Friday, January 31, 2014

Game 23: UMD at Western Michigan

KALAMAZOO, Mich. -- Greetings from Lawson Ice Arena in Kalamazoo. Faceoff is about an hour away as I type, so here's a quick rundown.

For UMD, sophomore forward Austin Farley is out. Must still be selling the dive he took Saturday, right Minnesota?



Osterberg - Cameranesi - Crandall (Justin)
Decowski - Herbert - Basaraba
Iafallo - Toninato - Krause
Young - Tardy - Spurrell

Soucy - Welinski
Johnson - Raskob
Corrin - Molenaar

Crandall (Aaron) - McNeely

Dries - Kessel - LaPorte
Berschbach - Balisy - Kovacs
Hargrove - Pitt - Mellor
Cichy - Rebry - Hadley

Dienes - Fleming
Stewart - Morrison
Oesterle - Brown

Slubowski - Bloomberg - Hafner

(WMU does not list goalies in starting order. I'll tweet out the starter.)

Thursday, January 30, 2014

More Hard Hockey Awaits UMD in Kalamazoo

KALAMAZOO, Mich. -- Sometimes, good luck manifests itself off the ice. It doesn't mean you should look the other way.

A 7am flight out of Duluth Thursday was delayed by snow in the Twin Cities. They call it a "ground halt" in the business. Weather in Duluth was fine and dandy, but it was snowing like crazy at MSP, and that kept our plane from taking off on time.

(I killed some time playing games and interviewing UMD freshman Alex Iafallo. Hear that on Saturday.)

The plane finally took off a little after 9am, a delay of more than two hours. Despite that, the 28-member UMD traveling party was able to meander to the gate for its next flight without missing anything significant.

In fact, we got there before the pilot did.

That delayed flight crew couldn't have worked out any better. If they had been on time (their previous flight was delayed getting into MSP by the weather, which was hideous), we would never had made the flight's scheduled 10:10 departure. In fact, we walked to the gate at 10:08. Pretty sure the aircraft door would have been closed by then, unless someone there was smart enough to realize that 28 passengers were missing, probably for a good reason.

In other words, UMD got its first good "bounce" of the weekend without even putting skates on. And I don't turn down any kind of good fortune, on the ice of off.

Lots to cover as the Bulldogs finish preparations for a weekend series against Western Michigan here Friday and Saturday.

For starters, all 13 available forwards are on the trip. With Charlie Sampair out, that means sophomore Austyn Young traveled. He's the extra for Friday unless someone falls out their hotel room window sometime before faceoff. Don't expect massive line changes. Or any. The Bulldogs rolled four lines against the undisputed No. 1 team in the country and outshot them 42-27, including an eye-popping 29-12 at even strength. Nothing is changing unless it has to.

(By the way, Western Michigan coach Andy Murray told me, unprompted, "We thought they [the Bulldogs] were the better team Saturday, even though they lost in the shootout." Not sure what that's worth to UMD fans, but there it is.)

Unfortunately, defenseman Tim Smith is not on the trip. He hasn't played since going hard into the boards in the Saturday game against Denver, so he's missed two full games and almost all of a third (he was injured on the game's first shift). If there is a change defensively, it'll be Luke McManus drawing in. Don't bet on it, at least not Friday.

What's impressed me most about this team since break is its ability to control the puck despite losing a serious number of faceoffs. Happened again against a damn good Minnesota team on Saturday night. The Gophers won 46 of 72 faceoffs. Won them in all situations and all zones. It wasn't a matter of UMD winning the "important" draws, though the Bulldogs -- mainly keyed by Caleb Herbert, who has really shown improvement in this area, I believe -- did win a few of those.

The games last weekend were similar. UMD would lose a draw against Minnesota State on Friday, and they'd have the puck within five seconds anyway. They hounded the thing and forced turnovers.

Minnesota wasn't as easy a nut to crack, but UMD played sound structurally and kept the Gophers from using their speed to generate scoring chances.

(I think the smaller ice surface helped UMD a bit on Saturday, as I didn't notice guys like Justin Kloos or Taylor Cammarata nearly as much as I did at Mariucci. I doubt they forgot how to play, and maybe it's just a coincidence and they had a tough night. But their speed wasn't as much of a factor this time around.)

It's saying a lot that UMD can be such a strong possession team while currently sitting 54th out of 59 Division I teams in faceoff percentage. The Bulldogs give up puck possession on too many faceoffs, but still own the puck in the majority of their games. When they start getting more consistent in the circle, imagine how good that puck possession will be.

Western Michigan is similar when it comes to faceoffs. They're not much better in the national rankings, but yet you watch the Broncos play, and they limit scoring chances and hound the puck so well that you don't realize they're losing faceoffs left and right.

They're also great at coming from behind. Against UMD Dec. 14, Western was down 3-0 and rallied to tie before UMD won it late. Against Miami, the Broncos trailed 3-0 before coming back and winning late. In St. Cloud, the Huskies took a 4-1 lead in the second period before settling for a 5-5 tie and a shootout loss to Western Michigan.

"Every game's a battle," Murray said this week. "It's not a recipe for success, falling behind. But we're resilient.

"There's a real competitive nature to college hockey, and you have to be on top of your game every night."

The Broncos have been flip-flopping goalies lately. They've gotten some solid play out of Frank Slubowski, but he got yanked in the Friday tie/shootout win against St. Cloud, and Lukas Hafner ended up making 32 saves in a 2-1 win in that series finale. That came a week after Hafner got the hook against Miami and Slubowski stood his ground while his teammates rallied.

"Our goaltending numbers have been pretty solid," Murray said. "But there have been nights where you're shaking your head. Most nights they give us an opportunity to get points."

We saw both goalies in Duluth, though Murray said that wasn't necessarily the plan going in. Hafner got the win Friday, but allowed three goals. Slubowski ended up starting Saturday, but was pulled after UMD took a 2-0 lead. Hafner was between the pipes when his team came back, but ended up being the goalie of record when Iafallo scored a third-period power play goal to clinch it for the Bulldogs.

Both coaches -- Murray this week and UMD's Scott Sandelin the next night -- thought goals came too quickly and too easily for their taste in the first half of their Dec. 13 game, which Western went on to win. The Bulldogs were exceptionally leaky, giving up goals immediately after scoring themselves on two separate occasions. When you consider how much coaches emphasize shifts after goals, this had to be really frustrating for the UMD staff.

Outside of that flurry and UMD's quick start in the Saturday game, those games were pretty tightly played. This won't be like the Minnesota game, with some up-and-down action and lots of scoring chances for UMD. It also won't be like the Minnesota State game. The Mavericks were really vulnerable on defense that day, and the Bulldogs made them pay for mistakes in puck movement or coverage.

Unless Western Michigan is totally off its game, this won't happen this weekend. The Broncos are going to limit scoring chances, and they're really good at keeping players away from rebounds. UMD will have to work hard for loose pucks and take a lot of hits to make plays.

Special teams will also be a factor. UMD has cut back on its penalties a lot since break. The Bulldogs are averaging almost five fewer penalty minutes per game in the six games since break than they did before that. It's dropped UMD from being the most penalized team in the country down to sixth. Western is fourth on that list, at close to 17 minutes per game. Improved discipline has led to more five-on-five play for UMD, and that's led to more success. Not surprising when you look at how strong this team is across four lines.

