Saturday, November 22, 2014

Game 14: UMD at Omaha

OMAHA, Neb. -- I'm not sure we can top what the UMD football team did at home this afternoon (congrats, fellas!), but it's our turn to try.

Off a three-goal third period Friday, UMD now seeks a seventh straight win that it can take into its first bye week of the season.

It's been a hell of a grind so far, and UMD has played a lot of games without senior captain Adam Krause -- who is here but was not going to play this weekend. Krause has missed eight games, counting this one. Senior alternate captain Justin Crandall missed two. Sophomore forward Sammy Spurrell has now missed six games and is likely to miss a bunch more, from what it sounds like. Freshman forward Brett Boehm wasn't available this weekend because of injury. Freshman defenseman Nick McCormack has missed some time but could be close to returning.

These injuries have tested UMD's resolve, and its depth. Guys like junior forward Austyn Young and freshman Blake Young have acquitted themselves well lately, and this team has shown it isn't just about its top line.

Friday, the top line didn't score and was a collective minus. UMD won anyway. It's a sign that the Bulldogs are getting reliable goaltending, and it's a sign this is a deep team.

Let's win one more, take a week off, get healthy, and finish the first half strong.



Iafallo - Toninato - Crandall
Farley - Cameranesi - Kuhlman
Osterberg - Decowski - Young (Austyn)
Young (Blake) - Thomas - Sampair

Johnson - Welinski
Soucy - Raskob
Corrin - Kotyk

Kaskisuo - McNeely

Randolph - Vesel - Parizek
Pope - Guentzel - Peterson
Lane - Zombo - Ortega
Nogard - Mountain - Polk

Cooper - Messner
Snuggerud - Brady
Youso - Gallo

Massa - Thompson - Crossthwaite 

Friday, November 21, 2014

Saturday Hockey Notes and Thoughts: UMD Rallies, Runs Win Streak to Six

OMAHA, Neb. -- Hell of a win Friday here. Hell of a win.

This will be a quick blog, as I am with family this weekend on this trip and want to spend some time with them. Watch my Twitter (@BruceCiskie) for more thoughts during the day.

UMD rallied from a 2-0 deficit to beat Omaha 3-2 Friday at CenturyLink Center. It's the second time UMD has come back from a multi-goal deficit to tie a game. It's the first time UMD has won when trailing by multiple goals through two periods since Jan. 11, 2008, versus Minnesota State. It's the first win of any kind when trailing after two since Nov. 12, 2010, against Michigan Tech.

Both those games were at home. You have to go back to Oct. 16, 2004, to find the last time UMD trailed by two in the third and won a road game (Michigan Tech took a 3-1 lead in the third before UMD ripped off five straight to win 6-3).

Not much happened in the first, but you could tell UNO goalie Ryan Massa wasn't going to be beaten low. Just didn't appear the opportunities were going to come there. I even made a comment -- and this is not a self high-five, I promise, because I could very well have ended up wrong and forgotten I ever said it -- that I wanted to see UMD start testing Massa high.

Sure enough, UMD started shooting higher and got some success in the third. Karson Kuhlman pinballed one in to make it 2-1, then Andy Welinski threw an absolute missile by Massa to tie it before Cal Decowski scored the winner with 2:35 left.

The UNO goalie had a good night with 33 saves. He still has a .947 save percentage, which is obscene. I'd be surprised if Dean Blais didn't come back with him Saturday.

I know Scott Sandelin will come back with Kasimir Kaskisuo. The freshman got beat twice in the second (the David Pope two-on-one goal was probably the worst one he's allowed in weeks, if not since the Minnesota game at the Ice Breaker, and that's being kind of picky about our goaltender, who has been awesome). But Kaskisuo made a big save that led to the rush Welinski scored on. That's a two-goal swing in a game we won by one, and it's something that can't be forgotten.

(Of course, I forgot who had the chance for UNO. I believe it was Dominic Zombo or Austin Ortega, which means it was definitely Jake Guentzel.)

The Bulldogs have won six straight to improve to 9-4. UMD is still tied with Miami atop the NCHC, as the RedHawks beat Western Michigan 1-0. In the other league game, St. Cloud State held off North Dakota 3-1. Colorado College and Denver won non-conference, which keeps the NCHC's stellar record in those games very much alive.

Saturday should be another good game here. UNO will push back hard, and UMD has proven it can answer the bell. Playing with good discipline (two penalties for four minutes Friday) will be a key once again. Keep the Omaha power play off the ice, as Guentzel's return makes that unit quite dangerous.

That's it for me. More on Twitter Saturday as things pop into my head.

Game 13: UMD at Omaha

OMAHA, Neb. -- For the last time, UMD will play a weekend series in the gargantuan and largely empty CenturyLink Center.

(What was your favorite CenturyLink Center Bulldog moment? I'm going with Aaron Crandall's 358-save weekend* last January as the Bulldogs swept UNO.)

(* - Possible exaggeration)

Next year, UNO's home games will be played at the brand-new arena being built on campus in midtown Omaha, probably a good six or seven miles from the CenturyLink Center's downtown location. That'll cut capacity for UNO home games from around 17,000 to around 7,500, a much more manageable number.

(This is especially true in the fall months, where minds even in Omaha are largely preoccupied with Nebraska football, especially since Omaha dropped its football program as it was transitioning its athletic programs to Division I.)

This series pits two hot teams against one another, as UMD has won five straight and Omaha is unbeaten in six. Hopefully there's some excitement around here for the games and we get good crowds. Omaha hasn't played at home since Oct. 11.



Iafallo - Toninato - Crandall
Farley - Cameranesi - Kuhlman
Osterberg - Decowski - Young (Austyn)
Young (Blake) - Thomas - Sampair

Johnson - Welinski
Soucy - Raskob
Corrin - Molenaar

Kaskisuo - McNeely

Randolph - Vesel - Parizek
Pope - Peterson - Davis
Guentzel - Zombo - Ortega
Nogard - Lane - Polk

Cooper - Messner
Snuggerud - O'Rourke
Brady - Gallo

Massa - Thompson - Crossthwaite

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Piping-Hot Teams Collide in Omaha

INTERSTATE 35, Minn. -- Don't worry. My wife's driving.

