Friday, December 06, 2013

UMD Takes Aim at Another High-Ranked Opponent

Frying pan, meet fire.

We knew going into the season that there were plenty of really good opponents on UMD's schedule. Reality has proven the theory correct.

For the third time this season, UMD will battle a team in the top two of the national rankings. So far, the Bulldogs have posted a 2-2 record in four games against such opponents (Minnesota and Notre Dame), winning by a combined 10-3 (4-1 over Notre Dame and 6-2 over Minnesota) while losing two games by a combined 9-3 (3-2 to Notre Dame and 6-1 to Minnesota).

This weekend, St. Cloud State invades Amsoil Arena, with a No. 2 national ranking in tow. The 20th-ranked Bulldogs are coming off a bye week, and while UMD wasn't as banged-up as it was after the Ohio State series (its last bye), the boys should be even healthier now.

SCSU isn't No. 2 by default. The Huskies just don't sport a lot of weaknesses right now. The forward depth is impressive. Guys like Jonny Brodzinski, Kalle Kossila, and Joey Benik are playing bigger roles because Hobey Baker winner Drew LeBlanc and Ben Hanowski graduated. Nic Dowd is off to a great start as well, and the Huskies have plenty of solid role players all over the lineup.

Defensively, you needn't look further than Andrew Prochno. The junior has developed into one of the better defensemen in the NCHC. He and his blue-line partner Ethan Prow were each plus-four in SCSU's 6-2 win over Colorado College Nov. 23, the Huskies' last game.

That isn't to say that UMD is full of slouches in the lineup.

The Bulldogs got some guys going in the Minnesota win, as Justin Crandall tallied four points, Caleb Herbert had three assists, and Tony Cameranesi was strong again. Crandall, Austin Farley, and Cameranesi combined for a great first-period goal in that win after Crandall came on in a line change for Adam Krause. Before Crandall's normal linemates -- Herbert and Kyle Osterberg -- could hop the boards, Crandall intercepted a clearing attempt, found Farley behind the net, and then Farley fed a wide-open Cameranesi in front. It was a great example of what can happen when you hem even a great team like Minnesota in its defensive zone for a long shift. The Gophers had no chance of making a change, they got tired from constantly chasing the puck, and UMD made them pay.

These teams are somewhat similar in that both coaches like the forward depth available, and yet the teams have struggled on the power play. They are both between 17 and 18 percent, with UMD's 17.2 percent vastly improved from what it was before a 4-for-7 performance against Minnesota two weekends ago.

UMD will be challenged to get pucks to (and then by) SCSU junior goalie Ryan Faragher. He carries an impressive .923 save percentage, and the Huskies allow only 24 shots per game. Of course, UMD permits just 25, and sophomore goalie Matt McNeely has a .927 save percentage.

Goals might be tough to come by for both teams, which sends us right back to the special teams bit I already brought up. The team that gets its power play going will be the one getting the money.

As for UMD, don't expect many lineup changes from the Minnesota win. Sophomore defenseman Willie Corrin (undisclosed injury) will likely be the only one out from that game. I believe we'll see junior Luke McManus draw in if that ends up being the case.

The way the forwards played against Minnesota, even in that loss, there really isn't any reason to change anything there. McNeely should get a second straight start in goal. He was sharp early on against Minnesota, and then played well while getting peppered with pucks as Minnesota tried and failed to generate a rally as UMD built a big lead.

These two series before Christmas should be entertaining, even if there isn't much scoring. These are teams that will test UMD's discipline -- in a "playing strong in its own zone" kind of way, and not in an "avoiding dumb penalties" way -- and patience while also pressuring the Bulldogs' generally-young defense.

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