When UMD can roll four lines, things will go well. I'm not breaking ground with that statement.

That said, you're going to see some special teams time this weekend. It's up to UMD to make the most of that. Getting outscored 3-1 on special teams by Minnesota is the only reason UMD didn't win the North Star College Cup on Saturday. The. Only. Reason.

This should be a great series. If UMD takes at least five points, it will pass Western in the league standings. Sounds like a lot, but if the Bulldogs play patient and get good goaltending, it's not out of the question at all.

Monday, January 27, 2014

North Star College Cup Suggestion Box

This past weekend marked the first-ever North Star College Cup.

From an execution standpoint, the folks at XCel Energy Center and the University of Minnesota showed again that they can indeed stage a quality hockey event. No issues there.

However, I know from interactions with fans via email, Twitter, text, and in person that this was not a perfect weekend. The people with the NSCC have work to do, and there will be no shortage of ideas and suggestions on how to make this thing better.

Among the thoughts I heard, many repeatedly:
  • At the very least, the championship game should be continuous overtime, not a five-minute overtime followed by a shootout.
  • The ticket pricing is not perfect, and fans were generally not pleased with both games each day being on one ticket. If organizers thought they'd get St. Cloud State or Minnesota fans to attend the UMD-Minnesota State game Friday afternoon, the 13,000 empty seats would beg to differ.
  • There needs to be more fan interaction during media timeouts inside the arena.
If you attended the games, or even if you just watched them on television, and you have ideas on ways to make this tournament better, please don't hesitate to let me know. Comment on this post, send me a Tweet (@BruceCiskie), or drop me an email (bciskie at gmail dot com).

I'm going to compile a list of the best or most commonly-communicated gripes and ideas about the tournament and will pass them on to people who might actually be able to do something about it.

While it would have been cooler had UMD won the tournament, it was a good time and I feel this is going to be a very good event as time goes on.

Saturday, January 25, 2014

Game 22: UMD vs Minnesota (North Star College Cup)

ST. PAUL, Minn. -- As the third place game continues, here is the setup for Saturday's NSCC championship between unranked UMD and No. 1 Minnesota.

By the way, this game will start at 7:10, unless the third-place game (MSU and St. Cloud State) goes past 6:26pm. If that happens, the UMD game starts 44 minutes after the third-place game ends.

Either way, radio coverage at



Osterberg - Cameranesi - Crandall (Justin)
Farley - Herbert - Basaraba
Iafallo - Toninato - Krause
Tardy - Decowski - Spurrell

Soucy - Welinski
Johnson - Raskob
Corrin - Molenaar

Crandall (Aaron) - McNeely

Warning - Rau - Fasching
Condon - Kloos - Cammarata
Serratore - Boyd - Ambroz
Reilly (Connor) - Guertler - Isackson

Skjei - Holl
Reilly (Mike) - Parenteau
Bischoff - Marshall

Wilcox - Shibrowski

Friday, January 24, 2014

Saturday Hockey Notes and Thoughts: Bulldogs Grind Out Much-Needed Win in Overtime Thriller

ST. PAUL, Minn. -- As I told Minnesota State sports information guru Paul Allan, it wasn't the crispest game ever played, but it sure was entertaining.

It also was a huge win for UMD, as the Bulldogs used timely goals from special teams units to defeat Minnesota State 5-4 in overtime at XCel Energy Center. The win advances UMD into the championship game of the inaugural North Star College Cup Saturday night. The reward? A third meeting this season against No. 1 Minnesota. Surely, the Gophers will be looking to avenge a 6-2 loss to UMD the Sunday before Thanksgiving at Mariucci Arena. The Bulldogs struck for four power play goals and a shortie in that win.

Minnesota won the second semifinal 4-1 over St. Cloud State to advance.

UMD started strong, especially on defense. The Mavericks had just one shot through the first ten-plus minutes of the game. UMD didn't do a whole lot, either, but generated a few chances and got the game's first goal. MSU freshman goalie Cole Huggins whipped a puck up the right wing boards, where it was held at the point by UMD sophomore defenseman Andy Welinski. With Kyle Osterberg providing a screen, Welinski's slapper eluded Huggins, running the blue-liner's point streak to eight games in a row.

The Mavericks got a bleeder to tie it up, when Jonny McInnis' shot from the right corner hit UMD goalie Aaron Crandall and trickled in. It was only MSU's second shot of the game.

UMD had to rally twice, trailing 2-1 after one and then 4-3 in the third on a short-handed goal by Zach Lehrke. It wasn't Crandall's best game, though also not his worst. MSU scored on McInnis' goofy corner shot, and then got a PPG in the second on a weird bounce behind Crandall. It was a puck that someone for UMD should have corralled before it became dangerous, but still took a good effort play by J.P. LaFontaine to get it (barely) over the goal line.

(Call it bad puck luck if you want. You might be on to something, as UMD has seen its share of good puck luck.)

The Bulldogs can be better defensively than this. But there are a lot of positives.

For starters, they found a way to win. Additionally, UMD controlled puck possession in a game where it lost 46 of 72 faceoffs. Also, UMD got the power play going with two goals, scored a short-handed goal, and shook off an outstanding special teams effort from one of the best combined special teams groups in college hockey. Going even (3-3) against those guys is no small feat. Just ask Ferris State.

Frankly, I'm not sure I've ever seen a team own the puck like UMD did while only winning 36 percent of faceoffs. Now, it's worth noting that I ride the faceoff train a lot, but this group is rendering that statistic meaningless. Think about Friday's game. How many times did MSU win a draw -- often clean -- only to watch UMD control the puck within five seconds? It didn't work both ways. When UMD wins faceoffs, UMD owns the puck. From a puck-possession standpoint, this Bulldogs team is strong, and will only get stronger.

It was good to see that power play going, and the overtime power play was as good as I've seen UMD execute on the man advantage since before break. They were smart, poised, and got bodies and pucks down low. As Pat Micheletti said after the game, power play is all about creating odd-man situations. UMD did that down low, then took advantage of it for that winning goal.

In that overtime, Alex Iafallo just keeps finding the puck in scoring areas. And what a play by Tony Cameranesi and Austin Farley (it appeared Dominic Toninato was in there, too) to get the puck across to Iafallo for the winner. Toninato, Iafallo, and Adam Krause have been UMD's most consistently effective line as of late. Krause is one of those guys who is playing with more and more confidence in the offensive zone, and Iafallo can beat just about anyone on the ice with his speed. That guy has won UMD more races in the last three weekends than I could possibly count, just by using his wheels.

Net presence was key for the Bulldogs, and it will continue in the championship game against Minnesota. The Gophers did a great job of limiting second-chance opportunities against St. Cloud State, and UMD has to find a way to get to Adam Wilcox and make his life difficult on Saturday. He's a very good goalie, but even the best goalies can be rendered average by taking their eyes away.

The Gophers are a great college hockey team. They're the most talented team in the West, and when they get the kind of goaltending they've been getting from Wilcox, they're virtually unbeatable. In fact, Minnesota hasn't lost since that last meeting against UMD. It will take a great performance to knock Minnesota off again. UMD is fully capable, but it's much easier said than done.