UMD coach Scott Sandelin knows what his team has to do this weekend, as he faces mentor Dean Blais and Omaha at CenturyLink Center.

"We've got to go in there and make sure we do the things we need to do, and we're not living off last weekend."

Surely, UMD's players understand where the veteran coach is coming from. It won't get much better -- not from a standpoint of opponent, quality of game, or atmosphere -- than it was on Saturday at home. It was there that a record crowd witnessed one of the biggest wins UMD has ever posted in the building, 2-1 over then-No. 1 Minnesota to finish a weekend home-and-home sweep.

"It was great," Sandelin said of the charged-up home building. "It's fun when you go out for warmup, and that student section is full. You can feel that electricity. It was nice that we could keep them in it early by scoring. It's a fun place when it's like that. I know the guys feed off that, too."

Sophomore forward Dominic Toninato of Duluth called the weekend "an absolute blast."

"It was a big weekend for us, taking down the number one team," he said.

Now, UMD has to avoid a letdown as it heads south.

(Admittedly, that's quite the liberal use of the word, because UNO is white-hot, having gone unbeaten in six. This is a really good hockey team UMD is facing this weekend. However, UNO struggles to fill its home building, which seats 17,000 or so. The atmosphere isn't all that great. It won't be as bad as the Ice Breaker was, but it won't be nearly as good as the last two weekends were, either. That's what UMD has to be careful with. No big crowds to feed off of this weekend, so they'll have to feed off each other.)

For the Bulldogs, a five-game winning streak hasn't solved every problem that's popped up, but they've done a good job killing off a few demons.

"Our keys have been we've had good starts, and we've made those work," Sandelin said this week. "I think our guys have competed hard and I think our effort's been good. The other part of that is we've been disciplined.

"It's a combination. Defense is everybody. It starts in goal, and Kaz (Kasimir Kaskisuo) has been outstanding for us. He gives us a chance every night. I thought our guys did a good job."

"I don't think we've done too much," Toninato said when asked how the team so quickly turned around poor starts to games, subpar Friday performances, and discipline issues. "I think it's just mental preparation before the game. I think guys are more ready to go from the drop of the puck. Guys are moving their feet, competing hard, and trying to stay out of the box."

UMD will face a very young but high-end Omaha squad. The Mavericks played seven freshmen in their last game, a win at Ohio State Nov. 8. UNO is 6-1-1, hasn't lost since falling 4-2 to Minnesota State Oct. 11, and -- by the way -- hasn't played a home game since that date, either. Dean Blais' young pups have ripped off a six-game unbeaten streak away from CenturyLink Center.

Among those young pups: Last year's Minnesota Mr. Hockey, Avery Peterson of Grand Rapids. In that Ohio State sweep, Peterson scored three times and had a five-point weekend for NCHC Rookie of the Week honors. The Minnesota Wild draft pick played some in the USHL around his high school season, but Peterson is showing that kids don't have to skip years of high school hockey in order to make the jump to college as "true" freshmen. It isn't for everyone, but there's no need for a universal rule on the bit.

Also in Blais' impressive freshman class is Duluth's Jake Randolph. The son of longtime East coach Mike Randolph spent two years in junior hockey with the Omaha Lancers after graduating from East and helping Toninato and linemate Trevor Olson become the most dynamic forward line in the state. After a 44-point debut season with the Lancers, Jake Randolph broke out big-time last year, with 26 goals and 86 points in 60 games.

"Jake's a great player and does very special things," Toninato said of his former Duluth East linemate. "He has great vision on the ice and can protect the puck well. He's making those assists like he did here."

(In case you're wondering, Olson is at North Dakota, where he has played in eight games as a freshman and is still awaiting his first collegiate point. Olson struggled through injuries during his USHL run, playing in just 21 games for Sioux City last season. He had 71 points in 84 USHL games over two seasons. He's a really physical player who will be a solid player at UND once the scoring comes for him, which it will eventually. Until it does, he may bounce in and out of the lineup. Even with that in mind, it's pretty cool to see all three playing at the Division I level. They were other-worldly players at Duluth East.)

Watching that Ohio State series, Blais really is fearless about employing his freshmen in tough situations. There were multiple instances where three freshmen -- Randolph, Tyler Vesel, and Luc Snuggerud in one impressive sequence -- were on a single penalty-kill unit. These guys can play. Snuggerud is already a very good defenseman, with a goal and three points in eight games. With the late departure of Nick Seeler, who eventually transferred to Minnesota, Snuggerud has gotten a great chance to make an impact early, and he appears prepared to take full advantage.

In goal, it's been all about Ryan Massa so far. He's 5-0-1 with a .953 save percentage, 45 points above his career total of .908. He's playing with high confidence, and he's getting some help from his friends, too.

"Massa's been outstanding," Sandelin said, "they haven't given up a lot of goals. They block a lot of shots. They get a lot of sticks in and disrupt a lot of plays."

Blocked shots and sticks in passing lanes are two hallmarks of this UNO defense. UMD has to put a priority on getting pucks to the net and making sure bodies are going to the front, too. Maybe a weekend of trying to solve Adam Wilcox will help the Bulldogs. He was clearly on his game, and UMD did the things it had to do: Created rebounds, got people to the net, tipped shots, and outnumbered Minnesota down low.

Oh, and the Bulldogs need to play with discipline. This UNO power play is hitting at just 16 percent, but there's a lot of skill, with guys like Dominic Zombo, Austin Ortega, and a returning-from-injury Jake Guentzel.

Toninato knows this.

"Omaha's got a pretty good power play, so discipline. Almost like a broken record."

He laughed, but he wasn't joking. Don't play with fire. UMD is likely a deeper team when you look at the forward lines and defensive groups. Like Massa, Kaskisuo is giving his team a chance to win every game it plays. Yes, UMD's power play has been clicking, but a special teams game allows UNO to dodge one of its biggest deficits when you look at this head-to-head matchup, and that's depth.

Good starts and good discipline could lead the way for UMD to have another good weekend.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

UMD Pregame Video vs Minnesota

UMD's pregame videos this season have been fantastic from the word "go."

But, like the atmosphere, Saturday's video was off the charts. In a good way.

Here it is, in all its glory.

