Thursday, March 06, 2014

UMD's Mission: Stop Archibald, Gain Home Ice

UMD has swept three NCHC road series in January. The first of those came Jan. 10-11 in Omaha, where senior goalie Aaron Crandall almost single-handedly backstopped UMD to six points.

By now, you're well aware that Crandall made 90 saves on the weekend, with one-sixth of them -- 15 total -- coming from shots by Josh Archibald, UNO's star sniper.

"He had chances," junior co-captain Adam Krause said. "Thankfully, Aaron played the way he did that weekend. Out of his mind."

Stakes are high this weekend for both teams, but especially UMD. The Bulldogs could finish anywhere from third to sixth in the NCHC, so work is done to secure the right to play at home next weekend. And make no mistake. 4-7-3 home record be damned. This team wants to play at home next weekend.

"It would mean a lot," head coach Scott Sandelin said this week.

"I think it'd be huge to get the first series here," Krause said.

Let's be honest. A road series would likely, based on the scenarios in play, be played in either Denver or Kalamazoo. It's no fun to book a flight on short notice, and it adds travel headaches that don't necessarily exist in the regular season.

This will be a challenging weekend. UNO has cranked up the offense since UMD's visit. The Mavericks have scored five or more goals in a game five times over the last 11 they have played. Archibald, Brock Montpetit, and freshman Jake Guentzel have formed a very strong line over the last few weeks, with all three benefiting from one another.

Sandelin and Krause agreed that last weekend's series against Miami -- especially the Saturday game -- had a playoff type of intensity to it.

"I really liked how our guys played," Sandelin said. "Both goalies were good, and I was happy to see Aaron get the shutout (Saturday)."

"Having Aaron kind of stand on his head, and us playing committed to the team defense after we got the lead, I think that's playoff hockey right there," Krause said.

The Mavericks are winless in their last four games against UMD, dating back one year to last season's home finale. Crandall has started the last three of those head-to-head meetings. In those games, he has stopped 122 of 125 shots for a .976 save percentage, with one shutout.

Odds are the Bulldogs won't be able to hold Archibald down again this weekend. He doesn't have 28 goals in 32 games by accident. But it's going to be fun to watch them try. I'd guess Sandelin will try to match Montpetit's line against Dominic Toninato, Alex Iafallo, and Krause whenever he can this weekend. I'd also assume Dean Blais is thinking the same thing, so don't be surprised if Blais mixes up his lines and tries to sneak Archibald out there at different times to exploit other -- potentially more favorable -- matchups.

The Mavericks are dangerous on the attack, but the Bulldogs might be able to expose some things in the back end if they can generate the puck possession necessary to do it. I thought the Bulldogs did a good job defensively last weekend at Miami, especially on Saturday, and hopefully that will carry over to this weekend.

As for scenarios, I'll update this if the NCHC sends along anything more official than my horrific math skills, but here is what I believe lies ahead for UMD.

If UMD sweeps UNO, it will finish third.
If UMD takes five points and Western does not sweep North Dakota, UMD will finish fourth.
If UMD takes four points, Western does not sweep, and Denver does not sweep Miami, UMD will finish fourth.

If Western Michigan sweeps North Dakota, I will impale myself with a broken stick UMD needs to sweep UNO to secure home ice.

If Denver sweeps Miami, UMD needs to take at least four points to secure home ice.

This list is completely incomplete, and I will update it, like I said, if the league provides any sort of more comprehensive information.


Crandall is one of four UMD seniors who will be honored during the first intermission of Saturday's game at Amsoil Arena. Oddly, the four come from three different years.

Crandall joined the team in 2009-2010, but did not play on a redshirt. Forwards Joe Basaraba and Max Tardy came on board and won rings as part of the 2010-11 Bulldogs. Defenseman Tim Smith joined the next fall, as a transfer from Providence.

All four have played big roles on this team. Crandall has emerged as the clear-cut No. 1 goalie, thrice winning NCHC Goalie of the Week honors. Basaraba has developed into a hard-nosed forward who does a lot of the little things right. Tardy had a rough junior season, but while he hasn't gotten on the scoresheet much, he's worked hard and played well in his role this season. Smith is a very good defensive defenseman who brings snarl and attitude.

In addition, junior defenseman Luke McManus is retiring after this season because of injury. He will be part of the group honored on Senior Night. McManus has been snakebit by various injuries throughout his UMD career. Luke's a good egg -- and a very smart kid -- whose presence in the room and on the road will be missed by this guy, among others.

For those wondering, McManus' decision means that UMD will be adding another defenseman in the 2014 recruiting class. There are options, including bringing in a committed player early and pursuing a defenseman currently playing in juniors. UMD has done well in the past with late-blooming recruits (Brady Lamb comes to mind as a blue-liner who committed late and turned into a pretty damn good player). I've been given no real reason to expect to lose any guys early, so this could end up being the most interesting story we have to cover regarding the UMD offseason. I wouldn't complain if that happened.

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