Saturday, February 08, 2014

Saturday Hockey Notes and Thoughts: Two Points Nice, but UMD Must Improve

Aaron Crandall did the Bernie in celebration, but the UMD men's hockey team might not necessarily be in a partying mood.

The Bulldogs let a potentially valuable point slip away Friday, before Crandall kept Colorado College off the board in three rounds of the shootout. Caleb Herbert's goal in the second round gave the Bulldogs a 1-0 win in the skills competition, and a second point in the NCHC standings. The game ended in a 2-2 tie after Archie Skalbeck tied the score in the third period for the Tigers.

It wasn't a great performance for UMD. On the radio, Colin Anderson talked about the need to establish a presence at home. UMD is 9-4-1 away from Amsoil Arena, but only 3-5-3 at home after Friday night. It's one of the biggest differences in winning percentage between road and home that you'll see. Usually, it ends up being the other way around.

Whatever comfort zone UMD has found away from home needs to be found at home. Soon.

CC came out early and was taking the play to UMD to an extent. The Tigers never opened up any kind of gap in shots on goal, but UMD couldn't really get anything going. Then sloppy defense on a rush gave the Tigers the lead on a goal by Alexander Krushelnyski. UMD improved in the closing minutes of the first, but the second of three offensive zone penalties gave CC a chance for late momentum (they didn't get it).

The Bulldogs dominated puck possession and shots on goal in the second period, and scored twice. Andy Welinski tied the game on a nice snapshot on the power play, and a great effort play by Joe Basaraba led to Cal Decowski setting up Caleb Herbert for the go-ahead goal. CC goalie Josh Thorimbert stood tall, but UMD wasn't relentless about getting to the net, so the netminder had a lot of good looks at shots. He was good, but UMD could have made his life more difficult throughout the game.

I'm not sure CC was as strong defensively as UMD was when Omaha had 53 shots on Crandall in January, but the Bulldogs didn't get enough great chances or solid traffic on Thorimbert. The Bulldogs flubbed a couple odd-man rushes with passes that weren't quite on the mark, and not enough of the 86 shot attempts were of a high quality.

That said, UMD dominated puck possession, outside of about 6-8 minutes of the first, the same amount of time in the third, and about half the overtime. Shots didn't end 52-22 by accident, but the Bulldogs know they have to be better, and I'm confident they will be on Saturday.

We'll see if there are changes. I'm not sure sophomore Austin Farley is ready. I know he practiced during the week, but he was deemed not ready to go Friday. Senior defenseman Tim Smith took a pretty hard shot to the head when he fell into the boards against Denver three weeks ago. Like Farley, he's been practicing, but I don't know if the coaches are ready to put him in the lineup yet.

And, frankly, I'm not sure it's a good idea to break up any of the top three lines right now. I don't think Farley is a fourth line guy, so it'll be interesting to see what the lines look like if he does return. I'd guess things go back to the way they were for the North Star College Cup, but you never know.


Elsewhere in the NCHC, Western Michigan rebounded nicely from last week's sweep by UMD, beating Miami 5-2 in Oxford. Shane Berschbach scored twice for the Broncos, who can sweep the season series by winning Saturday.

Denver scored twice on the power play, including the equalizer by Trevor Moore late in the third, to get a 2-2 tie at St. Cloud State. Nic Dowd and Ethan Prow had the regulation goals for St. Cloud State, while Ty Loney had the other Pioneers goal. DU won the shootout 3-2 in five rounds to claim an extra point in the standings.

North Dakota moved into a tie with St. Cloud State for first by beating Nebraska Omaha 4-2. Michael Parks, Brendan O'Donnell, and Rocco Grimaldi scored in the third period for UND, with Grimaldi's goal finding the empty net in the final 30 seconds. UND won despite being outshot 33-22, as goalie Clarke Saunders was strong in net again with 31 saves.

St. Cloud State and North Dakota are tied for first, with Denver in third one point back. UMD is two points out in fourth place, followed by UNO in fifth and Western Michigan in sixth. The league actually tightened up Friday, and now the top six teams are separated by just four points.

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