Friday, November 14, 2014

Saturday Hockey Notes and Thoughts: Bulldogs Administer Impressive Beatdown of No. 1 Minnesota

MINNEAPOLIS -- I've done over 300 of these hockey games over nine-plus years of being lucky enough to hold down this gig.

I'm not sure any 60-minute performance I've seen was as impressive as what UMD put on display Friday night at Mariucci Arena.

Greetings from downtown Minneapolis, where I'll blog quickly on the events of the evening, set up a wild Saturday back in Duluth, and then get some shut-eye before I execute the trip home. I might add to this midday Saturday if I have time.

There isn't much that needs to be said. UMD pretty throughly trounced Minnesota in virtually every aspect of the game Friday. Constant puck possession and frustrating forechecks left Minnesota frustrated, taking bad penalties, and unable to gain any juice in the offensive zone because by the time the puck got there, it was time for a line change.

As Gopher radio analyst Pat Micheletti said afterwards, it was hard to tell sometimes which UMD line was on the ice, because they all did the same thing. They were all over Minnesota's vaunted defensemen, giving them no room to make plays up the rink. By the middle of the first period, Minnesota's behavior became that of a frustrated hockey team, one that was used to doing to other teams what UMD was doing, and it didn't stop until the final horn.

Final shots were 38-17. A Gopher team known for its offense was held to 14 even-strength shots, and the home team attempted only 31 shots in 60 minutes. And it wasn't because they weren't willing to shoot. UMD wouldn't let them.

And it wasn't like UMD had anyone not on board. 18 skaters, and I can't think of one that didn't contribute in some way. All six defensemen made plays at one point or another. All 12 forwards were a factor in the offensive zone. It was such a team effort that defensemen Derik Johnson and Carson Soucy were the only Bulldog skaters who didn't register a shot on goal.

Any thought that UMD would be intimidated was squashed early, and a penalty on Minnesota's Leon Bristedt 22 seconds in led to the game's first goal, a power-play tally by Austin Farley. If it weren't for Gophers goalie Adam Wilcox, it would have been 3-0 or 4-0 after one, as he made a few acrobatic saves on a long UMD five-on-three that registered six shots.

The Bulldogs didn't get frustrated by Wilcox, instead pouring more and more shots on him until he finally cracked again in the second. Sophomore defenseman Dan Molenaar registered his first career goal at 9:55 of the middle frame off a feed from the right by Karson Kuhlman. Dominic Toninato scored in the third to create the final margin of 3-0.

Freshman Kasimir Kaskisuo could have done homework in goal for much of the night. He made a few good saves, including stops on Kyle Rau and Jake Bischoff, but the work of the guys in front of him was incredible throughout. UMD negated Minnesota's speed by playing a highly-disciplined game and making them resort to chips and dumps to get the puck across the UMD blue line. The Bulldogs outnumbered Minnesota to the puck on so many occasions that it was easy to lose count.

I'm not kidding when I say this. There is almost literally not one thing that I thought UMD did poorly on Friday. It was a complete and thorough tail-kicking administered by a team that a lot of observers think is pretty darn good. Friday might have been the coming-out party.

Now, it's time to create some magic at home.

The teams meet in Duluth Saturday night. It's Minnesota's first trip to Duluth since a two-game sweep there in October of 2011. Those were the final two losses before UMD rolled off a 17-game unbeaten streak that started the following weekend in Providence. They were also fantastic hockey games, both 5-4 finals, with Friday's game going overtime.

Saturday will be no different. UMD better be ready, because the Bulldogs will see a pushback from Minnesota. There isn't much that Don Lucia can do as far as bodies because of the injuries he's dealing with, but I wouldn't be surprised if a couple lines were shuffled to try to create more of an offensive threat, and maybe even some offensive balance.

Kaskisuo will make his ninth straight start, with his save percentage now up to .928. You can see the confidence growing every time he plays, and all that does is make a goalie even more dangerous.

(By the way, UMD's current four-game winning streak is its longest since the end of the 2012-13 season, when the Bulldogs ripped off four straight home wins to finish the regular season.)

That's it for me for now. Possibly more early Saturday once I'm back in Duluth. Definitely more once we get to the rink.

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