Thursday, October 09, 2014

Bulldogs Break the Ice With Hefty Challenge

SOUTH BEND, Ind. -- For the UMD men's hockey team, a page has to be turned.


Perhaps it's a fortunate "bounce" that the Bulldogs open Friday's Ice Breaker here in South Bend with longtime rival Minnesota, which doubles as virtually everyone's preseason No. 1.

"I don't have a problem playing them," head coach Scott Sandelin said this week. "It was a good attention grabber for our players to see that we play them right out of the gate."

UMD is guaranteed three games against a Gophers team it went 1-1-1 against last year, including handing Minnesota its only regulation loss at Mariucci Arena all season (6-2 on Nov. 24).

"Our guys enjoy playing them, because they are a good team every year," Sandelin said.

UMD is 5-6-4 in its last 15 cracks at the "Main U," as the kids call it.

(Well, someone calls it that. I guess I don't know what the kids are saying.)

There's plenty of reason to be excited about this matchup. Some will look at UMD's narrow 4-2 win over Lakehead and think it's a bad omen. Sandelin isn't so sure. In fact, he's willing to admit his team was probably looking ahead a little bit.

"I think so. I think it's something our guys talked about when they got back. Certainly, with a short week, too, looking at Monday and the way we came out, it might have been indicative of guys thinking ahead."

Makes sense, because the UMD team we saw in the early going Monday is not a team that is going to beat Minnesota.

"You have to take care of the puck," Sandelin said. "The way we turned the puck over on Monday, I thought it was way too much. I thought we were soft on the puck and made some poor decisions."

Sandelin also noted the need to stay out of the box and avoid putting Minnesota on the power play. The Gophers were 20 percent with the man advantage last year, and they were somewhat better than that (six for 22) in the three games against UMD.

In general, Sandelin wants a more disciplined Bulldog team this year than last. It'll be a point of emphasis all season. One thing that probably irritates the veteran coach is knowing that last year's team killed almost as many power plays by taking penalties during them (23) as it scored power play goals (26).

(I don't know if that's an unusually high number in college hockey or not. I also know that there is a bit of a bean game sometimes with the officials, and the call that evens up a situation is sometimes a bit, um, ticky-tack. But that happens to everyone. It only happened 11 times to UMD the previous season, so 23 seems excessive to me. It's something the Bulldogs have to remedy. The power play was not terribly effective last year, and to shoot oneself in the foot that many times on top of that is just not a recipe for success.)

No matter what, Minnesota is a challenge. But remember, it's their first real game, too. It's not like Don Lucia got them together for a bunch of games against NHL competition over the summer or something. They're good, but they're at the same point UMD is at. The start.

It's a long journey, and it won't be defined by 60 minutes in October. Yeah, it would be really nice to beat the Gophers, but getting this team to take a good first step to kick off the season is much more significant at this stage of things.

Worry about that, and then we'll worry about beating these guys.

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