Minnesota did indeed play great team defense in that second semifinal. A St. Cloud State team that drives the net well was very limited in second-chance opportunities. Wilcox is really good as is, but when all he has to do is make first saves, he only becomes a better goalie.

Hudson Fasching is a beast. The kid is already phenomenal, especially with his board play and his tenacity. He just doesn't lose battles. There are a lot of bigger forwards in Division I who routinely lose battles to smaller players. Fasching doesn't lose them to players of any size. He gave UMD fits in November on the big ice, and I have to think that when you stick him in an NHL rink, his reach and strength are only going to become more of a factor, not less.

Another Gopher forward who has really been impressive is Seth Ambroz. It seemed his development was plateauing in juniors, but he has stepped it up big-time since arriving in Dinkytown. He has good hands for a big forward, and he's also getting better at using his size to his advantage. Some guys (like Fasching) have it come to them so easily, it seems. It's been cool to watch Ambroz get better as he's faced Division I competition over his time at Minnesota.

For UMD, I think the line of Toninato, Iafallo, and Krause will again be huge. Don't discount the way Toninato is playing, while Iafallo scores all the big goals and gets all the attention. I thought Caleb Herbert's line was a little off on Friday, but they still were pretty good, and they could be well-positioned to have a big game.

It's easy to look at Minnesota's speed and depth and forget that UMD has speed and depth, too. I think it could be argued that the November split saw UMD get the better of Minnesota over most of the 120 minutes played. Saturday will be a different animal, but I don't think there's any question that UMD knows what it has to do in order to win the North Star College Cup. It's a matter of executing the plan when the lights go on.


Much will be made of the smallish attendance for Friday's session. Announced crowd was over 14,300, which isn't bad, but at no point did it appear that there were nearly that many in attendance. Word was that some 13,000 tickets were sold in advance for the semifinal games, but the crowd was nowhere near that. Some weather moved through the Cities Friday afternoon/evening, which could have scared a few people off and hurt the walkup, but what I talked about earlier in the week is clearly true. This event has to grow. It probably will as long as it's marketed properly.

Remember the old adage: Rome wasn't built in a day.

What's undeniable is that the players were into this, and the fans who showed up were into this. That's a start, though it might not be at the level some wanted to see it at.

Hopefully, more people will buy in for a UMD-Minnesota final on Saturday night. If the Saturday presale is anywhere close to what Friday's announced attendance was, a good walkup should get the building much closer to full. Either way, it should be a good atmosphere at the X.

Also, remember this, as pointed out by a UMD staffer who is much smarter than I am (not that I'm setting a high bar): The XCel Energy Center is the ultimate hockey facility. If there's hockey being played there, it is surely being run well and presented well by the game operations folks. That's what they do. Now, don't ask me if they can stage a Lady Gaga show or something like that. I just know they do a damn good job with hockey.

Props, too, to FSN for a piece on UMD hockey in the Friday pregame that I was told by more than one person was really cool. I get a little busy around that time, as you might understand.


While UMD plays non-conference this weekend for the final time this season, there were two NCHC series, both in Colorado.

In Denver, North Dakota handed the Pioneers a 4-2 loss in front of a ton of UND fans at Denver's building. UND has a huge alumni base in Colorado, and Denver's hilarious attempt to restrict ticket sales to DU fans blew up badly here. They had to rescind their flawed policy for the series, and UND fans infiltrated Magness Arena in huge numbers. They left happy, thanks to a two-goal first period and a strong defensive team game that made the job of Clarke Saunders much easier.

In Colorado Springs, it was last-place (no longer) Colorado College beating seventh-place (and now back in last) Miami 4-1. The Tigers struck for three in the first, and the RedHawks just never found a way to answer that early surge. A late Miami goal ruined a shutout bid for Josh Thorimbert, who finished with 29 saves.


By the way, I'll be on Beyond The Pond Saturday at 10:35am to talk about the Bulldogs and the North Star College Cup. The show, hosted by Brandon Mileski and the aforementioned Pat Micheletti, is heard on KFAN 100.3 FM in the Twin Cities, along with their statewide network. That network includes The Fan 1490 in Duluth. You can also listen online at or mobile via the iHeartRadio app.

Game 21: UMD vs Minnesota State (North Star College Cup)

ST. PAUL, Minn. -- Greetings from the XCel Energy Center, where UMD hasn't played since March of 2012. The North Star College Cup is ready to go, with the Bulldogs opening the inaugural event against Minnesota State.

Both teams played well in league series last weekend, but MSU was particularly impressive in a WCHA sweep of first-place Ferris State. UMD got two points out of six against Denver, probably deserved more, and comes in as a .500 team overall.



Osterberg - Cameranesi - Crandall (Justin)
Farley - Herbert - Basaraba
Iafallo - Toninato - Krause
Tardy - Decowski - Spurrell

Soucy - Welinski
Johnson - Raskob
Corrin - Molenaar

Crandall (Aaron) - McNeely

Gervais - Leitner - Lehrke
Grant - Margonari - McInnis
Knowles - LaFontaine - Gaede
Huntebrinker - Nelson (Jordan) - Thompson

Jutzi - Nelson (Josh)
Palmquist - Foguth
Stern - Nelson (Casey)

Huggins - Williams

Thursday, January 23, 2014

UMD Faces Formidable Maverick Team to Open North Star College Cup

It just doesn't get any easier for the UMD Bulldogs.

UMD has faced teams either tied with or ahead of it in the NCHC standings every weekend of conference play, including notably tough opponents St. Cloud State and Denver. Adding to it, the non-conference schedule has included Notre Dame, Minnesota, and now the North Star College Cup.

In this four-team tournament, the Bulldogs see two teams in the top five of both national polls, and a third team -- UMD's opponent on Friday -- which is absolutely a bubble team in the PairWise rankings, which mimic the NCAA Tournament selection process.

That's right, 14-10 Minnesota State has vaulted itself straight into NCAA consideration, despite a so-so non-conference record. Last week's home sweep of then-No. 2 Ferris State helps matters a bit.

We knew going into the season it was a tough schedule, and it has been every bit of that. It's a great challenge, and this weekend presents a great opportunity for the 9-9-2 Bulldogs.

"We've got one of the toughest schedules in college hockey," freshman defenseman Carson Soucy said this week. "In college hockey, every team is so close. It makes you have to battle so much harder."

The Bulldogs take on the Mavericks Friday afternoon at XCel Energy Center in St. Paul. It's their first meeting at a neutral site since UMD took down MSU in the 2003 WCHA Final Five third-place game. Besides the historical significance of the NSCC's first game, this is a key game for both teams.

MSU went 1-3 on an early-January trip to Alaska, but as second-year coach Mike Hastings noted when I talked to him this week, the Mavs rebounded quickly.

"We came back and decided to leave Alaska in Alaska," Hastings said. "I thought our leadership group with (captain) Jonny McInnis and Zach Lehrke did a great job of re-focusing our group. We really did take it a period at a time and tried to make sure we were controlling what we could control. We did a good job of it this past weekend."

As part of my weekly preparation for UMD games/series, I like to watch the opponent's most recent games. Technology makes this a pretty easy process, and I take a few hours each week to look for certain tendencies and just get a feel for how a team is playing.