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.

Saturday, November 15, 2014

Game 12: Minnesota at UMD

Time for Minnesota's first visit to Amsoil Arena since the Gophers stole a pair of 5-4 wins in October 2011, one week after UMD unveiled its first-ever national championship banner for men's hockey.

As I mentioned before, the silver lining is that UMD ran off a 17-game unbeaten streak that took it to the top of the national polls*.

(* - You know, the polls that don't matter.)

Bumping around town during the day, there seemed to be an inordinate amount of UMD apparel on people at the mall and other shopping-type places. Either the bandwagon is already starting to swell after four straight wins, or the last of the four -- a dominating 3-0 win over No. 1 Minnesota -- really has people excited for this home game.

UMD is 2-3 here, 5-0 on the road (counting the Notre Dame Ice Breaker game as a true road game), and 0-1 at neutral venues so far. That 2-3 record is deceiving, because UMD likely played well enough to win two of the games it lost, and it absolutely deserved the two it won. But when you win five games at home over a full season, people tend to overreact to things like that and think it's the "same old (expletive)" again.

Anyway, if you're reading this, get here early. Just trust me on that. Traffic is already building up.



Iafallo - Toninato - Crandall
Farley - Cameranesi - Kuhlman
Osterberg - Decowski - Young (Austyn)
Young (Blake) - Thomas - Sampair

Johnson - Welinski
Soucy - Raskob
Kotyk - Molenaar

Kaskisuo - McNeely - Fons

Reilly (Connor) - Rau - Fasching
Warning - Kloos - Cammarata
Bristedt - Lettieri - Ambroz
Michaelson - Isackson - Reilly (Ryan)

Reilly (Mike) - Collins
Marshall - Brodzinski
Bischoff - Glover

Wilcox - Lehr

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.

Game 11: UMD at Minnesota

MINNEAPOLIS -- No reason to hide from reality.

UMD head coach Scott Sandelin used the phrase "big challenge" multiple times this week in describing his team's home-and-home series against No. 1 Minnesota.

And rightfully so. Hate on the Gophers all you want, but there's no denying that you won't find a better team in the nation right now. Even with their depth tested by a couple key injuries -- forwards Travis Boyd and Vinni Lettieri and defenseman Brady Skjei are either definitely out this weekend or likely out -- Minnesota has enough high-end skill to overwhelm most opponents.

We hope this weekend's opponent isn't "most opponents," because at least on paper, UMD has the ability to beat Minnesota. It's shown that ability multiple times before, and it's not like this team has stunk so far this season.

So they lose Skjei, a first-round pick of the New York Rangers? OK, well Don Lucia is typically scratching two drafted defensmen every night. Because he has eight to pick from for a lineup that usually only has six in it.

Yes, eight drafted defensemen. And there aren't any obvious busts in a group that is unquestionably led right now by junior Mike Reilly -- a guy who, at least in my completely unqualified opinion, could be playing in the NHL right now. Michael Brodzinski (yup, Jonny's brother), Jake Bischoff, Ryan Collins, Jack Glover, and the list continues with the rambunctious Ben Marshall. It was Marshall, you might remember, who threw the illegal hit on UMD's Austin Farley that helped turn the North Star College Cup title game into a gong show last January.

(No, it wasn't a hit to the head as charged by the officials. But it was an illegal and unnecessary blow-up hit on a guy who didn't have the puck. A penalty, but probably not a major, and look how the third period/overtime played out. Makeup calls and missed embellishments both ways, and it took away from a fantastic game.)

Anyway, task at hand. The Gophers are really good. UMD has shown it can be, but if "being in the national conversation" is something that matters (I'm not sure it should and I'm not sure it does to this group, but that's a rant for a different day), the Bulldogs need to win at least once this weekend.

Why wait?



Iafallo - Toninato - Crandall
Farley - Cameranesi - Kuhlman
Osterberg - Decowski - Young (Austyn)
Young (Blake) - Thomas - Sampair

Johnson - Welinski
Soucy - Raskob
Corrin - Molenaar

Bristedt - Rau - Fasching
Warning - Kloos - Cammarata
Reilly (Connor) - Isackson - Ambroz
Hoglund - Michaelson - Reilly (Ryan)

Reilly - Collins
Marshall - Brodzinski
Johnson - Bischoff

Wilcox - Coyne - Lehr

Special Weekend Ahead for Minnesota-Stocked Bulldogs

What has always been a special in-state rivalry never had a chance to fade away.

Even after it was announced that Minnesota and UMD would be going their separate ways (cue Steve Perry) in terms of conference affiliation after the 2012-13 season, it was abundantly clear that the two would continue playing one another.

It's doubtful that anyone could have seen this kind of frequency coming, however.

The teams met for the 221st, 222nd, and 223rd times in history last year, with two November games at Mariucci Arena and one at the inaugural North Star College Cup, where the teams tied 4-4 before the Gophers claimed a shootout to take the tournament title.

Meeting No. 224 has already happened this season, with Minnesota winning 4-3 at the Ice Breaker in South Bend, thanks to two breakaway goals inside of the first six minutes. UMD rallied after trailing 4-1, but couldn't complete the comeback.

"We let him (freshman Kasimir Kaskisuo) out to dry against the Gophers, but he's been just great back there (since)," junior forward Austin Farley said this week.

"We didn't play great, didn't have a great start, but finished good," head coach Scott Sandelin said.

For 18 UMD players who were born in this great state, this weekend home-and-home series that begins in Minneapolis Friday marks an incredible opportunity. Whether they dreamed of being Gophers as kids or not -- something the self-righteous portion of the "Main U" fanbase believes every hockey player in this state does -- it's a chance to take down the most visible hockey program in the upper Midwest.

(All due respect to North Dakota on that one. They can't quite claim that crown.)

Even the non-Minnesotans on the UMD roster catch the fever.

"I don't know the tradition between them," Farley (Niles, Ill.) said this week. "I've heard that they don't get along very well. I want to help my team win.

"I've always been good against them, and I just want to continue, because I know how bad our guys from Minnesota want to beat them."

That October meeting was a bit sluggish. I don't know if it was the crowd ("500 people," as Sandelin said), or the afternoon start, or the fact it was the season opener, but the game just didn't have the pizazz I expect out of UMD-Minnesota.

