To start, it was clear very early in the game that freshman goalie Kasimir Kaskisuo was seeing the puck very well. The lanky Finn was victimized on the first two shots he faced in his debut against Minnesota, but since then he has stopped 54 of the 58 shots sent his way (.931 save percentage).
He made a couple athletic stops Saturday in Mankato, but Kaskisuo was basically asked to play a solid game. He controlled his rebounds very well, showed poise and some aggressiveness when covering pucks a couple times, and played the puck for really the first time, as he didn't do it much (if at all) against Minnesota. You can see his puck-playing needs work, but he took positive steps in every area on Saturday.
UMD started slowly on Saturday. While MSU only led 1-0 after one, it could have been worse. The Mavericks had the puck a lot, and UMD just didn't do much positive when it had possession. The Bulldogs began to assert themselves more offensively in the second period. It was nice to see Kyle Osterberg and Justin Crandall get on the scoresheet as UMD took a 2-1 lead.
But when the third period started 2-2, the Bulldogs leaned on the guys they've leaned on all season to this point. And sophomores Dominic Toninato and Alex Iafallo didn't disappoint. Iafallo set up Toninato in front for a short-handed goal early in the third. It's Dom's fifth goal, second short-handed goal, and Iafallo's fourth assist of the season. The two combined to set up Hermantown's Jared Thomas for a power-play goal about halfway through the third to make it 4-2. That was Thomas' first collegiate point.
Through four games, Toninato has five goals and seven points, Iafallo one goal and six points. Tony Cameranesi and Carson Soucy each have two goals and five points.
I said before the season there would be real competition for spots in the lineup, especially at forward.
Scott Sandelin has to be pleased with the idea of two home weekends before he has to leave players at home for an NCHC road trip (Nov. 7-8 at St. Cloud State). There will be a very difficult decision to be made if things keep going as they are now.
Thomas has already placed himself in a position to play more than he had been. He's smart, responsible, and clearly has some real skill. His ascension has caused sophomore Sammy Spurrell to sit three of the first four games this season. It's nothing Spurrell has necessarily done wrong, but Thomas gives UMD even more depth in the middle than it already had.
Also, freshman left wing Blake Young hasn't made it in the lineup yet, but largely because he's a left wing on a team that goes four-deep there (Iafallo, Austin Farley, Osterberg, and Charlie Sampair). He isn't redshirting, so he will play at some point.
On the blue line, Willie Raskob is off to a slow start and was a surprise scratch Saturday. He's healthy, so clearly the coaches are trying to send a message. The blue line as a whole didn't have a great weekend. Too many turnovers and generally some questionable puck management, especially on the power play. The group did a better job Saturday keeping MSU players from the front of the net and giving Kaskisuo a chance to see the puck on virtually every one of those 38 shots he faced.
I think the competition there is much less defined at this point, which is another reason to be pleased that this team is at home for four straight games and can make any lineup change it wants from one game to the next.
(When they board the bus for St. Cloud sometime during the afternoon on Nov. 6, they will be limited to 22 players. Typically, you'll see them take 13 forwards, seven defensemen, and two goalies.)
Lots of comments over the weekend about discipline. Now, I'm going to tread carefully, but I do have some thoughts.
I thought UMD did a much better job playing with a composed edge on Saturday than it did Friday. This team is talented. Guys can't afford to get mad because someone lost the puck on the power play. That chop from behind on the puck carrier -- when you're on a power play, no less -- is probably getting called 95-98 times out of 100.
That doesn't mean that a player shouldn't compete for that puck. But guys have to compete within the rules.
"No matter what point of the game, you're up or you're down, you get an opportunity on the power play, you can't give that up 30 or 40 seconds in," Sandelin said.
"You have to keep your composure. Things aren't going to go your way and you're going to miss opportunities. You keep your composure. We can't take penalties behind the play. Whether they were or not (penalties) is not to be argued. Don't put yourself in those positions."
Everything was fine Saturday, outside of what I thought was a silly and unnecessary kneeing penalty on Derik Johnson that led to his early shower. Johnson had a huge issue with bad penalties as a sophomore, but he did a great job cleaning up his game last year. With that came more playing time as he gained the coaches' trust.
I have not seen a replay of Saturday's hit, but I did not think it was a good one. Not sure I'd say it's worthy of supplemental from the NCHC, but I didn't like it because we were up three goals and cruising to a win. Just didn't need to happen.
No matter your feelings about that hit, UMD's discipline continues to be an issue and it has to get better. As it improves, it has to last more than a couple weeks. The occasional blowup is going to happen to even a team full of choir boys, but the Bulldogs have to avoid the penalty bug and stick to what works.
Then again, with the way this team is scoring short-handed all of a sudden, maybe it should take more penalties.