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.

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