I do expect to see the pace and intensity ramped up for this weekend.

"Both teams are a lot different than they were in Game 1," Sandelin noted. "We've got a big challenge. I like our guys' mentality right now after last weekend. We have to play with the same confidence that we did last weekend."

That should make for some interesting matchups. I firmly believe UMD can play with this team, especially across the four forward lines. It'll hurt not having Adam Krause available, especially as the series shifts to Duluth and the regulation-size rink Saturday. That's where things should become much more physical.

(As evidence, think back to the games in Minneapolis last year, then the game in St. Paul at the NSCC. The latter game was much more physical, at least in my view, and therefore much more emotional and intense. I'd expect Friday to be a little bit more firewagon-type hockey, up and down the rink and a good test of UMD's blue-line depth. Saturday will still be a fast pace, but it won't quite be the same kind of game, and that should benefit UMD a little bit. Sandelin is quick to note that Minnesota is really good, but they're especially good at home, "because they use the big rink so well.")

Defensively, Minnesota has a bit more high-end talent with guys like Mike Reilly, who has to be accounted for at all times when the Gophers have possession. Even with Brady Skjei out, I have to concede the Gophers probably have the advantage when it comes to defensive depth. And if UMD is to succeed this weekend, it's likely that Kaskisuo needs to outplay stud goalie Adam Wilcox of the Gophers.

Even before last weekend's first-since-1999 sweep at St. Cloud State, the Bulldogs were a confident bunch. Now, Sandelin knows the challenge is to keep them from getting too confident.

"I thought we had a really good week of practice (last week)," he said. "And I think it showed on the weekend. We had a lot of jump. We need to do the same thing (this weekend)."

A good start and disciplined play is critical. On the big sheet, a huge key is making the Gophers players think they have less room than they do, whether it's five-on-five or a power play. But in doing so, UMD has to maintain enough discipline to avoid getting caught with too many guys in single areas.

In talking with assistant coach Jason Herter, who does a lot of work with the UMD kill, this week, he said there wasn't a whole lot his guys could have done differently on a couple of St. Cloud State's power play goals last weekend. He specifically noted Jonny Brodzinski's goal from Friday night, saying "guys were in the right spots," and Brodzinski did what Brodzinski does: He made a great play.

And most coaches will say that if someone can beat their team while their players are doing the right things, more power to that someone. Sandelin said something similar on Saturday when we talked about the Friday game in St. Cloud. As a coach, if you watch the tape and see your guys doing the right thing, and the adversary makes a play anyway, you can only tip your cap and move on.

That said, if UMD is consistently in the right spots this weekend, it will score more goals than it allows.

A good start is only the first key both nights. As the teams get started Saturday in Duluth, I expect an atmosphere we haven't seen much of at Amsoil Arena. It'll be packed, and it should be very loud. Minnesota hasn't visited since the second weekend of the 2011-12 season, so we're at more than three years since the Gophers were an adversary in UMD's still-new building.

They've already played a couple classics there, with Mike Connolly's five-goal game in February 2011 and the back-and-forth Gophers overtime win in October 2011. But this fanbase is starving for a chance to see the Bulldogs play their longtime in-state rivals in Duluth, and they'll finally get that on Saturday.

They won't be disappointed. The North Star College Cup title game had everything, largely because of the smaller ice surface leading to more physicality. I expect a similar formula Saturday, and it should be great to watch unfold.

Monday, November 10, 2014

Monday Musings: Bulldogs Sweep Way to Top of NCHC

It's early yet, and it could be temporary with a non-conference series coming up, but it's also nice to see UMD in first place in the NCHC standings.

Even better? It comes after the Bulldogs picked up a sweep in St. Cloud for the first time in nearly 15 years.

UMD finished off that sweep with a 3-1 win Saturday at the Herb Brooks National Hockey Center. The Bulldogs took a nice crowd largely out of the affair in the early going with strong offensive zone work and an early goal from sophomore Dominic Toninato. UMD added an Austin Farley goal before the first period ended, and it outshot the seemingly desperate home team 15-5.

Could have had more, but sophomore goalie Charlie Lindgren outplayed his pedestrian numbers (save percentage was under .900 coming in) and kept SCSU alive while it struggled offensively.

On Friday, I felt UMD freshman goalie Kasimir Kaskisuo helped his team swipe three points. In Saturday's game, Kaskisuo was sharp as a tack, but there was no need for him to help anyone steal points. UMD earned them Saturday by outplaying its in-state adversary.

The Bulldogs were stout defensively, winning battles and limiting scoring chances. They did a better job occupying shooting lanes and keeping the SCSU offense at bay. They had issues throughout the game with forward Joey Benik, but he was going at a high level on Saturday, scored a great power-play goal, and was robbed by the goalpost after a superb short-handed effort.

Kaskisuo robbed Huskies sniper Jonny Brodzinski with a pad save during a third-period power play chance, but that was probably as close as Brodzinski got to scoring in this game. UMD checked him well, especially five-on-five. In fact, it was Andy Welinski stripping the puck from Brodzinski that set UMD up with the rush that led to Farley's first-period goal. That goal proved to be Saturday's game-winner.

(Of course, your humble and idiotic correspondent thought UMD would need at least one more goal to secure victory. Sometimes, you should just forget he is saying words.)

Welinski has been great so far, posting four goals, even points, and a plus-ten in ten games. Yeah, plus/minus is overrated, but this is a developing trend. The junior defenseman is playing the best we've seen him play at UMD, and the Bulldogs are easily three-deep with quality defensemen when you look at how Derik Johnson and Carson Soucy are playing. Sophomore Willie Raskob and junior Willie Corrin have had ups and downs, but both are still regulars in the lineup and are taking some key minutes.

They all made Kaskisuo's life easier Saturday. So did freshman forward Karson Kuhlman. The former Cloquet/Esko/Carlton Lumberjack won't get credit for anything more than a mundane blocked shot, but Kuhlman made the save of the night on a scramble play in front of the UMD net during the third period. Kaskisuo was off to the left when the puck squirted free and became available for one-time Duluth Marshall Hilltopper Judd Peterson in the slot. The freshman fired a quick wrister, but it hit Kuhlman in the back as he laid in the net hoping to block the shot.

