Thursday, December 04, 2014

Bulldogs Get Charge From Depth, Now Getting Healthier

The first seven weeks of the college hockey season were a huge test for the depth of this UMD team. Not only did the Bulldogs not have a weekend off until Thanksgiving, they had to slog through with some significant players missing time due to injury.

Senior alternate captain Justin Crandall missed the Denver weekend. Senior captain Adam Krause missed eight games. Sophomore Sammy Spurrell has missed eight games (and is probably lost for the season). Freshmen Brett Boehm and Nick McCormack have missed time.

(We first talked about the injury bug before the St. Cloud series. No one is going to feel sympathy for this team when guys are banged up, but it was great to see things go as well as they did while the boys were fighting through so many man-games lost.)

UMD got so thin up front that it only had 12 healthy forwards for the Omaha series.

No matter how well the team was playing heading into break, it was a great time for a weekend off.

"Our guys are excited and anxious to get back," head coach Scott Sandelin said this week. "I think the break came at a good time. We got some guys rested up, healed up. The energy's been good (this week)."

"When you're on top and everyone's playing well, you don't want to go into a break," sophomore forward Kyle Osterberg said. "At the same time, guys are getting beaten down. We needed a break."

One of the players benefitting from the bye is Krause. He's expected back this weekend, and his coach and teammates are excited. Sandelin said it should be a "big lift" for his team.

"He's our leader. There's no question we've missed him. He's a player that guys have a tremendous amount of respect for."

Osterberg says there's "nothing better."

"He's probably the best captain I've ever had. He does everything right, from the locker room to on the ice. When we didn't have him, I think we played really well, but he'll help us out a lot in a lot of different situations."

Krause is likely to play on the fourth line with Jared Thomas and Blake Young, at least to start the weekend. The top three lines remain unchanged from the Omaha trip. But it should be a big plus to have the former Hermantown Hawk back on the ice. Those of you who are close to this team know what kind of human being Krause is. He's a great leader for this group, and his presence on the ice was missed, despite the success UMD enjoyed through November.

(By the way, both Youngs -- Austyn and Blake -- deserve a lot of kudos. Austyn struggled to get in the lineup as a freshman and a sophomore, but he found a regular spot on the line with Cal Decowski and Kyle Osterberg, and he has played very well with those two. Osterberg said he "started off doing all the little things right, and he's starting to make more plays and get confidence." Blake is a big kid with a tremendous attitude. He was the last freshman to get in the lineup, but he's found a spot by playing a hard and physical game, unafraid of any contact, while understanding his role. If it weren't for the unrelated Youngs, the Bulldogs don't win six in a row before the bye.)

Krause's "demotion" comes for a multitude of reasons, none of which are anything that people should read as a message to Krause. When I talked to him after the injury happened, he joked he hoped that Austin Farley -- who was first to take Krause's spot on the line with Dominic Toninato and Alex Iafallo -- would give him his spot back. Now it's Justin Crandall on the Toninato line, and for now, he isn't giving the spot back.

But Krause has to get back to game speed. He's missed significant time, and while he's been able to skate and has been practicing for two weeks, none of that accurately simulates game speed. Putting him on the fourth line limits his minutes a bit, but it should allow him to ease back into game speed.

Sandelin was hopeful that Boehm would be able to play this weekend. McCormack is also getting closer, according to the head coach, but it's unclear if he could go this weekend or if his return waits until the Houghton trip next week.

Spurrell had surgery Wednesday and is likely lost for the season. Because Spurrell only played in five games, he is eligible for a medical redshirt should the decision be made to pursue one. That would give him three years of eligibility starting next season. I don't know if he will go that option.

Even without Spurrell, UMD is as healthy as it's been since before the October exhibition against Lakehead. I know the Bulldogs played well before break, but even taking that into consideration, the injury situation being what it was means the bye couldn't possibly have been timed better.

Now, it's time for the players to come out looking fresh and ready Friday against Colorado College.

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