Through that study and UMD's games, I've said without apology that St. Cloud State is the best team I've seen this season, with Minnesota and Notre Dame trailing. I haven't been prone to hyperbole with this work each week, so hopefully no one thinks I'm talking out of my rear end here.

Minnesota State is up there with the best teams I've seen on video.

The Mavericks were on fire last weekend against Ferris State. They attacked with speed, drove the net, and got strong goaltending.

"I was very impressed," UMD coach Scott Sandelin said. "I thought they were a team that went hard to the net. It was a very competitive series, very physical. They got to the net really hard. They have some skill players. I was very impressed with their speed."

MSU will be short-handed in Friday's game. Forwards Teddy Blueger and Zach Stepan were given game disqualifications Saturday for their role in a fight. They are automatically suspended for the semifinal.

"It's not going to change how they play," Sandelin said. "Certainly, if they play like (they did against Ferris), we're in for a major challenge."

For the second straight weekend, UMD is in a matchup of two of the nation's top penalty kills. The Bulldogs held a powerful Denver power play scoreless last weekend, and the UMD kill is now fifth nationally at 88.6 percent. MSU is third at 89.3 percent.

"Our penalty killers have done a really good job," Hastings said. "Penalty killing is a lot of selfless work. You're doing everything to make sure that puck doesn't get into the net."

Hastings knows his team has a challenge on its hands Friday, too.

"To see them play on tape, they're playing with confidence. The impact that their freshmen are having on the team, they grow weekly. Look at the schedule, they're getting tested every weekend. They're getting better all the time. They're a team that's gonna end up making a lot of noise in the playoffs in the NCHC."

UMD's defense will be seriously tested. Guys like Matt Leitner and JP LaFontaine will attack the net. They have already proven themselves at this level, and Hastings notes both have been playing much better as of late. The Mavericks attack in waves, and if UMD isn't careful, odd-man rushes could become the order of the late afternoon in St. Paul.

With the job the Bulldogs have done protecting Aaron Crandall and limiting second-chance opportunities, much of Friday's keys involve keeping the Mavericks forwards from getting in Crandall's kitchen and disrupting what has been an impressive run for the senior goalie. With a .949 save percentage over his last four starts (2-1-1 record), Crandall enters the NSCC with plenty of confidence, and the team has confidence in him.

But for UMD to move into the title game Saturday night, 60 consistent minutes with an emphasis on sound puck possession are required. If the teams take to the ice in front of thousands of empty seats as I fear they will, the one that gets into the game early and plays with energy has a great advantage, no matter the goaltending.

Minnesota College Teams Launch 'New Tradition'

The first Beanpot was played in 1952. A total of 8,487 people attended the two-day event, which was won by Harvard.

The tournament didn't draw a two-session total over 10,000 until 1958, and no single session of the Beanpot drew 10,000 until 1960.

Every Beanpot since 1979 has been a total sellout.

I've been covering college hockey in this area for around a decade and a half, in some way, shape, or form. Back when I had a daily call-in talk show, it wasn't a hockey season until a discussion was had about the potential of doing an all-Minnesota college hockey tournament.

It's been obvious to me for years that college hockey fans in this state wanted to develop something special the way Boston folks did with the Beanpot.

But until the WCHA broke up, there was really no reason for anyone to do it. The potential participants -- UMD, St. Cloud State, Minnesota, Minnesota State, and eventually Bemidji State -- all played in the WCHA. They saw each other 2-4 times per regular season. There was no reason to throw together a tournament, especially when we all knew it would be at XCel Energy Center if it ever existed.

Sure, it would be cool to play, but what would be the point? The lure? The draw? What fans would pay $75-100 for tickets, plus more for food and lodging, to watch matchups that were happening all the time over the course of the regular season?

Now, the WCHA as we knew it is no more. The NCHC, Big Ten, and WCHA house the five Minnesota Division I teams. And Minnesota saw the void and the opportunity.

The North Star College Cup has been born.

Anyone who follows me on Twitter or who listened to the radio last week knows I'm skeptical. I'm not skeptical because I don't think we have the potential for something special here. I'm not skeptical because I don't like the idea of the five Minnesota college teams having a tournament every year.

Instead, I'm skeptical for other reasons.

1. For this to be a success in either the short- or long-term, it has to be a celebration of Minnesota college hockey. That means it can't be all about the Gophers, even if they are the permanent tournament "host" and will never rotate out of the field. As Minnesota State second-year Mike Hastings said this week, it "has to be an event." If it's all about the Gophers, it won't be the event that it has to be to succeed.

Part of this is presentation, both in the arena and on television. I'm very interested to see how this plays out.

2. Everyone involved is making a sacrifice in the short team, even Minnesota. Unless I'm blown away by crowd sizes Friday and Saturday, there probably won't be enough revenue to distribute to make up for the potential home games that everyone is missing out on to play in this tournament.

Even a middling home gate of 5,000 per game will draw in a good chunk of change for UMD, and we can get that playing some random non-conference opponent.

Same goes for the other three teams playing this weekend. And that has to be okay.

To build any kind of event and get any kind of gauge of the chances we have of making this succeed, it's going to take five years and maybe a decade. That's reality.

3. There can't be panic or immediate comparisons to the Beanpot. The Beanpot is a tradition that has lasted over six decades. It involves four huge institutions (combined enrollment of around 90,000) in a huge hockey-mad city. There is no travel expense involved in attending games, except for out-of-town alumni.

The North Star College Cup is in its first year. It involves four teams that have a combined enrollment of around 90,000 (Minnesota is over 50,000), but two of them are an hour drive from the Twin Cities, and another is over two hours away. Many fans will stay in hotels Friday night and maybe Saturday, too.

Should this event sell out the XCel Energy Center? Probably, but nothing blows up like that the first time it's done. The organizers need to work hard to make sure this is a special weekend that celebrates the history and traditions of all four programs.

"I think a few years down the road, when the worlds settle a bit, there will be a bit more demand, and this will grow into more of an event," good friend Jess Myers said this week. He's been around this sport longer than I have (read: He's older than me), and he hit the nail on the head this week. I think everyone involved will -- maybe not on the record -- agree.

That's why I'm skeptical.

People are typically not patient. Fans will assume that this one failing to fill the building means every future NSCC is going to fail to fill the building, too. Some might go to the event, look around at a mass of empty seats, and give up on it completely. Perhaps the sight of empty seats on TV will turn off network producers or event organizers.

Can't happen.

This is a long-term investment in an event that's been a long time coming for Minnesota college hockey fans. Now that the trigger has been pulled on it, we have to see it through and not be quick to give up on it.

Saturday, January 18, 2014

Game 20: Denver at UMD



Osterberg - Cameranesi - Crandall (Justin)
Farley - Herbert - Basaraba
Iafallo - Toninato - Krause
Tardy - Decowski - Spurrell

Soucy - Welinski
Smith - Raskob
Johnson - Corrin

Crandall (Aaron) - McNeely - Fons

Loney - Shore - Tabrum
Moore - Doremus - Marcinew
Larraza - Levin - Romig
VanVoorhis - Janssen - Arnold

Butcher - Makowski
LaLeggia - Didier
Zajac - Neville

Brittain - Cowley

Friday, January 17, 2014

Game 19: Denver at UMD

As we work our way into the final couple months of the regular season, intensity should ramp up all over college hockey.