Eventually, the Bulldogs got the clear, and SCSU never seriously threatened after that. Lindgren was pulled and UMD took its timeout off an icing with 1:10 left. Off that faceoff, Alex Iafallo won possession and headed up the rink, eventually crossing the Huskies blue line and feeding Justin Crandall for a tap-in to seal the win.

It had been since 1999 that UMD swept in St. Cloud, but it continues a recent trend. Going back to January, UMD is now 8-2 in its last ten road NCHC games, with sweeps at Omaha, Western Michigan, Miami, and now St. Cloud. The only losses were the two at SCSU last February.

Saturday's win leaves UMD three points clear of Miami and six ahead of Omaha, North Dakota, and Denver in the NCHC standings. In fairness, Miami and Denver each have two games in hand on UMD, while UND and UNO have four. But UMD is in first place, and the Bulldogs continue to be a very strong team away from home. With improved play at home, it looks like UMD will be a dangerous opponent this winter.


UMD steps out of conference this weekend for what should be a great two-game series against No. 1 Minnesota.

(As of this writing, the meaningless human polls aren't out yet, but I think it's safe to assume Minnesota will stay atop those rankings.)

The Gophers beat UMD 4-3 at the Ice Breaker on Oct. 10, riding early goals by Sam Warning and Kyle Rau, both of whom beat Kaskisuo on breakaways (Rau's was more of a partial break) before the freshman had even had a chance to put his pads on yet.

Outside of that, UMD outshot the Gophers and largely deserved a better fate. Adam Wilcox was outstanding in goal, and the Bulldogs never fully overcame the early hole they dug for themselves.

Now, Minnesota faces a more steady UMD defense and a more confident Kaskisuo. In fact, the Finn has a .930 save percentage in six league games, bringing his overall save percentage to a pretty solid .923. UMD is at a .918 team save percentage through ten games after posting matching .896 team save percentages the last two seasons. The strong goaltending has made the Bulldogs a good closing team. UMD has outscored opponents 13-5 in the third period this season.

The Bulldogs are playing well enough in all phases that they have to like their chances for a split this weekend, at the minimum. And that's saying something, because the Gophers are very strong and also playing at a very high level right now. In fact, Minnesota hasn't lost at Mariucci Arena in 17 games, going back to November 24 of last year, when it lost 6-2 to, you guessed it, UMD.

That's one streak the Bulldogs wouldn't mind ending on Friday.

Saturday, November 08, 2014

Game 10: UMD at St. Cloud State

ST. CLOUD, Minn. -- After snapping a ten-game winless streak in this building, the Bulldogs now seek three more NCHC points in the series finale at Herb Brooks National Hockey Center.

Cal Decowski's goal at 2:06 of overtime gave UMD a 3-2 win on Friday. Freshman goalie Kasimir Kaskisuo was really the star, making 33 saves, including a couple of the spectacular variety, as UMD won a regular season game here for the first time since 2004.

The Bulldogs will need to be better in this game, as we would expect a strong push from St. Cloud State. UMD got consistent play from its goalie on Friday and really not a lot of other guys. If everyone is pulling on the same chain, so to speak, things should be better in this game.

"Just weather the storm" is not a game plan for success. Just saying.



Iafallo - Toninato - Crandall
Farley - Cameranesi - Kuhlman
Osterberg - Decowski - Young (Austyn)
Young (Blake) - Thomas - Sampair

Johnson - Welinski
Soucy - Raskob
Corrin - Molenaar

Kaskisuo - McNeely

Murray - Kossila - Brodzinski
Benik - Morley - Russell
Tedesko - Peterson - Bertsch
Milan - Oliver - Rabey

Prochno - Prow
Widman - Daly
Storm - Ilvonen

Lindgren - Reijola - Phillippi

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?

Friday, November 07, 2014

Game 9: UMD at St. Cloud State

ST. CLOUD, Minn. -- For UMD, it's not been a happy place. But no one really cares to talk about it.

For coaches, it's all about tunnel vision. What's in front of them matters, but what's behind them often is not.

I didn't bother asking Scott Sandelin about UMD's awful record in this building (4-17-2 under Sandelin, 0-8-2 in the last ten going back to March 2007). He doesn't want to talk about it. We've been down that road before.

St. Cloud State coach Bob Motzko noted that stats like this are more for the fans' amusement most of the time. Players don't care, or at least coaches want you to think they don't. And coaches will never admit caring.

Even if the players truly cared, does it resonate with them? Do you think Karson Kuhlman knows that UMD hasn't won here since he was 11 years old? If he knows, do you think it's going to affect his performance this weekend?


No, it's about this matchup. And if it's like last year's matchup, it will end up being close. The Bulldogs let the Saturday home game against SCSU get away from them last year, but that was about it. Even with a 4-0 deficit in the first period of the Feb. 14 game here, UMD shook it off and made it a hockey game. It led the Friday game in Duluth last year, and it was tied twice in the Saturday game here, before Jonny Brodzinski did Jonny Brodzinski things in the final minutes and the Huskies won.

UMD has improved its defensive play, goaltending, and special teams so far. SCSU looks to be a little less explosive offensively, but they still have a strong defensive corps and they're good on special teams. We'll see if the Bulldogs have closed what gap existed last year.

Other links
UMD getting offensive on penalty kill
UMD-SCSU series preview



Iafallo - Toninato - Crandall
Farley - Cameranesi - Kuhlman
Osterberg - Decowski - Boehm
Young (Blake) - Thomas - Young (Austyn)

Johnson - Welinski
Soucy - Raskob
Corrin - Kotyk

Kaskisuo - McNeely

Murray - Kossila - Brodzinski
Benik - Morley - Russell
Oliver - Rehkamp - Bertsch
Winiecki - Peterson - Tedesco

Prochno - Prow
Nevalainen - Daly
Widman - Ilvonen

Lindgren - Reijola - Phillippi

Banged-Up UMD Heads to Stearns County on Hunt For NCHC Points

The fact UMD has played five ranked teams in its first eight games, yet is 4-4 and drawing consistent praise from coaches and observers, is a very good sign. At some point, the Bulldogs are going to have to make some headway against a very tough schedule, but you can't really deny they are off to a fine start despite the pedestrian record.

