Saturday, November 08, 2014

Saturday Hockey Notes and Thoughts: Kaskisuo, Bulldogs End Stearns County Spell

ST. CLOUD, Minn. -- Cal Decowski was 12 years old the last time UMD won a game at the Herb Brooks National Hockey Center.

(Actually, Herb's name wasn't even on the building at that time.)

Cal was seven the last time UMD won a game in overtime in this building.

He ended the unexplainable hex with one swat of his stick Friday night.

Decowski's goal off a tremendous setup by Kyle Osterberg sent UMD to a 3-2 overtime win over St. Cloud State.

The last win at the NHC for the Bulldogs was March 9, 2007, a 3-1 win in the opening game of a WCHA playoff series. SCSU won the series, thanks to an overtime win the next night and then an epic triple-overtime win on Sunday night. Those two losses began an 0-8-2 stretch for the Bulldogs in St. Cloud.

Prior to that, UMD's last regular-season win in St. Cloud came on Nov. 27, 2004, a 3-1 win that saw UMD score three in the third, including Marco Peluso's winner with around two minutes left.

(In case you're wondering, Decowski's goal came almost 15 years to the day of UMD's last overtime win at the NHC, which came on Nov. 12, 1999, when Superior boy Tom Nelson scored to give UMD a 3-2 win.)

No one has ever been able to explain the hex. Good Bulldog teams have gone in there and failed to win, even against subpar St. Cloud State teams. It's not the Olympic surface, as the Bulldogs have tasted plenty of success on the big sheet in places like Minneapolis, Colorado Springs, and Mankato, among others. The NHC is known for being loud, but there are plenty of loud rinks that haven't hypnotized this team (hell, UMD is 4-0 at Western Michigan, which is a very loud venue).

Either way, the Bulldogs scratched and clawed on Friday, and they found a way to win a game they might not have necessarily been the better team in.

And it was UMD's first Friday win this season. I'm sure that'll make the players happy, as it seemed they were all sick and tired of being sick and tired. And of talking about Friday losses.

For the first time this season, UMD has a chance to have what head coach Scott Sandelin terms a "great weekend." Two wins.


I hate to use the phrase "they stole the game," but this is about as close as you can get to a solid application of those words. St. Cloud State had to be wondering what it would have to do to score. UMD freshman goalie Kasimir Kaskisuo made a couple spectacular saves among his 20 over two periods, and it took a Jonny Brodzinski (who else?) top-shelf laser to get the Huskies on the board early in the third.

SCSU took the lead after a breakdown left Patrick Russell open in front on the next power play chance.

The Huskies' coaches made a subtle change on the top power play unit between the second and third periods. Ethan Prow had been working as the only defenseman on the top unit, with senior Andrew Prochno on the second unit. They switched Prochno onto the top unit with Kalle Kossila, Brodzinski, the criminally-underrated Joey Benik, and Russell to start the third. I thought Prochno was having a tough night, uncharacteristically struggling with the puck a few times.

Of course, Prochno responds by getting apples on both power-play goals. Smart move by Bob Motzko and company. Direct benefit, as it invigorated the team and the building. In between those two power play goals, St. Cloud killed a long UMD five-on-three, allowing just two relatively harmless shots. Goalie Charlie Lindgren faced some heat on one of those saves, and he did a great job freezing the puck to get a whistle. That invigorated the building even more, and they really didn't calm down until Andy Welinski tied it on a four-on-three power play late in the third.

UMD was badly outshot from the second period on, really, with shots over the last 40 minutes of regulation ending up 24-12. Kaskisuo continually kept UMD alive, robbing Benik and Russell on great chances when it was still 1-0, and tracking the puck through traffic a couple times during extended zone time for the Huskies. He left one bad rebound in the game, but freshman forward Blake Wineicki fanned on it in the crease and UMD got the clear. Outside of that, Kaskisuo's rebound control continues to be incredible, especialy for a freshman goalie.

I didn't think this was UMD's best effort. They played a solid first period, getting a Justin Crandall goal for the lead, but St. Cloud had a number of chances and Kaskisuo had to be sharp early and often. They're good, but I thought UMD just didn't do a good job bearing down on its chances at any point in the game. At first glance, the Huskies seemed to be winning a lot of races. Combine that with a slight (30-24) edge in faceoffs, and puck possession wasn't on UMD's side Friday.

I'm not going to say it has to change for UMD to have a chance Saturday, but one has to assume St. Cloud State will try to get even more pucks to Kaskisuo, while driving the net to create traffic and perhaps force the freshman to cough up some rebounds.

All in all, this wasn't a great game. Sure was entertaining, but it lacked a ton of flow, and it felt like the teams were almost feeling each other out at times. The teams played with pace at times, but I didn't see as much transition hockey as I expected, and there were more than a few ruts where neither team could really get extended offensive zone time.


Welinski's one-timer in the third period not only tied the score at 2-2, but it gave UMD a power play goal in nine straight games to start the season. That matches the run of the 2011-12 Bulldogs, which roared out of the gates with power play goals in nine straight games before being held off the board in a 4-0 win over Denver Nov. 5, 2011.

(I don't have game-by-game records earlier than the 1999-2000 season at my disposal, so I'll have to have UMD look and see if a team has ever scored on the power play in more than nine straight games to start a season. Of course, we won't get one Saturday, just to make me look like I'm jinxing the bit here.)

It's an impressive streak, because there have been nights the power play wasn't very good. The five-on-three Friday was a disaster, with faceoff losses, sloppy puckhandling, and bad passes. But they found a way to get one on the man advantage when it was needed most.


In other NCHC action, Miami got three in the third -- including consecutive tallies by Alex Wideman -- to knock off Colorado College 3-0. Denver rallied from 3-0 down to beat Western Michigan 5-4. Ty Loney and Joey LaLeggia each scored twice to give Denver a 4-3 lead in the second, and Emil Romig netted the winner with 1:52 left after Western had tied it.

Omaha won again non-conference, beating Ohio State 4-1. Also, North Dakota held off Wisconsin 4-3. Yes, Wisconsin is actually allowed to score goals. Who knew?

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