Bumped into Denver radio VOX Jay Stickney as he arrived at the rink. First thing he asked me was what I thought of the new alignment. But outside of having Western Michigan in here before Christmas, nothing's been different. Same for DU, which even went to Alaska this season.

These two teams have always produced good hockey. These games should be no different. The Bulldogs need to keep playing well. That is a confident room, I tell you. It's a group that believes it can do great things, but those things aren't just going to happen. The players have to make them happen. Winning this series would go a long way, I believe.



Sampair - Cameranesi - Crandall (Justin)
Farley - Herbert - Basaraba
Iafallo - Toninato - Krause
Tardy - Decowski - Spurrell

Soucy - Welinski
Smith - Raskob
Johnson - Corrin

Crandall (Aaron) - McNeely

Loney - Shore - Tabrum
Moore - Doremus - Marcinew
Larraza - Levin - Romig
VanVoorhis - Janssen - Arnold

Butcher - Makowski
LaLeggia - Didier
Zajac - Neville

Brittain - Cowley

Bulldogs Try to Stay Hot Against Streaking Pioneers

Get points on the road, and you've had a good weekend.

Get a sweep in any venue, and UMD coach Scott Sandelin will term it a "great weekend."

The time to celebrate a great weekend in Omaha has passed for UMD, now. The Bulldogs are back on home ice this week to take on a surging Denver team that just handed St. Cloud State its first road loss of the season.

It's a key matchup in the NCHC, featuring teams separated by just two points in the league standings (Denver is tied for third, while UMD is tied for fifth). Moreover, for a UMD team that actually possesses a decent non-conference profile, it's a chance to make more gains in the ever-popular PairWise rankings.

(UMD is 21st as of this writing, actually ahead of a Denver team that had some issues in non-conference play, including losses to Alaska, Alaska-Anchorage, and Canisius.)

The Bulldogs gained a lot of momentum in Omaha, despite being outshot 93-43. The consensus in the UMD room is that while the guys can play better, there wasn't a whole lot to pick at. UNO was willing to throw pucks to the net from everywhere, including center ice. It inflated the Mavericks' shot numbers, especially on Saturday, and it masked the good things UMD was doing on the defensive side.

"They threw pucks from pretty much everywhere," Sandelin said. "Below the goal line, side of the net, up high. It seemed there were a lot of pucks just laying there that they just couldn't get to. I thought our guys did a good job of blocking out, eliminating, tying up sticks."

"That's something we work on," sophomore defenseman Andy Welinski said. "They had a few big guys that they'd post up in front of the net ... that was a big thing we worked on, boxing guys out."

So, yes, it's possible to play well defensively while giving up over 50 shots in a game.

That said, I'm going to throw this out there: It's probably not good form to give up 93 shots on goal every weekend. I don't care who's in goal. At some point, that's going to burn a hockey team.

Of course, there's no reason to believe UMD will do that. Even with the big numbers Omaha put up last weekend, the Bulldogs are only giving up a shade under 28 shots per game. The short-term trend might be for a lot of shots, but UMD's long-term profile defies that.

Leaning on Aaron Crandall or Matt McNeely once in a while is part of the bit. Goalies get it. UMD has no intentions of making either of these goalies win them game after game. This isn't the 2007-2008 team that couldn't score for anything, and needed Alex Stalock to win them game after game. This group is expected to score goals, and it's up to Crandall and McNeely to bail out the occasional defensive lapse with a big save, while not letting in any soul-crushing softies.

Right now, it's Crandall's net. That doesn't mean it'll be Crandall's net until the end of the season, but if he keeps playing like he did last week, it sure will be.

Denver presents some challenges. It's as good a blue line as you'll find in the NCHC, led by Joey LaLeggia and captain David Makowski. Will Butcher, who played in the World Juniors, and Nolan Zajac -- back on the blue line after an experiment at forward -- are also part of the defensive corps.

LaLeggia is especially impressive. He's all over the ice, a factor in all zones. Not afraid to join the forecheck, LaLeggia reads plays as well as anyone and can fly. He is a good passer with a good shot. He's the best two-way defenseman Denver has at the moment, though Zajac and Butcher have a ton of potential.

"We've got to be aware of those guys," Sandelin said. "Their lineup is very solid. They play the game on the right side of the puck. A good defensive team."

Denver isn't loaded up front, but the Pioneers have four solid lines without a ton of holes. No one jumps off the page, though Ty Loney's development has been impressive during his time there, and Trevor Moore has adapted nicely in his first college season. DU isn't as big as DU used to be, but there's some size and plenty of physical on this team.

"They're a deep team, and they're strong," Welinski said.

Oh, and there's Sam Brittain.

After serving as DU's unquestioned No. 1 goalie in his freshman year, I don't think anyone could have assumed Brittain would still be in school as a senior. A blown-out knee and the emergence of Juho Olkinuora conspired to place the uber-talented Brittain on the back-burner. He stood on his head against UMD in the 2012 Final Five (67 saves in a double-overtime win), but Olkinuora made 46 starts to Brittain's 25 over the latter's sophomore and junior seasons. Olkinuora moved on to pro hockey (St. John's in the AHL this season) and Brittain is back to being the bell-cow goalie in Denver.

He's making the most of it, too. Brittain was outstanding last Saturday against SCSU, making 35 saves, including 16 in a second period where the Huskies outshot DU 17-9. Brittain has a .934 save percentage over 21 starts, to go along with a stingy 1.96 goals against average. That save percentage this season matches his number in three lifetime starts against UMD, with the fourth coming Friday night unless he gets hit by the team bus in the Amsoil Arena garage.

This is a tough nut to crack. Denver allows almost 31 shots a game, but when this team is on defensively, it's similar to UMD last week. Lots of shots, maybe, but not a lot of quality shots or scoring chances. The Pioneers are so confident in Brittain that they'll let you throw the puck on net if he can see it. And they'll make sure he can see it.

The penalty kills are both outstanding. They're similar, in that sometimes it's the goaltending, sometimes it's the skaters. Both teams are good at denying speed and good zone entries once they clear the puck. St. Cloud State really struggled at times with zone entries on Saturday, and you can expect UMD to have the same issues if puck movement isn't crisp.

Oh, and then the Bulldogs have to beat Brittain.

And DU has to beat Crandall.

Goals could be at a premium, but it should be a good weekend of hockey.

Thursday, January 16, 2014

Aaron Crandall Takes Huge Step Toward Seizing UMD No. 1 Goalie Gig

Andy Welinski had to think about it.

"I don't know," he initially said.

Don't worry. I really didn't ask him a tough question.

I only asked him what his favorite Aaron Crandall save was in Omaha.

"Tough to beat the one on (Josh) Archibald," Welinski offered.

OK, but which one? Crandall stopped Archibald 15 times in two games, including nine in UMD's 3-2 win Friday.

"I'd say the first period on Friday night was a pretty big save."

Can't argue with that. That and the stop Crandall made on Archibald in the third period of Saturday's win are two of the best saves you'll see anywhere.