Now, throw in that UMD has played two games without senior captain Adam Krause, who is out for probably all of November with a broken wrist. Krause continues to be at the rink, even though he can't practice with the team yet, and he seems anxious to start getting his strength back as the injury heals.

But don't forget that UMD also played a pair of games without senior assistant captain Justin Crandall, who tried to battle through an injury in the Minnesota State series, sat out against Denver, and returned last week in the split against Miami.

"Maybe would have been a little smarter to take a weekend off and rest it a little bit," Crandall said this week. "Pretty tough to sit out at all, especially during your last year. But I wasn't happy with how I was playing, and I think this (past) weekend was a little more of what I need to do to help this team."

Crandall and sophomore Kyle Osterberg got going last week, especially on Saturday, both showing a willingness to go into the hard areas and make plays when they knew hits were coming. It was something they weren't doing as much earlier in the year. While Crandall refuses to use his injury as an excuse, it was clear neither were playing at 100 percent, and it was affecting their game on the ice.

UMD is still not completely healthy. A few players are dealing with lingering injuries, and it may end up affecting this weekend's lineup at St. Cloud State. The No. 7 Huskies are similar in a few ways to UMD, including the .500 record and very tough schedule to start.

And like most coaches, veteran SCSU mentor Bob Motzko wants no part of excuses for his team's underwhelming record.

"I want to hear the coach who said he's had an easy schedule," Motzko said. "We like the direction we're heading. We've just got to keep getting better.

"In the three wins, we've been pretty good. In the three losses, we've made enough mistakes not to win."

For the Bulldogs, this will be a fantastic test of a couple areas that we know need work.
  • Starts. UMD had a good start last Friday against Miami, but did not on Saturday. Starts against Denver were both subpar, even though the Saturday result (6-1 win) was overwhelmingly positive. Crandall called the Friday Miami game -- at least the first ten minutes -- "our best start of the season." He isn't wrong. That has to carry over, quickly, because you'll get buried in St. Cloud if you start slow. UMD needs to look no further than last year's trip there for evidence.
  • Discipline. When I talk about discipline, I'm not just talking about controlling the penalties, though that's surely a priority. It's more than that. It's about playing the right way in all phases. UMD has to stick to its defensive structure when SCSU starts buzzing, and that's bound to happen at some point. The Huskies are one of the best big-rink teams around when it comes to actually using the 200-by-100 surface to their advantage. More room doesn't always equal more time, but where Motzko's teams have become really good is in creating seams in the offensive zone that teams aren't used to defending. More than anything, using the Olympic sheet is about changing the angles a defensive team has to take care of, because it's all different. Most teams that play regularly on Olympic surfaces can adjust in a hurry, but they don't do that if they don't maintain their structure. Last year, UMD was burned a few times by not defending the right lanes, as well as taking some untimely penalties (especially in the first period of that Friday game, which got away from us in a hurry). All of that said, penalties are a part of this. SCSU is hot on the power play early on, especially at home. Don't go short-handed against these guys, because bad things will happen.
Motzko talked a bit this week about how good his team has become at using the big rink to their advantage, even though he's quick to admit teams adjust in a hurry once they gain experience on the surface.

"A little bit on the angles on the penalty kill," he said. "We like to spread it out and try to find more seams, which you can on the big sheet, if someone's going to try to be aggressive.

"Teams will adjust through the weekend, and teams like UMD will adjust very easily because they have so much talent. And they have a lot of rink sense players and good hockey sense."

UMD's Scott Sandelin says it's basically "the same game."

"(Faceoff) Dots are still the same. Protect the middle of the rink."

Sandelin agrees with Motzko in that SCSU may have an edge with its power play.

"Sometimes it allows you to spread teams out a little more, and that's what they're very good at. When you get a little tighter, those seams may not be as big."

That said, "the dangerous areas are between the dots. You still have to move the puck quick and skate."

As a team that likes to play with pace and intensity, UMD should be just fine in this area. It usually is, SCSU numbers notwithstanding. The next three games are UMD's only scheduled Olympic-size ice games this season (this weekend at St. Cloud and next Friday at Minnesota).

Another .500 weekend might not shock anyone, and it'll probably be considered a good weekend for the Bulldogs. However, keep in mind that the schedule isn't going to ease up, and the Bulldogs eventually need to win more than they lose on a few of these weekends.

Wednesday, November 05, 2014

Bulldogs Getting Offensive on Penalty Kill

Much has been made of UMD's streak of eight straight games scoring a power play goal to start the season. It's significant, because as head coach Scott Sandelin notes, "it's really hard to score" five on five in today's college hockey world. Those power play goals can make a huge difference, and UMD has a Division I-high 12 in eight games.

But that's just a small part of the Bulldogs' special teams successes. UMD is tied with North Dakota for the Division I lead in short-handed goals (five). Dominic Toninato has a pair of those, with others coming from Tony Cameranesi, Karson Kuhlman, and Andy Welinski.

(That's 17 special teams goals, more than two per game and the highest total of any Division I team so far.)

Welinski's happened in Saturday's 4-3 win over Miami. On that play, Justin Crandall sprung a two-on-one by taking a hit from Miami's Louie Belpedio in order to make a pass to Kyle Osterberg. When Belpedio -- the only defenseman on that power play unit for the RedHawks -- stepped up on Crandall, it left forward Alex Wideman to defend Osterberg and Welinski. Osterberg fed a pass to Welinski for a one-timer that got through the Miami goalie.

"I knew they'd be a little aggressive there," Crandall said. "I saw Kyle coming and he yelled for it, so he made it a pretty easy chip for me.

"We knew with Miami that they had four forwards on the power play. Obviously, the first thing is to get the puck out of the zone, but if you get it in control and you can make a smart decision, and you have the chance to go two on one with a forward and you've got to take the odds."

A penalty kill that rarely even posed an offensive threat a couple years ago suddenly can boast being one of the scariest in college hockey.

Crandall, a regular on the kill basically since his arrival on campus, says there hasn't really been a schematic change toward aggressiveness.

