Saturday, January 11, 2014

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.

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