"There were a few of them," head coach Scott Sandelin said, before concurring with Welinski's assessment. He added that the save Crandall made on a partial breakaway by Archibald in the third period was pretty sweet, too.

"I'm not sure I could get in the position Cranny was in on that one," he said. "He certainly did a good job of stretching across and getting the toe on it."

The reigning NCHC Goaltender of the Week was positively fantastic in both games, stopping 90 of 93 shots as the Bulldogs swept Nebraska Omaha. It marked UMD's first series sweep of the season.

There aren't many words that can be used to describe what Crandall was able to do in Omaha, so we'll let the well-spoken Duluthian Welinski give it a whirl.

"He was steady. I think he kind of stole the show this weekend. It's what we need, a hot goaltender."

While 93 shots is a lot over two games, and 53 is a lot for a single game, Welinski and his teammates can take solace in the fact that Crandall was seeing virtually everything. UNO got a few tipped shots to the net, but most of the shots -- especially on Saturday -- were basically routine for the UMD senior. There were a lot of them, but many were from a distance or were pucks that just sort of trickled to the crease area so Crandall could cover.

Crandall was great on Saturday. He was beyond that on Friday. Archibald will be seeing a couple of his chances from that game in his sleep until he scores again. Crandall robbed him, as I already mentioned, with a superb save in the first period, but he also slammed his skate into the left post and prevented Archibald from stuffing the puck home after he had gotten by the UMD defense late in the third. It was UNO's last major scoring chance until Saturday night. He faced more traffic, more deflections, and more difficult saves on Friday, even though the volume of his work wasn't as high as Saturday.

"That's a big thing we worked on," Welinski said. "Boxing guys out and not letting them get in front of Aaron's eyes. He obviously had to make some saves, but I think we also did a great job of letting him see the puck, which helps a goalie out a ton."

Back in October, 14th-year head coach Sandelin talked about the need for a goaltender to emerge as the bona fide No. 1 for his team.

"They need to understand that someone needs to want that and step up and try to grab it," he said before the team's exhibition against Lakehead. "I think it creates some good competition, but the sooner the better (on a No. 1 emerging)."

One weekend does not a No. 1 goalie make. We've danced that dance before. However, Crandall took a huge step toward taking control of the position with his performance in Omaha. Thanks to the best weekend of his career, UMD enters this weekend on a three-game winning streak.

Crandall has struggled with controlling his emotions over the course of his UMD career. Thanks to his refusal to stop working at that, he's taken some huge steps this season.

"His demeanor has been a lot better," Sandelin said. "The last couple years maybe, the fuse might have been a little shorter. I think now it's a little longer. He's settled into just playing and not getting so in the ups and downs of a goaltender. He's a very competitive goalie. The emotions of the game got to him sometimes."

There have been a lot of firsts for Crandall this season. He had never won at North Dakota before (and from talking to Crandall, I can tell you that -- without a doubt -- this meant something to him), and he had never won back-to-back starts the same weekend before the trip to Omaha. He made eight straight starts, easily a career high, before giving up the net to Matt McNeely in the Minnesota series. Now, he has a chance to re-establish himself as "The Man" in goal for UMD, a label he's never been able to hold on to. You can bet he's determined to make it happen.

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Kasimir Kaskisuo Commits to UMD; Blake Heinrich Decommits

A couple of rather noteworthy headlines regarding UMD recruiting came across the ol' desk this week.

For those new to the blog, I don't delve too heavily into UMD recruiting, for a variety of reasons. I'll report on kids with local ties, but tend to avoid posting long blogs about the kids no matter what.

That said, I don't think it's a state secret that UMD is in search of at least one goaltender for the 2014-15 recruiting class. Reigning NCHC Goaltender of the Week Aaron Crandall is gone after this season. While Matt McNeely has certainly showed promise and plenty of physical talent, his numbers haven't been consistent, and he might not be ready to be a No. 1 goalie at this level yet.

Tuesday, UMD secured a commitment from goalie Kasimir Kaskisuo, who plays for the Cloquet-based Minnesota Wilderness of the North American Hockey League. Kaskisuo is a bigger goalie who has incredible numbers at the junior level, with a .948 save percentage and eight shutouts. He's missed time with a lower-body malady but should be back soon. The Wilderness are coached by Cloquet hockey legend Corey Millen.

Kaskisuo will finish the season with Minnesota, then join UMD next fall. Ranked 16th among North American goalies eligible for the 2014 NHL Entry Draft, Kaskisuo should be able to contend for the No. 1 position at UMD.

I'm told that this is likely not the end of UMD's goalie shopping, but I don't have names or specifics or anything like that for you. Just don't be surprised if they go get another one before the 2014-15 roster is finalized. With two viable No. 1 candidates in the fold for next season, it seems more likely that any other goalie added would be a young developmental prospect.

Meanwhile, the future of the UMD blue line took a hit this week when it was announced that Blake Heinrich will forgo his college eligibility to sign with the Portland Winterhawks of the Western Hockey League. Heinrich was drafted by Washington last summer, and is in his second season with Sioux City of the USHL after starring in high school at Hill-Murray.

Heinrich is the latest in a long line of college recruits and even signees to eschew the NCAA path in favor of heading to a Canadian major junior team. College isn't for everyone, and while there will be some who yell at Heinrich for this move, reality is that he probably left UMD in the best position possible to deal with his change of heart/mind. Decommitting nine months before fall semester starts is a lot easier on the college than doing so in the summer.

Also, there's a good chance UMD's coaching staff was prepared for this, and adjustments have already been made.

Heinrich is the first UMD recruit to take the major junior path since Mac Carruth, a goalie who left the NAHL for Portland in 2009 and spent three full seasons there before joining the Chicago Blackhawks. Before that, there was Jared Boll, who committed to UMD before winding up with the Plymouth Whalers of the OHL in 2005. He's still in the NHL with the Columbus Blue Jackets (collected career penalty minute No. 1,000 this season).

(EDIT: Twitter follower UMD26MN notes that Elliott Peterson committed to UMD around the time Boehm did, but bolted for the WHL. So he's the most recent, not Carruth.)

Saturday, January 11, 2014

Game 18: UMD at Nebraska Omaha

OMAHA, Neb. -- Here we go from Omaha, where UMD seeks its first series sweep since the last time it played Omaha, and its first road series sweep since taking two in Anchorage last season.

Friday was a nice step, but the Bulldogs know six points are within reach here. Time to get them.



Crandall (Justin) - Cameranesi - Osterberg
Farley - Herbert - Basaraba
Iafallo - Toninato - Krause
Sampair - Decowski - Spurrell

Soucy - Welinski
Smith - Raskob
Johnson - Corrin

Crandall (Aaron) - McNeely

Walters - Zombo - Archibald
Searfoss - Montpetit - Raubenheimer
Guentzel - Lane - Parizek
Polk - Pearce - Simonson

Megna - Brady
Cooper - Seeler
Young - O'Rourke

Thompson - Peters - Massa

NCHC All-League Midseason Peek

OMAHA, Neb. -- I'm pretty sure media isn't going to be invited to vote on the official All-NCHC team this season. I'm too lazy to look it up and confirm it, however.

(North Dakota fans are probably happy that I won't get to vote this year.)