"We've got a lot of skill on our penalty kill," he said this week. "Guys who are really good skaters who can get up the ice. I think it starts with a good foundation in our own zone, being in the right lanes and making good decisions. It's not something that we've really talked about, but I think it's from hard work and making good decisions."

Sandelin credits assistant coach Jason Herter for the work he's done running UMD's penalty kill, which is sitting at 83 percent through eight games, with eight goals allowed in 47 chances. Throwing in the five shorties, UMD is just minus-three on its opponents' power plays in eight games, which virtually any coach will take (plus-eleven with 12 power play goals scored and a single short-handed goal allowed, so plus-eight overall on special teams).

"He's (Herter) talked a number of times about looking for those opportunities," Sandelin said. "I think some of it's a little bit of luck, blocking shots, pucks bouncing. I think we can still be better, but a lot of it's being in the right spot, and a little bit of timing. It's a nice thing to see, and we hope it can continue."

Crandall has nothing but good things to say about Kuhlman, a freshman who played high school hockey at Cloquet/Esko/Carlton and has become possibly the top killer on this team.

"He's just a great kid," Crandall told me. "He was on the power play, but now he's accepted his role on the penalty kill. He's stepped up, especially in the absence of Adam (Krause, senior captain who is out with a broken wrist). He works hard, he's in the right position. It doesn't hurt that he's really fast, but he's a smart player who gets in the right lanes."

It doesn't hurt to have high-skill players like Kuhlman, Alex Iafallo, Dominic Toninato, and occasionally Cal Decowski or Tony Cameranesi killing penalties. But like Crandall said, it doesn't do any good if a player isn't in the right place and doing the right thing. Even watching guys like Kuhlman in practice, it's clear they're taking well to what Herter is teaching them. They keep their sticks active, disrupting passing and shooting lanes.

It's probably not a stretch to say that working with these killers makes the power play sharper, which may very well be contributing to its success over the first near-quarter of the season.

Both units will get a big test in St. Cloud this weekend. More to come Thursday on that big two-game set. It'll be as good a matchup of .500 teams as you'll find. Heh.

Monday, November 03, 2014

Monday Musings: Another Hard-Earned Split for Battle-Tested Bulldogs

4-4 doesn't seem like much.

Even people who like bananas are probably sick of splits at this point.

But UMD continues to find ways to win games one (or two, in the case of the Ice Breaker) day after losing.

Yes, we'd like this team to start winning series openers. I get it. But there are positive steps being taken, and the Bulldogs continue to work through an incredibly difficult schedule in the early going without going under.

While the buzz at the rink was about two things -- Kasimir Kaskisuo's behind-the-back glove save Friday, and the late calls that gave Miami a five-on-three it would eventually win the game with -- in the hour or so before Saturday's game, the players eventually created some buzz of their own.

In the pregame warmup, multiple players on each team had to be separated by officials because they were jawing at each other. Nothing got physical, but there was a lot of talking in both directions. Kept the referees and linesmen on their toes, I guess.

During the game, the emotions continued. There were really only a couple post-whistle incidents that rose to any level of significance, but there was sure a lot of talking, it appeared.

There were some silly penalties each way, but generally the players did a pretty good job keeping emotions under control and limiting it to trash talk.

As for the game, it was fantastic. These are two good hockey teams that like to get up and down the rink. Miami's best players -- Riley Barber, Blake Coleman, Austin Czarnik, listed here alphabetically -- were very good on Saturday, and Enrico Blasi made it known they were going by using them as much as you'll see a coach use top players this early in the season.

UMD had guys going, too. Kyle Osterberg had his best game of the season, I thought, with three assists and a consistent presence in all phases. He took a hard hit to make a play that set up the Bulldogs' first goal, and he rolled from there.

(Kyle took that nasty knee-on-knee hit in the exhibition, and while he didn't miss any time, it's been a slow build to where I thought he looked completely right. If he isn't there, he's much closer now.)

Justin Crandall played well, also taking a hard hit to make a play that set up Osterberg and Andy Welinski with a short-handed odd-man rush that they scored on.

Against a team like Miami, players have to be willing to take a hard hit to make a play, because the RedHawks are a very physical team, in addition to having high-end skill. It was nice to see guys doing that and seeing good results from those plays they were making.

Kaskisuo didn't make any stops that got him on SportsCenter Saturday night, but he was rock-solid, especially when Miami made him busy in the third period (19 shots, 18 saves). He continues to improve at tracking pucks through traffic, and his rebound control has been almost spot-on. His steadily-improving play has been a revelation for a team that desperately sought answers in goal heading into the campaign.


Watching the Vikings game Sunday, I saw something that made me think of hockey, specifically some of the goofy calls we saw over the weekend and have seen throughout the first eight games.

Comes off something we've talked about on the air. The job of being a hockey official has gotten more difficult over the years. The game is only getting faster, and more and more hockey leagues or associations are trying to get officials to watch for things -- i.e. head contact, hits from behind, embellishment -- more closely than before.

Despite those who govern the game wanting more things to be watched, the officials aren't being given more tools to do their jobs more effectively.

My new obsession is giving officials the ability to review major penalties? Why majors? Because they often are accompanied by an ejection, and that's a huge decision for on-ice officials. Instead of taking away the power to eject players from games for illegal hits, why not give officials another tool by which they can get the calls right? Limit them to two looks at the replay from available angles and instruct them that the major can only be overturned if the call on the ice was clearly wrong.

This isn't a mechanism to lengthen games. It's a mechanism to keep kids from missing large chunks of playing time -- and to keep teams from going short-handed for five minutes -- unless such a call is warranted.

Instead of giving the officials more things to watch for in an increasingly fast sport, let's give them more tools to do their jobs effectively.

Why did football make me think of this? We can all agree that the personal foul call on Harrison Smith was hideous, but the referee -- with clear instructions from the NFL to protect quarterbacks from late hits and hits to the head -- saw Smith go over the top of Robert Griffin III, while a sliding Griffin snapped his head back towards the turf to try to avoid contact. The referee reacted and got the call wrong. If he had the power to review that call, Washington would have been facing a fourth down, because there's no way he would have let it stand.

