened. To put that in perspective, before October 2011, UMD hadn't had a three-game losing streak on home ice since the 2007-2008 season, the Season of No Goals. Now they've had a pair of them in barely two years.

How did we get here?

Defensive breakdowns. For whatever reason, teams have now found ways to exploit the UMD defense. St. Cloud got a number of -- via coaches' terminology -- easy goals by simply getting pucks and bodies to the net and beating Bulldogs to spots. Ugly rebounds, poorly-defended rushes, players sneaking behind defenders, we've had it all, and much of it hasn't been good.

Not enough offense. 12 shots over the last 40 minutes Friday. Not one player on this highly-touted roster is averaging a point per game. Andy Welinski, Tony Cameranesi, and Austin Farley combined for 86 points last season. They have combined for six goals and 20 points so far this season. The freshmen have been pretty good, but the older guys need to get going.

It's almost like we've hit a wall. It's the same concept, because that usually comes out of nowhere. I'll theorize that part of the problem is that this team has been largely carried in all phases by the freshmen. Young players are going to make mistakes when tasked with big minutes at this level. The older guys just haven't come around for the most part, though I'm pretty confident at least Farley isn't 100 percent healthy, and I'm not sure Cameranesi is, either.

(There isn't any intel that I'm privy to on either player. These are simply observations from watching them play this year versus last year. With Farley, for example, he will never be known for his breakaway speed, but he doesn't look right at times when skating. I could be reading too much into things, but that's my story and I'm sticking to it.)

So we applaud the fourth line. We also applaud Kyle Osterberg, whose effort and doggedness stand out just about every time he hops the boards. I see a future captain-type here, I really do. He's a perfect penalty killer, because the PK is so much about effort and determination and a willingness to outwork the opponent. Osterberg is always willing to outwork the opponent, and you can never question his effort. Linemates Caleb Herbert and Justin Crandall had their moments Friday, but Osterberg was a constant, and it didn't matter who he was on the ice with.

Break begins after Saturday's game. The Bulldogs won't play again until Jan. 3, and the next regular season game won't be until Jan. 10, which is nearly a full month from now.

Point?

This is it. Empty the tank. Pull out all the stops, because there's no reason not to. Focus all day Saturday should be on ending the first half of the season on a good note. It won't wash away everything that has gone wrong, particularly in the last two games, but it will give everyone in the room a good feeling heading into the holidays. And the break should allow some people to get closer to 100 percent, so we're better in the second half of the season.

At this point, I'm not in favor of thinking of the alternative, so I won't. Time to go get a win and damn the alternatives.

1 comment:

tUMD15 said...

Defensive breakdowns for sure, but the goaltending has to be better; especially rebound control. But those rebound goals also fall on the team getting outworked and beat to spots in D zone.

Sure hope they have a stud recruit up their sleeve as ACrandall is a senior. McNeely, to this point, is no Stalock or even Reiter. Missing on Wilcox when you had connections like cousin Stalock and best friend Faulk has turned out to be critical. But that is ancient history....time to find another guy to come in in the mold of Issac or Stalock and pre Sandy, Nicklin or Kosti.