Friday, December 12, 2014

Saturday Hockey Notes and Thoughts: Toninato's Bookend Goals Lead UMD to Quality Road Win

HOUGHTON, Mich. -- Here's how good a season Michigan Tech has been having to this point.

Before Friday night, Tech had faced a two-goal deficit for 9:16. In 14 games. So they played 840 minutes and only trailed by two goals for a hair over nine of them. That's about 1.1 percent of the time.

On Friday, UMD took a 2-0 lead in the second period, then added an insurance goal after Tech got on the board in the third. In a 3-1 win for No. 9 UMD over No. 4 Michigan Tech here, the Bulldogs led by two goals for 27:28, or nearly half the game, and nearly three times as much as Tech had trailed by two goals all season long before this game.

The Bulldogs came out firing on Friday. UMD took 38 shots in the first period alone, getting a lot of good chances and doing a good job making Tech goalie Jamie Phillips work to see pucks and make saves. And he made saves. Lots of them. Phillips stymied UMD until a power play late in the first period. After Andy Welinski's center point shot was deflected high, it bounced back toward the front of the net. Austin Farley deftly poked it out toward the slot, where Dominic Toninato had what was basically a tap-in for a 1-0 UMD lead.

The Bulldogs added to the lead with a four-on-four goal in the second period, when Farley jammed in a rebound off a Tony Cameranesi sharp-angle shot. That was the first two-goal lead of the night for UMD. And as I mentioned, getting up by two against this team is quite an accomplishment.

After Dylan Steman tipped in a Cliff Watson point shot to halve the lead, Toninato struck again. This time, it was a breakaway that was brilliantly set up by linemates Adam Krause and Alex Iafallo.

This served as a fitting conclusion to the game's scoring, given how fantastic this line was for almost the entire affair. They combined for seven shots on goal, 17 total attempts*, and plenty of offensive zone time.

Cameranesi's line was also good. He, Farley, and Karson Kuhlman had 13 shots on goal, 17 attempts*, and their share of puck possession in the offensive zone.

(* - Unofficial, because I'm counting off the shot chart and I'm old so I can't sees as good as I used to.)

Both lines were fantastic defensively. They used their sticks to break up passes and rushes, and all six players blocked shots and stopped Tech from making plays down low. Farley's effort was especially notable a couple different times, breaking up potential chances before Kasimir Kaskisuo had to do anything. Kaskisuo was rock-solid with 25 saves and some superb rebound control, but he never had to make a "wow" save because the guys in front of him were so good.

Tech coach Mel Pearson was highly complimentary of UMD going into the week. He was almost equally complimentary after Friday's game, when appearing on Tech's radio postgame show.

UMD was the better team Friday. Pearson knows it. He's going to make some adjustments, and it'll be up to UMD to bring it again Saturday as it goes for the sweep.


The ending to Friday's game was somewhat bizarre. Not because of anything that happened on the ice.

Instead, it was something that didn't happen.

Pearson chose not to pull Phillips late in the game.

Tech had puck possession in the offensive zone a few times, sustained it for a while at one point, but Phillips stayed put. Pearson told Tech VOX Dirk Hembroff after the game he just didn't feel the timing was right, even though it looked like an obvious move.

It's not a crime or anything like that. But with how aggressive coaches are about pulling goalies (see: Blais, Dean), it's weird to see someone choosing NOT to. Looking back, Pearson may have telegraphed his decision in the final three minutes by passing on taking his timeout a couple times.

He has his reasons. I doubt it would have had a great impact on the final outcome. But it was weird at the time.


A quick personal note.

This series is the final in a two-year arrangement UMD and Tech had for non-conference games. I do not know if the teams have any plans to continue playing, but I do not believe they do at this time. Obviously, things like that can change.

No one wants me trying to set the non-conference schedule. I'd litter it with driving trips when we do play on the road, because it's easier than flying, and it means we have a better chance of getting some of our fans to make trips and be able to attend games.

And this place has always been special for me. In October 2005, I fell into the UMD play-by-play gig, taking over for the great Kerry Rodd.

(By the way, it isn't lost on me that I followed someone as good as Kerry, and yet have been lucky enough to do this for almost ten seasons now. Usually, the guy who replaces someone that good ends up on his keyster within a year or two because everyone hates him. I'm lucky in that the people who hated me kept their mouths shut.)

The first games I had a chance to call were here. I can look back now, find the box score, and tell you UMD won 6-3 on Friday behind two Mike Curry goals. The teams tied 2-2 on Saturday, and I was off and running, so to speak.

(I was petrified. I've never been that nervous, outside of maybe my wedding day, and that isn't even a guarantee. I had literally no clue what I was doing or what I had gotten myself into. I remember Matt McKnight's first goal Friday. I don't think I had a clue who scored it at the time. Called a few high school hockey games, but this was a pace, an intensity that I wasn't at all prepared for. And it took me a couple years to figure out how best to prepare for games.)

Ever since then, I've thoroughly enjoyed calling games here, because it reminds me of that first weekend. Also because it's an awesome building with great history, great character, and about the nicest people you could ever ask to meet and/or work with.

If Saturday is the end of that run for the time being, so be it. I'll follow this team wherever it goes and enjoy the hell out of doing it. But I'll miss this place if I don't get a chance to come back.


Elsewhere in the NCHC, St. Cloud State outshot Omaha 49-27 Friday night. But Ryan Massa was in goal for UNO, and SCSU's Jonny Brodzinski was ejected in the second third period on a questionable contact to the head call.

There will be a new No. 1 in the polls. Or at least I'd assume so. Denver took down North Dakota 4-1 in Denver. The Pioneers got another goal from Joey LaLeggia -- in other words, another day at the office for him -- as well as a goal and an apple from Quentin Shore and two assists from Gabe Levin. Oh, and UND's Mark MacMillan was ejected from the game on a possibly questionable checking from behind call.

(The Brodzinski penalty was a lot more questionable than the one on MacMillan, but that isn't going to make North Dakota fans feel any better.)

(Rant: Listen, I think we've all seen enough. Officials simply have to be given the power to review potential major penalties. It's gotten to the point of ridiculousness. Put a clock on the amount of time officials can view the video, make the screen go black after that time has expired, and put the onus on the officials to trust what they saw in live action if there isn't anything compelling on replay. /rant)

(Speaking of that, can we put a time limit on all reviews? The officials took so long to review UMD's first goal that I started to think they were going to overturn it no matter what. I saw the replay three times and I have no idea what they looked at for so long. There's another problem. Whenever a review is initiated, it should be made clear to everyone what the review was initiated to look at, and it should be made clear what was seen. There's almost no communication from downstairs to the press box or the crowd in general. That's unacceptable. Like the NHL system or not, their Situation Room blog is fantastic for almost real-time updates on the reason for and result of all video reviews that are conducted. The first college hockey league to adopt a similar system will be looked at as pioneers of the sport.)

(Ahem, focus ...)

In Kalamazoo, Frederik Tiffels scored twice, including the winning goal at 1:58 of overtime, as Western Michigan beat Colorado College 3-2. CC tied the game with three seconds left on a power-play goal by Cody Bradley, but Tiffels' overtime goal sent the Tigers to an 0-8 record in league play.

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