UPDATED AT BOTTOM
SOUTH BEND, Ind. -- Now, about starting the game.
Before Friday's game, I talked about the importance of everyone being on board and helping create a good atmosphere on the bench and on the ice. Sometimes, a boisterous crowd can help a team get into a game.
Friday's crowd in South Bend? Not boisterous. Or large. Or small. It was smaller than that.
One of the curses of playing an afternoon game at a neutral site that sits 568 miles from Amsoil Arena and 506 miles from Mariucci Arena: Not a lot of locals are interested. Especially when you throw in a crowded campus that's getting riled up for Notre Dame football Saturday.
(And "crowded" is an understatement. You should have seen the traffic coming into campus as we were escaping after the game.)
A sluggish start for UMD proved costly on this day, as the Bulldogs were unable to complete a comeback and fell 4-3 to No. 1 Minnesota at Compton Family Ice Arena.
UMD fell behind just 30 seconds into the game when Sam Warning blocked an Andy Welinski shot, then sneaked past the Bulldogs and was sprung for a breakaway by Gophers captain Kyle Rau. It was a smart play by Warning, who recognized Rau was going to get the puck and took off. It wasn't a smart play by UMD, as no one picked up Warning's break before it was too late. In defense, it's not like Welinski or Carson Soucy have the wheels to chase down a guy like that in open ice.
Five minutes later, another UMD breakdown led to a Minnesota short-handed marker, this time from Rau on a partial breakaway. Both goals beat UMD freshman goalie Kasimir Kaskisuo five-hole. The kid they call "Kaz" would give up one more five-hole goal on a Hudson Fasching deflection in the second period, and he allowed four goals on 22 shots overall in his college debut.
While the five-hole goals looked bad, there is no reason to panic about Kaskisuo's play. He looked stronger and more confident as the game wore on, and while UMD showed a lot of faith in his abilities by starting him Friday, the reality is Kaskisuo is a 20-year-old freshman who had never played a game in this environment before. Surely, there were nerves. Like I said before the game, I was nervous for him, and I don't know him yet!
"Here, kid, stop Sam Warning and Kyle Rau on breakaways and face no other shots for the first six-plus minutes of the game. Have fun with that."
Reality is UMD has to play better than that in front of Kaskisuo. Or Matt McNeely. Or Alex Fons. Or anyone who slaps on the pads. The Bulldogs did play better as Friday wore on, and in that regard the game was quite similar to Monday's exhibition. But the caliber of opponent was much greater this time, and UMD just didn't have enough to finish off the rally.
After Hudson Fasching scored on a tipped shot and Minnesota took a 4-1 lead late in the second period, it would have been easy to call it a day. UMD did not do that. Andy Welinski scored 25 seconds into the third, and Dominic Toninato added his second of the game less than four minutes later. UMD couldn't get the equalizer, but there were opportunities in there. Kyle Osterberg missed the net on a breakaway, and Austin Farley had a couple good chances in the game.
Minnesota held on for the win, but UMD again showed it can skate with one of the best teams in the country. Unfortunately, the Bulldogs didn't start the game well enough to make a strong finish matter.
Luckily, it's just the first game of what we hope is a long journey for this group. Sure, there was a lot to learn, but clearly the players and coaches made adjustments and played a much stronger game in the final 30 minutes than they did in the first 30.
Now, about starting the game. Hopefully in Sunday's third place game (vs. tournament host Notre Dame at 2:30pm), UMD can start stronger and avoid getting gashed defensively in the early going. With any luck, whoever UMD starts in goal gets a chance to get in a rhythm without having to deal with a breakaway 30 seconds into the game.
UMD's Osterberg and Adam Krause each got calls when the referees decided they were guilty of embellishment. In Osterberg's case, it was a standalone "diving" call that wiped out two minutes of a Brady Skjei double-minor. Krause's call came as part of coincidentals with Travis Boyd of Minnesota, who got a tripping minor.
Longtime listeners/followers know this is a pet peeve of mine. And it's an establishment thing, not confined to select officials. Everyone calls it like this.
A high percentage of the time, what is now a coincidental call for something (most often tripping, hooking, or holding) and diving should be one or the other. In a less common instance, a player tries so hard to "sell" a call that he should probably get a minor along with the original infraction, which was also egregious enough to warrant a call.
While I disagreed with the call on Osterberg, I will say this:
The only way college hockey -- or any level of the sport, honestly -- is going to curtail diving is to encourage officials to call it as a standalone penalty. Once you see teams giving up power play goals because someone decided to take a dive to try to draw a call, coaches will be forced to work on eliminating the practice.
(This also needs to be said: It's a really hard line for officials to draw. That's a big part of the reason it hasn't been drawn well, in my opinion. Seeing the difference between a legitimate stick foul and embellishment in a split-second sequence with no benefit of replay has to be one of the hardest jobs for a hockey official.)
The bad news didn't stop for UMD on the ice.
(Likely) 2015 commit Jared Bethune, a forward playing high school hockey at Warroad, signed a deal with the Prince George Cougars of the Western Hockey League. That's major junior, so Bethune relinquished college eligibility by joining the team.
Bethune scored 31 goals for Warroad as a junior, but the Warriors couldn't get by eventual state champion East Grand Forks in the Section 8A final. Bethune had announced he would play for USHL Lincoln before and after the high school season, but he was committed to his senior year at Warroad before the Cougars came calling.
(That's a bad mental image if you have a dirty mind, but I'm sticking with the verbiage.)
SBN College Hockey notes Bethune had a "falling out" in Lincoln. I'm not quite sure what that means, but he showed plenty of excitement over getting to Lincoln on his feed, and he played for the Stars as recently as Sunday.
This stinks, but there is a silver lining. Unlike some instances where signed recruits bail in the summer/early fall before joining a college (Sonny Milano, John Moore, and JT Miller come to mind as examples), Bethune wasn't signed to UMD, and he wasn't going to join the program until next year. His departure now gives the Bulldogs coaching staff, which has done a very good job recruiting in recent years, an opportunity to find someone to take that spot in 2015. It'll involve either bumping a 2016 recruit up one year, or finding an uncommitted late bloomer who could make an impact in college hockey.
It's a loss, because Bethune projected to be a very good college hockey player, but the timing of this move is hardly disastrous.
For those questioning Bethune's character, I'd ask that you stop. I don't know him at all, so maybe he deserves it. But one of the primary flaws in the college/major junior "war" is that we're expecting 16- and 17-year-old kids to make adult decisions while getting all sorts of pressure from all sorts of adults around them.
(Oh, and the "major junior" side of this adult decision can't be taken back once it's made. Don't forget that.)
I'm not saying Bethune didn't handle this wrong because I don't know that. I'm saying it's highly unlikely he changed his mind on his destination with no influence or pressure whatsoever from the side he eventually chose.
Bethune is the second player UMD has lost to major junior in the last six months or so, as defenseman Blake Heinrich bailed on his commitment to join the WHL's Portland Winterhawks.
In other non-conference games involving the NCHC, well, the league didn't get off to a good start.
Nothing was more shocking than Bemidji State going into The Ralph and throttling North Dakota, 5-1. It was 5-0 after two, with BSU leading in shots 29-16.
Colgate beat St. Cloud State 3-1 in a battle of preseason top ten teams. Bowling Green held off Miami 3-2. Canisius beat Western Michigan 4-2.
Omaha did topple Minnesota State 5-3 at CenturyLink Center, and Colorado College beat Alabama-Huntsville 3-2.
It's only one night, but the NCHC didn't do itself any favors. The detractors were out in full force on Twitter, having a great time. Hopefully Saturday and Sunday bring better results.