"I expect them to be very physical," he told me pregame. "I expect the game to get a little feisty. Be ready to compete."
Couldn't have been more correct.
In a game that saw some serious playoff-type intensity on the ice, UMD held off the RedHawks 1-0 for a series sweep. As the horn sounded, and Aaron Crandall made the last of his 30 saves on a 170-foot shot by Austin Czarnik, UMD defenseman Derik Johnson was run over by Miami's Blake Coleman. It wasn't the first dirty hit by Coleman on the weekend, but it was the most glaring.
And it started the closest thing we've seen to a brawl involving UMD in a long time. Players paired off in a couple different spots on the ice, and officials worked to separate them and eventually put a bunch of guys in each team's respective penalty box.
Johnson and Coleman got matching roughing minors and ten-minute misconducts. The game officials chose not to call anything else, which was somewhat surprising. However, it's nothing but a stat pad to call anything but misconducts in that situation. A bunch of matching minors would have made the scoresheet look interesting, but accomplished little else. The postgame handshake went by the wayside, and that was probably a good idea in that moment.
(That said, the NCHC wouldn't be out of line to place a phone call to both teams and just make sure they know what they probably already know: Postgame fracases -- or fracasi? -- that lead to the handshake line not happening are frowned upon. Even if it's with a wink and nod.)
(Best moment of the night? As much as I don't want to encourage such shenanigans, after it all settled down and the teams left the ice, a few UMD players encouraged the home fans to boo. And they booed. UMD was a bigger heel in that moment than Batista was in Green Bay last Monday. Maybe we should be main-eventing WrestleMania, eh?)
Crandall was razor-sharp on Saturday. He saw a lot of the shots fired his way because of a strong defensive effort in front of him. Kyle Osterberg buried the best scoring chance he had all weekend. Emotions were high on both benches.
Sounds like playoff hockey to me.
Fitting, because we've got one more weekend to go, and then it will be playoff hockey for everyone. The stakes get raised, and then everyone gets a bit edgier.
Games like Saturday aren't designed to duplicate playoff intensity. Instead, it just happens. The UMD side was somewhat irritated at a few plays by Coleman in Friday's game, and surely the Miami people felt the same way about someone for UMD. That's how these things percolate.
Factor in UMD's bubbling frustration after a four-game losing streak, and Miami coming to grips with a season that saw it picked to win the NCHC yet ended up in last place. It's a cocktail for truculence.
For both teams, it was good on a number of levels. Incidents like that aren't proud moments for college hockey, but the fans get into them (largely because of the scarcity), and while people might not want to outwardly admit it, they can be galvanizing moments for teams.
It's one thing to see a little post-whistle skirmish where a couple guys on the ice stick up for one another. This was different. Everyone was on the ice. Each team had its purpose, and the players can sense a togetherness that comes out of such things.
Hey, it isn't much. But with the playoffs quickly approaching, coaches wisely will use any little nugget to drive/motivate/tick off their players. If what happened Saturday can help bring the UMD room even closer together than it already was, then we'll take it.
The Bulldogs have a good shot at home ice in the NCHC quarterfinals. At this point, no further help is needed for UMD to finish in the top four.
Actually, if UMD sweeps UNO at home Friday and Saturday, the Bulldogs will finish third. UMD could end as low as sixth, but we aren't going to talk about that.
If the series is not a UMD sweep, here are the ways UMD can still attain home ice, as the Bulldogs enter the weekend tied for fourth in the league:
1. Finish with no less than one fewer point than Denver (vs Miami) this weekend
2. Finish with the same number of points or more points than Western Michigan (at North Dakota)
If either Denver or Western Michigan (but not both) pass UMD, the Bulldogs will finish fifth and travel to play whichever team passed them. In this scenario, UMD doesn't do well this weekend, which means UNO won't get passed for third place.
If both Denver and Western Michigan pass UMD, the Bulldogs will finish sixth, and would likely play next weekend at Omaha, the No. 3 seed.
(UNO could still pass St. Cloud State and/or North Dakota, but those scenarios aren't as likely, especially with SCSU playing Colorado College and UND at home for Western Michigan.)
Nebraska Omaha indeed visits this weekend. The Mavericks have ripped off a 6-3 record over nine games, including wins over St. Cloud State, North Dakota, and Denver. UNO's Josh Archibald is the centerpiece of what might be the most dangerous line in college hockey, at least west of the Mason/Dixon Line. Currently playing with Dominic Zombo (14 goals, 16 assists, 30 points) and Jake Guentzel (six goals, 22 assists, 28 points), Archibald is a shoo-in for NCHC Player of the Year. If Johnny Gaudreau gets caught with a gun in his bag at the airport in the next couple weeks, Archibald has a real shot at the Hobey Baker Award.
In 32 games, Archibald has 28 goals.
I'm not making that up.
And, no, UNO hasn't played Huntsville this season.
You might remember January in Omaha, when Crandall kept Archibald off the board with a dizzying array of great saves. Archibald had nine shots on goal Friday, six more Saturday, and didn't get a single one by Crandall.
If that happens again this weekend, one can imagine that we'll be checking in between Archibald's ears to see if Crandall has taken up residency. It just isn't likely. Archibald is so good that Sandelin and/or Crandall might be able to write a book about holding him off the board for four games.
In other words, don't bet on it.
Though I think I'd love to read that book.