Either way, it was an annual bit when UMD was in the WCHA that I would do a mid-season look at the postseason awards. Sometimes, you called me a rock-eating moron. Sometimes, you just read it. Usually, you ignored it.

Do with it what you must. Here's my early look at 2013-14, starting with all-league teams.

Josh Archibald, Nebraska Omaha
Riley Barber, Miami
Shane Berschbach, Western Michigan

Joey LaLeggia, Denver
Andrew Prochno, St. Cloud State

Ryan Faragher, St. Cloud State

Jonny Brodzinski, St. Cloud State
Rocco Grimaldi, North Dakota
Ryan Walters, Nebraska Omaha

Dillon Simpson, North Dakota
Nolan Zajac, Denver

Sam Brittain, Denver

Justin Crandall, UMD
Austin Czarnik, Miami
Nic Dowd, St. Cloud State
Justin Kovacs, Western Michigan
David Morley, St. Cloud State

David Makowski, Denver
Jordan Schmaltz, North Dakota
Jaccob Slavin, Colorado College

Ryan McKay, Miami

Alex Iafallo, UMD
Luke Johnson, North Dakota
Trevor Moore, Denver

Will Butcher, Denver
Jaccob Slavin, Colorado College

Kirk Thompson, Nebraska Omaha

Goalie of the Year
Ryan Faragher, St. Cloud State

Defenseman of the Year
Andrew Prochno, St. Cloud State

Forward of the Year
Josh Archibald, Nebraska Omaha

Rookie of the Year
Alex Iafallo, UMD

Offensive Defenseman of the Year
Joey LaLeggia, Denver

Defensive Forward of the Year
Riley Barber, Miami

Player of the Year
Josh Archibald, Nebraska Omaha

I'm happy to talk about these picks. Hit me up on Twitter or in the comments. Just be nice. I don't cuss at you. Don't cuss at me. Or insult my mother/wife/son/dog.

Wait. I don't have a dog.

Saturday Hockey Notes and Thoughts: UMD Holds On, Hits .500; Aaron Crandall Stands Tall in Net

OMAHA, Neb. -- I try to avoid hyperbole. I really hate when people throw out superlatives in describing every-day events.

UMD won a one-game game here Friday night, beating Nebraska Omaha 3-2. In doing so, the Bulldogs got outstanding and timely goaltending from senior Aaron Crandall, who made 38 saves.

During the postgame show, I said it might very well have been the best I've ever seen Crandall play. And while sometimes I end up having to take back stupid things I say on the air, this won't be one of those instances.

Meant. Every. Word. Of. It.

The Bulldogs didn't start badly in this game, but it was clear that they weren't as sharp as the opposition. UMD played with good energy and jump, I thought, but just didn't look crisp. Passes would miss and guys seemed a little unsure of themselves at times.

An early five-on-three came up empty, and not surprisingly. That early in the first real game off break, nothing was really working. I thought UMD looked a bit stagnant during the two-man advantage, which UNO killed off without a real scoring threat coming UMD's way. UMD's power play looked much better in the second period, however, and the game's first goal came seven seconds after it ended.

Alex Iafallo and Dominic Toninato combined for the first two goals, with Toninato tipping a long Iafallo shot for the first, then the pair setting up Adam Krause in the high slot for the second late in the middle stanza.

The second period featured some strong up-and-down action, but was more in line with how I feel UMD should play. UNO played with pace, but the Bulldogs blocked shots and were smart in their own zone. They weren't as good in the third period. UNO had chances, and the Mavericks were allowed to use too much speed. Josh Archibald was key here. The Mavs' leading scorer was held off the board Friday, but it wasn't from a lack of trying or a lack of opportunity. Archibald led the team with nine shots on goal and had at least three tremendous opportunities that Crandall stopped. He's an incredible high-end talent, and it's hard to imagine UMD keeping him quiet again.

The onus is on the Bulldogs to get more traffic in front of whichever goalie UNO starts Saturday and find a way to play more on their toes in the third period if they have a lead. Ryan Massa was solid on Saturday, but he had a clear path to too many shots. UNO blocked 16 shots, many of them early in the game.

UMD got back to blocking shots, too (21 in the game). That was a point of emphasis and will remain so. The Mavericks will shoot from anywhere, so it isn't surprising they got 40 on goal when UMD blocked over 20 as well. Expect more of that on Saturday. UNO's coaches can't be too upset with how their team played. There were plenty of big-time scoring chances, but Crandall was in good position and tracked the puck through traffic very well.

UMD needs a little more out of its top line. Tony Cameranesi, Justin Crandall, and Kyle Osterberg didn't create a ton of good chances Friday. That said, Osterberg had five shots on goal, the line combined for eight, and Cameranesi won the faceoff that set up Andy Welinski's one-time shot for the eventual game-winning goal (Welinski's first career GWG, by the way). That I believe they can get to another level is a testament to their skill and chemistry.

Cal Decowski's line with Charlie Sampair and Sammy Spurrell turned in some outstanding shifts again. A good example of their smarts came during the third period, when Spurrell got trapped on the ice for a long shift. UMD iced the puck and he couldn't get off. Instead of panicking, he kept things simple, blocked a shot, and was able to get off the ice. That's a good example for young players, who tend to lose their head when trapped on the ice for a long time. When you're tired, it's time to play a simpler game and not try to do too much. Instead, players tend to overextend themselves, and that's how critical mistakes are made.

During Saturday's broadcast, by the way, you'll be able to hear Decowski (who talks faster than he plays) chat about his line and their chemistry. It's as good a "fourth line" as you'll find anywhere.

By the way, I'm betting Crandall starts again in goal. Just a hunch.


Congratulations to former UMD goalie and national champion Kenny Reiter, who signed his first NHL contract Friday. He inked a two-way deal with the New York Islanders for the rest of the 2013-14 season. The contract doesn't guarantee Reiter will play in the NHL. Instead, the Islanders -- ravaged by injury between the pipes -- pick up another option for the NHL roster should it be necessary.

When Reiter came here, he wasn't guaranteed a dadgum thing. Through hard work and a ton of heart, he earned the starting job here over a more highly-touted goalie. That goalie chose to transfer and try to get a fresh start elsewhere, and Reiter ended up holding on to the job for about a season and a half, winning 52 games, including 23 in his senior season. He was the man during the 2011 NCAA Tournament, too, leading UMD to the title.

There aren't many better people in this sport than Kenny Reiter. He's a class act, and I hope to see a press release about him getting called up before this season is over.

As far as "good dudes" go who have left UMD and made it to the NHL, the only comparison I can think of is Jason Garrison. His story is similar, too, so it's cool to see Kenny get this opportunity.


The other NCHC action on Friday ...

Western Michigan scored three in the third period. Two of them were short-handed, including the winner from Nolan Laporte with eight seconds left, as the Broncos beat Miami 5-4 in Kalamazoo. The loss drops the consensus preseason favorite RedHawks to eighth place in the eight-team NCHC.

North Dakota got two Michael Parks goals in a 5-3 home win over Colorado College. The Tigers are 2-14-3 overall, but still a point ahead of Miami, thanks to an extra game played and a shootout win.

St. Cloud State continued its strong play with a 6-3 win at Denver. Jonny Brodzinski scored twice, and David Morley had three points.

