Monday, November 17, 2014

Monday Musings: Bulldogs Can't Fly Under Radar After Sweeping Minnesota

Last week, I was texting with someone involved with the UMD men's hockey program. This particular person wasn't necessarily pleased with UMD's spot in the USA Today/USA Hockey Magazine poll that came out last week. While understanding that polls really don't matter at all in college hockey, it still stung that the Bulldogs were 15th, one spot behind a St. Cloud State team they had just swept in St. Cloud.

The conversation ended with us agreeing that UMD was flying under the old radar, and that wasn't necessarily a bad thing.

Forget that. It's over now.

Sweeping in St. Cloud might not have grabbed people's attention, but sweeping No. 1 Minnesota -- the prohibitive national championship favorite -- damn sure will.

UMD ran its winning streak to five by completing a sweep of the Gophers in front of a record crowd at Amsoil Arena Saturday night. That crowd was plenty juiced before the game. The student section filled quickly when doors opened 90 minutes before faceoff. Armed with Thunderstix, the fans were making noise throughout the pregame warmup, and even with a ton of events going on at the DECC complex on Saturday, the vast majority of the fans were in their seats or in the building in time for an epic pregame video.

(If it ends up on YouTube, I'll get it on the blog. Whether you were there or not, it's worth watching.)

Said huge crowd was amped already, and Dominic Toninato's early goal (28 seconds in) gave them an excuse to not settle in at any point. That about blew the roof off the place.

The Bulldogs kept putting pressure on Gophers goalie Adam Wilcox, and freshman Karson Kuhlman deftly tipped a Willie Raskob center-point shot past the star netminder late in the first to give UMD a 2-0 lead.

The Bulldogs badly outshot the Gophers Friday (38-17), and kept that rolling for most of Saturday's game, until Minnesota began to push back more emphatically in the second period of that game at Amsoil Arena.

In the third, Minnesota finally was able to sustain attack. The Gophers got their forecheck going steadily throughout the game, and it was at its best in the third. It was probably part-desperation and partially due to UMD losing senior forward Justin Crandall on a (bogus*) kneeing major in the closing moments of the first period. The Bulldogs were down to 11 forwards, had to mish-mash lines, and it is likely a few guys were a bit fatigued in that third period. UMD still did a good job blocking shots and keeping bodies largely away from Kasimir Kaskisuo, not that he needed a ton of help. Kaskisuo was outstanding Saturday, making a few saves where it seemed impossible he saw the puck, but read plays wonderfully and kept himself in great position.

(* - I know a lot of Minnesota fans vehemently disagree, but based on the animation I saw of the hit, I see nothing more than a minor. Crandall knocked knees with Minnesota defenseman Michael Brodzinski, but he never changed his vertical base or direction, while it was Brodzinski who made a sudden movement to try to avoid the contact. Yes, Crandall turned his body, but it was pulling up to hit someone, not to lead with his knee. The knee never came out from the body.)

(And I'm still not mad at the on-ice officials. Live action, it looked bad. And they don't get replays. I've already ranted about this and I probably will again. But not now.)

But when it came time to push offensively, it was clear a lot of guys didn't have the energy they had earlier in the game. That and the No. 1 team in the country wasn't about to go down without a fight. UMD did a great job defending late, to the point that even what appeared to be a neutral-zone breakdown and a tremendous odd-man chance for Minnesota late turned into no shots on Kaskisuo because Alex Iafallo ruined the rush with the mother of all backchecks. It was a great play by the sophomore and all about hustle.

This was a great team effort. I thought freshman Blake Young looked good playing some on the Toninato line after Crandall's ejection. Willie Raskob had his best weekend of the season, and Carson Soucy -- though not a factor in the scoring -- was really good, too. Andy Welinski is off-the-charts good at the moment, and he's doing it in all phases, with and without the puck. I'd argue he's top two in the NCHC (I haven't seen Jordan Schmaltz of North Dakota yet, and might not for some time since we don't play them until January), and possibly top 3-5 in the country.

Junior Austyn Young was put in on the third line for the Saturday St. Cloud game, and I don't think it's a stretch to say he's playing the best hockey that he's played at UMD right now. He's a good example of a guy who is taking advantage of the opportunity placed in front of him after Adam Krause went down. When the captain returns -- possibly as soon as early December -- coach Scott Sandelin will have some decisions to make with his lineup. But that's down the line a bit, still.

A five-game winning streak is nice, and UMD is sure to get some national attention now, which is good for the program and will make some fans feel good. But nothing has been won yet, outside of these eight games.


The Bulldogs go from the No. 1 team in the country to one of the hottest in Omaha. The Mavericks ride a six-game unbeaten streak into this weekend's series at CenturyLink Center in Omaha. UNO maybe hasn't played the best competition in that run -- sweeps against Western Michigan and Ohio State, along with a win and tie against Cornell -- but it's done this work all on the road. UNO hasn't played at home since Oct. 10-11 against Minnesota State, running off these six road games with a pair of bye weeks mixed in.

Dean Blais has some Northland connections on this squad, with former Duluth East Greyhound and Toninato linemate Jake Randolph joined by last year's Mr. Hockey, Avery Peterson. Randolph has a goal and eight points in eight games, while Peterson scored three times in the Ohio State series and has four goals and six points this year.

Goalie Ryan Massa, who entered the season with a career save percentage of .901 in 46 games, has played in six this year, with a 5-0-1 record and .953 save percentage. He's allowed eight goals on 171 shots so far.

Hell, with Kaskisuo sitting at .931 right now, will anyone score this weekend???

That'll do it for me. I'll try to check in at the rink Tuesday, but Wednesday for sure ahead of the Thursday travel to Omaha. Remember, Friday's game is 7:30, with Saturday set for 7. There aren't a lot of places that draw better Friday than Saturday, but with Nebraska football hosting Minnesota an hour away in Lincoln on Saturday, you can imagine where the state's attention lands for that day.

1 comment:

BIGD said...

Bruce, If you think for one second Crandall didn't know what he was doing you either never played or know nothing about the sport you write about, he could have used a shoulder he didn't and yes he did stick his knee out, if you watched the video if Brodzinski didn't make the little move he made Crandall would have ripped every ligament in his knee,that hit would get him 10 games in the NHL which he will never play in. And if he was in the NHL and did that he wouldn't have skated off. He's a senior and knows exactly what he was doing don't kid yourself. Its bad for hockey and bad for the fans and all the kids that watch. The players will tell you he tried to do it and the refs got it right for a change.