Monday, January 19, 2015

Monday Musings: Bulldogs Struggle With Broncos, Settle For Single Point

Not the best weekend for our favorite college hockey team. I knew it would be a struggle with a big, tough, and deceptively-skilled Western Michigan group. But a number of factors made it a bigger struggle than even I thought it would be.
  • Western Michigan stuck to its game plan and played very well. While UMD was largely burned by "older guys" throughout the weekend (Nolan LaPorte and Colton Hargrove did a ton of damage), Andy Murray was able to get quality shifts from younger guys like freshman Frederik Tiffels and defenseman Matt Stewart. Goalie Lukas Hafner was rock-solid. It was a 20-man effort for the Broncos, and it was an impressive one. Credit where it's due. That's how we roll around here.
  • (It's also not a stretch to give that credit. Western is 7-1-2 over its last ten games. Murray has them positioned to make a lot of noise in the second half of the season.)
  • UMD missed a number of opportunities, especially with three empty power play chances on Saturday in the second period. Two of those overlapped by a couple seconds, giving UMD 3:58 of contiguous power play time with no goals. The power play is now four for its last 38 going back to before Christmas. 
  • The Bulldogs failed to lead for even one second against WMU. Considering how tough the Broncos are in their own zone and how adept they are at taking room away from opponents, it's just too difficult to get into the pace game UMD wants to play without getting a lead. There's nothing to "suck" Western Michigan into that style when what the Broncos are doing is working as well as it was over the weekend.
  • UMD goalie Kasimir Kaskisuo is struggling a bit. No time for panic on this, but we'll have more on it in a moment.
Back to the beginning. Start this by giving Western Michigan credit. LaPorte shook off an obvious knee injury to score once Friday and add the shootout winner. Hargrove scored twice Saturday, once off a bad and wholly uncharacteristic Andy Welinski turnover that he turned into a goal with a wicked wrist shot, and the other on an unreal bank shot into the empty net.

When I chatted with Murray during the week, he noted that he had a lot of young players, but it was his upperclassmen carrying a lot of the water over the weekend. That's how it should be for everyone. You'll notice that UMD teams that relied too much on freshmen weren't as successful as those that had a good mix of classes with the older guys doing the bulk of the work.

The Bulldogs need to do a better job around the net. Whether it's screening goalies or driving the net to get after loose pucks, UMD isn't quite as effective as it could be. This team is not built on pure goal-scoring talent. UMD wants to play a pace game, wear down opponents, and score goals by driving the net and making life difficult on defensemen and goalies. Not having the goal-scoring leader, sophomore Dominic Toninato, in the lineup Saturday because of an NCHC suspension exasperated the problem, because it put more of a premium on getting to the net and breaking down Western's strong team defense. When that didn't happen, UMD was in a lot of trouble.

The power play looked better at times this weekend after some tweaks were made during the week. I know the coaching staff is frustrated with the lack of production as of late, but I doubt we'll see a ton more changes there immediately. At least some of the things they tried were working in a small sample. Might be worth it to stick with this plan against Bemidji on Friday and see how it goes.


To me, one of the biggest stories this season has been Kaskisuo. Just last week, coach Scott Sandelin talked about how he stepped in and solidified such a position of need for his team.

"We knew Aaron Crandall was leaving, and we identified him, and he's had a pretty good year," Sandelin said. "He's got a long way to go. He's certainly stabilized that position."

Kaskisuo had some huge games early in the season for UMD. He played very well in a win at now-No. 1 Minnesota State in October, and he was superb when tested in back-to-back wins over then-No. 1 Minnesota in November. His numbers were great for a while, but they've tailed off lately.

In Kaskisuo's last five starts, he has stopped 90 of 104 shots for a save percentage of .865. That's dropped his season number to .914 for a peak in the low-.920s earlier in the season.

It's far from panic time. However, UMD needs Kaskisuo to get back to the form he showed in the fall, or at least get close to that. I don't know if a night off is in his future, but I do know that backup Matt McNeely played well enough at Michigan Tech and then at Lakehead to earn a chance if it comes to that.


The North Star College Cup is this week at XCel Energy Center in St. Paul. Outside of small crowds for the afternoon games, the event was a success last year, and I'm sure there's optimism for better ticket sales this year, given Minnesota isn't playing in an outdoor game the week before the tournament this time around.

UMD will take on Bemidji State (7-12-3) Friday afternoon, while Minnesota and Minnesota State clash Friday night. You know the drill on Saturday.

The Beavers are off a sweep at the hands of Lake Superior State over the weekend. On Friday, the Lakers scored a power-play goal with one second left to beat BSU 1-0. Saturday, Lake State jumped to a 4-0 lead and won 4-2.

Bemidji is 2-2 against the NCHC this season, thanks to splits against North Dakota and St. Cloud State. No secrets here: Bemidji will work hard, and they have some skill with Cory Ward and the Fitzgerald twins. UMD will need to be ready, because it can ill afford to let this winless run hit four games on Friday.

1 comment:

tUMD15 said...

Corrected the verb in this sentence:
"Not having the goal-scoring leader, sophomore Dominic Toninato, in the lineup Saturday because of an NCHC suspension exacerbated the problem...."