Friday, January 10, 2014

Game 17: UMD at Nebraska Omaha

OMAHA, Neb. -- The second half of the season kicks off here at CenturyLink Center, where UMD takes on Nebraska Omaha. The Bulldogs are aiming to get back to the .500 mark, as are the Mavericks. Assuming no shootout, the Friday winner will, at least for one night, be break-even on the season.



Crandall (Justin) - Cameranesi - Osterberg
Farley - Herbert - Basaraba
Iafallo - Toninato - Krause
Sampair - Decowski - Spurrell

Soucy - Welinski
Smith - Raskob
Johnson - Corrin

Crandall (Aaron) - McNeely

Lane - Zombo - Archibald
Walters - Montpetit - Davis
Searfoss - Guentzel - Ortega
Polk - Pearce - Parizek

Seeler - O'Rourke
Young - Brady
Youso - Cooper

Massa - Peters - Thompson

Goaltending a Likely Story in Omaha

OMAHA, Neb. -- This is too easy.

Through 16 games this season, UMD has a team save percentage of .884. The Bulldogs are 7-8-1.

Through 18 games this season, Nebraska Omaha has a team save percentage of .880. The Mavericks are 8-9-1.

That tends to make sense when you think about it. Teams that struggle defensively and in goal aren't going to win more than they lose over the long haul.

While it's likely that this will be a storyline this weekend when these two teams meet here in Omaha, it seems like it's almost too easy.

Something else will creep up.

Maybe it's a UMD defense that's become increasingly leaky. Maybe it's a UNO team that played like it missed Jaycob Megna last weekend and will miss him again Friday, along with head coach Dean Blais, who is allowed in the arena but can't coach or communicate with his staff during the game. Perhaps we'll see UNO's penalty kill struggles (71.2 percent this season) rear their ugly (not for UMD) head. But can UMD's inconsistent power play take advantage?

What's striking when you study Omaha is the fact that it's almost a different team in conference play. In special teams play, UNO has been outscored by a way-too-wide 34-20 margin. Opponents have 30 power play goals and four short-handed markers, while UNO has 18 power play goals and a pair of shorties.

However, UNO has nine power play goals and a short-handed marker in eight league games, compared to eight PPGs and a single shorty for opponents. That means that the Mavs have been outscored 25-10 in special teams during non-conference games.

By comparison, UMD's strong penalty kill (87.5 percent) has kept the Bulldogs going in special teams. UMD has outscored opponents 16-12 in special teams situations, thanks to only allowing 11 power play goals. The power play is only hitting at around 19 percent, which is below normal for UMD, but the kill is sixth nationally and has kept UMD from being blown away when penalties are called.

Watching UNO's loss to New Hampshire last Friday, the defensive issues were glaring. They also might be a bit overblown. UNO got caught with the long change in the second period a couple times, trapping tired players on the ice. Those players made mistakes, UNO got outnumbered, and UNH buried some chances.

Both PPG allowed in that game came from point shots, which crystallizes the need for UMD to get pucks to the net while on the man advantage. It isn't always a strength for the Bulldogs, but when they've kept things simple and just driven the net, good things have happened.

UNO is probably thinking the same things heading into this weekend. Stay out of the box, play five-on-five (UNO is plus-nine even strength over 18 games), make a couple saves, and attack the opponent's shaky goaltender.

Simply put, the team that does the best job attacking the net is going to be in position to win. Reality suggests that it'll probably be more complicated than that.

Don't ever expect a 6-5 game. Usually, when you expect to see that, a 2-1 game shows up.

Either way, UMD needs the points to start the second half on the right foot. The Bulldogs had games in hand on the rest of the league entering December, but now only Colorado College and North Dakota have played more league games. Only getting three points out of SCSU and Western Michigan at home hurt big-time. UMD can't let more chances slip away.

Only one non-league weekend remains, so it'll be a grind to the finish. It's a grind UMD needs to start off well here. Get more than half the six points, and let's roll.

Thursday, January 09, 2014

Bulldogs Need Good Start to Second Half

MINNEAPOLIS -- Hello, layover.

I come to you from the Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport, where I'm spending a few hours waiting for my delayed flight to Omaha. A UMD-UNO series preview is coming later, but for now, let's take a quick gander at where UMD stands with the season about half over.

The good

The Bulldogs have done a very good job preventing opponents from racking up high shot totals. Despite a defensive lull since Thanksgiving, UMD is still highly-ranked nationally, allowing just over 25 shots per game. That's not a bad number, especially for a team we knew might struggle at times in goal.

UMD has to tighten things up on that side of the ice, but we'll cover that in a little bit.

The freshmen have been strong. UMD has 18 goals and 44 points from its rooks so far, and their continued presence gives the Bulldogs some balance across the forward lines.

Individually, I thought Kyle Osterberg, Justin Crandall, Alex Iafallo, and the Cal Decowski line (with Charlie Sampair and Sammy Spurrell) had good or better halves. Decowski's line has great chemistry and has actually showed itself capable of playing effectively with increased ice time compared to most "fourth lines."

(It was funny talking to Cal this week, because you should have seen his face light up when I asked him about his linemates. It's a great trio because of how they compliment each other on the ice, and it's going to be fun to watch their development continue.)

The power play has struggled, but UMD's penalty kill has consistently been in the top ten nationally (sixth entering the weekend) through the first half of the season. That kill and improved performance from the power play lately has propelled UMD to fifth in combined special teams this season (Bentley, BC, Denver, and BU are the top four).

The not-so-good

Can't ignore the goaltending. After a good start, UMD entered break with a team save percentage of .884. I'm no math whiz, but that isn't great. Both Aaron Crandall and Matt McNeely have had their moments, but they've also each had their struggles.

(While Crandall's worst game was probably at Minnesota, McNeely's best one was probably the following game against the Gophers. Weird how that works out.)

It's not all on them. There have been plenty of breakdowns that have led to odd-man rushes, breakaways, and other sorts of grade-A scoring chances. yes, there have been some clunker goals at times, but each goalie has also been hung out to dry plenty.

That means team defense isn't strong enough. Odd-man rushes and breakaways don't happen without defensive breakdowns, and many rebound goals could be prevented with stronger play out front, no matter how juicy the rebound might be. Gap control could be better, and defenders have to do a better job of getting in position and occupying opponents so they can't just jam at the puck down low.

There have been communication breakdowns, too. On St. Cloud State's winning goal Dec. 6, what appeared to be a two-on-three turned into a straight one-on-one situation when Tim Smith stepped up on SCSU forward Jonny Brodzinski and no one filled for him after he got walked. Smith seemed to take a gamble because it looked like he had help, but that help didn't read the play the same way. Brodzinski got open and ripped a wrister that beat McNeely for the winner.

Those things happen, but they're preventable, and UMD has to clean that up.


We knew this team was young, especially with the D-corps. We knew the goaltending might be problematic at times. It's hard to be mad at things we expected to happen.

Being under .500 sucks, but let's go back to what I've said before. This team should improve greatly as the season goes on. I expect the Bulldogs to show that improvement in the second half, in all phases of the game.

If the goaltending holds up, UMD could very well make a run in a league that is still very much up for grabs.