Monday, November 03, 2014

Monday Musings: Another Hard-Earned Split for Battle-Tested Bulldogs

4-4 doesn't seem like much.

Even people who like bananas are probably sick of splits at this point.

But UMD continues to find ways to win games one (or two, in the case of the Ice Breaker) day after losing.

Yes, we'd like this team to start winning series openers. I get it. But there are positive steps being taken, and the Bulldogs continue to work through an incredibly difficult schedule in the early going without going under.

While the buzz at the rink was about two things -- Kasimir Kaskisuo's behind-the-back glove save Friday, and the late calls that gave Miami a five-on-three it would eventually win the game with -- in the hour or so before Saturday's game, the players eventually created some buzz of their own.

In the pregame warmup, multiple players on each team had to be separated by officials because they were jawing at each other. Nothing got physical, but there was a lot of talking in both directions. Kept the referees and linesmen on their toes, I guess.

During the game, the emotions continued. There were really only a couple post-whistle incidents that rose to any level of significance, but there was sure a lot of talking, it appeared.

There were some silly penalties each way, but generally the players did a pretty good job keeping emotions under control and limiting it to trash talk.

As for the game, it was fantastic. These are two good hockey teams that like to get up and down the rink. Miami's best players -- Riley Barber, Blake Coleman, Austin Czarnik, listed here alphabetically -- were very good on Saturday, and Enrico Blasi made it known they were going by using them as much as you'll see a coach use top players this early in the season.

UMD had guys going, too. Kyle Osterberg had his best game of the season, I thought, with three assists and a consistent presence in all phases. He took a hard hit to make a play that set up the Bulldogs' first goal, and he rolled from there.

(Kyle took that nasty knee-on-knee hit in the exhibition, and while he didn't miss any time, it's been a slow build to where I thought he looked completely right. If he isn't there, he's much closer now.)

Justin Crandall played well, also taking a hard hit to make a play that set up Osterberg and Andy Welinski with a short-handed odd-man rush that they scored on.

Against a team like Miami, players have to be willing to take a hard hit to make a play, because the RedHawks are a very physical team, in addition to having high-end skill. It was nice to see guys doing that and seeing good results from those plays they were making.

Kaskisuo didn't make any stops that got him on SportsCenter Saturday night, but he was rock-solid, especially when Miami made him busy in the third period (19 shots, 18 saves). He continues to improve at tracking pucks through traffic, and his rebound control has been almost spot-on. His steadily-improving play has been a revelation for a team that desperately sought answers in goal heading into the campaign.


Watching the Vikings game Sunday, I saw something that made me think of hockey, specifically some of the goofy calls we saw over the weekend and have seen throughout the first eight games.

Comes off something we've talked about on the air. The job of being a hockey official has gotten more difficult over the years. The game is only getting faster, and more and more hockey leagues or associations are trying to get officials to watch for things -- i.e. head contact, hits from behind, embellishment -- more closely than before.

Despite those who govern the game wanting more things to be watched, the officials aren't being given more tools to do their jobs more effectively.

My new obsession is giving officials the ability to review major penalties? Why majors? Because they often are accompanied by an ejection, and that's a huge decision for on-ice officials. Instead of taking away the power to eject players from games for illegal hits, why not give officials another tool by which they can get the calls right? Limit them to two looks at the replay from available angles and instruct them that the major can only be overturned if the call on the ice was clearly wrong.

This isn't a mechanism to lengthen games. It's a mechanism to keep kids from missing large chunks of playing time -- and to keep teams from going short-handed for five minutes -- unless such a call is warranted.

Instead of giving the officials more things to watch for in an increasingly fast sport, let's give them more tools to do their jobs effectively.

Why did football make me think of this? We can all agree that the personal foul call on Harrison Smith was hideous, but the referee -- with clear instructions from the NFL to protect quarterbacks from late hits and hits to the head -- saw Smith go over the top of Robert Griffin III, while a sliding Griffin snapped his head back towards the turf to try to avoid contact. The referee reacted and got the call wrong. If he had the power to review that call, Washington would have been facing a fourth down, because there's no way he would have let it stand.

No, NFL officials shouldn't review every offsides call. But pass interference and personal fouls that are called into question? Yes, they should be reviewed. Those calls have too much of an impact on a game to just let the officials on the field make them with no checks or balances at the time of the call.


UMD heads to St. Cloud State next. It's just a matchup of middling .500 teams (SCSU is 3-3), right?

Probably not.

The Herb Brooks National Hockey Center has been awful to UMD over the years. The Bulldogs are 4-17-2 there under Scott Sandelin, and UMD hasn't won in 12 tries there since a playoff series-opening win there in 2007 (0-10-2).

I have no answers. Last year, St. Cloud jumped on UMD early to take a 4-0 lead in the first period on Friday before the Bulldogs rallied and eventually lost 5-3. Jonny Brodzinski sniped home the game-winning goal in the final minutes of the Huskies' 4-3 win Saturday.

UMD has played well there and lost. UMD has played poorly there and lost. What UMD just doesn't seem to do is win there. They've tried different hotels, probably different bus drivers, and I'm sure they've talked about just walking there.

Nothing has worked.

Maybe this is the week. We can only hope. These teams could be somewhat even when you lay everything out there, so don't be stunned if it somehow ends in a split again.

Both teams are familiar. It's all they've done this season.

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