No, NFL officials shouldn't review every offsides call. But pass interference and personal fouls that are called into question? Yes, they should be reviewed. Those calls have too much of an impact on a game to just let the officials on the field make them with no checks or balances at the time of the call.


UMD heads to St. Cloud State next. It's just a matchup of middling .500 teams (SCSU is 3-3), right?

Probably not.

The Herb Brooks National Hockey Center has been awful to UMD over the years. The Bulldogs are 4-17-2 there under Scott Sandelin, and UMD hasn't won in 12 tries there since a playoff series-opening win there in 2007 (0-10-2).

I have no answers. Last year, St. Cloud jumped on UMD early to take a 4-0 lead in the first period on Friday before the Bulldogs rallied and eventually lost 5-3. Jonny Brodzinski sniped home the game-winning goal in the final minutes of the Huskies' 4-3 win Saturday.

UMD has played well there and lost. UMD has played poorly there and lost. What UMD just doesn't seem to do is win there. They've tried different hotels, probably different bus drivers, and I'm sure they've talked about just walking there.

Nothing has worked.

Maybe this is the week. We can only hope. These teams could be somewhat even when you lay everything out there, so don't be stunned if it somehow ends in a split again.

Both teams are familiar. It's all they've done this season.

Saturday, November 01, 2014

Game 8: Miami at UMD

Just when you think you've seen it all, you see the unbelievable save we saw Friday, and the unquestionably-controversial ending.

What's in store for us in Saturday's game?

Well, that's for someone to know, and all of us to find out at the same time.



Farley - Toninato - Iafallo
Decowski - Cameranesi - Kuhlman
Osterberg - Thomas - Crandall
Young (Blake) - Spurrell - Boehm

Soucy - Welinski
Johnson - Raskob
Corrin - Kotyk

Kaskisuo - McNeely - Fons

Lemirande - Doherty - Schmit
Murphy - Coleman - Morris
Louis - Kuraly - Gacek
Wideman - Czarnik - Barber

Belpedio - Caito
Joyaux - Paulides
Dornbrock - Richart

McKay - Williams

Saturday Hockey Notes and Thoughts: Kaskisuo Save Overshadows Negative Ending

They say a picture is worth 1,000 words.

What's a video worth, then?

If you weren't one of the 5,322 -- well, less than that, but that's the official number so we have to go with it -- in attendance for Friday's game at Amsoil Arena, you missed one of the more incredible plays you'll ever witness.

UMD freshman goalie Kasimir Kaskisuo was already having a pretty strong game against Miami, especially in the second period. As the RedHawks gained a semblance of control over the proceedings, he kept UMD either tied or in the lead once Andy Welinski scored a power-play goal to make it 2-1. A Bulldog power play came up empty, and Miami's Cody Murphy got out of the box. Someone for Miami -- honestly can't remember -- got him the puck, and he rushed up the right wing. Murphy made a strong move to the front of the UMD goal, cutting across from Kaskisuo's left to right.

The rest can be seen on this video that's been making the rounds.

I don't have words for this. Kaz made a couple other very nice saves in this game among his 35 for the night. He told Matt Wellens he got lucky on this one, which might be true. I don't know enough about goaltending to verify that statement for you. What I do know is sometimes you're better off being lucky than good, and I'm happy to say Kasimir Kaskisuo is both.

Unfortunately, Kaskisuo was tagged with a loss, as Sean Kuraly's five-on-three goal with 1:59 left gave Miami a 3-2 win.

Apologies for the somewhat quick blog, but there are errands to run and a lacrosse game to attend before heading back to the rink for Saturday's series finale.

(Well, that and we're choosing to ignore the large elephant in the room when it comes to the Friday tilt. It does no one any good to debate the major penalty call on Dominic Toninato or the high-stick call on Brenden Kotyk. What Dom did was 100 percent a penalty, and unfortunately he was in a position where the officials could overreact to an embellishing opponent and levy a major. Kotyk, well, damn him for being tall, I guess.)

(Short of calling for UMD to change its style of play and not be as physical in all situations, what do you want me to say? UMD needs to play an aggressive style to be effective, and curtailing that could be problematic. I'm sick and tired of being sick and tired when it comes to addressing the officials, and I'm sick and tired of UMD players getting ejected from games. It's happened five games in a row, and it's too much in my opinion. But what do you do? Of the plays, only two of them have been even moderately undisciplined in their nature. The hitting from behind majors on Toninato, Kyle Osterberg (Oct. 17) and Sammy Spurrell (last weekend) were highly debatable at best.)

(Dammit, I just addressed the elephant in the room. Sorry.)

Anyway, there were plenty of positives on Friday, including the play of Kaskisuo. UMD has a budding star in goal, it seems. Kaz has a .922 save percentage over his three starts in league play, and I don't care that his record is a pedestrian 2-3. Get this guy some run support, and he'll take care of the rest.

The Bulldogs have to make some adjustments on Saturday.
  • Miami got too much traffic and too many pucks to the net. The Bulldogs have to do a better job in their own zone to make sure the RedHawks don't get 70-plus shot attempts.
  • Faceoffs weren't lopsided, but UMD is still not a good faceoff team. Things got worse after Toninato's ejection. But it isn't just on one guy. Everyone who takes draws has to improve. Quickly. Either that, or UMD will run the risk of getting outshot and out-possessed by good faceoff teams like Miami (No. 1 in Division I after Friday; we're No. 50).
  • I don't know how to accomplish this without a dramatic change in the team's style of play, but UMD has to do a better job staying out of the box. Miami was on power play for over 13 minutes of Friday's game, and it was enough to make the difference in an otherwise entertaining and even game. UMD's 24-plus minutes of penalties per game is the most in the nation, by a five-minute margin over Brown (one game) and Bentley (seven, the same as UMD). Gripe about individual calls as much as you want, but the number isn't acceptable and it has to change soon.

Elsewhere in the NCHC, St. Cloud State scored the first four goals of the game and went on to beat No. 1 Minnesota 4-1 for the first blemish on Minnesota's record this season. The teams meet at Mariucci Arena Saturday afternoon.

Also, Omaha drew 1-1 at Cornell, and Boston College got a late goal to beat Denver 2-1. Those matchups repeat on Saturday, while Air Force visits North Dakota for the U.S. Hockey Hall of Fame Game.