I actually got an email from someone wondering where the Monday bit was.
Well, pretend it's Monday. Then you'll be surprised to find out Friday has come because you think it's Thursday.
Anyway, UMD had a chance to sweep North Dakota in Grand Forks for the first time since 1995 on Saturday night. Willie Raskob's rebound goal gave the visitors a 1-0 lead in the first period, but North Dakota had too much on that night.
I figured North Dakota would be more physical, especially on UMD's defensemen, than Friday. Check.
I knew North Dakota would be tougher in the neutral zone, both with and without the puck. Check.
I assumed UMD would have a hard time getting pucks by Zane McIntyre. Check.
The Bulldogs gave an honest effort, but a couple defensive zone breakdowns, failed clearing attempts, and too many penalties doomed them on this night. North Dakota used a couple second period power plays to seize momentum, and it used that momentum to turn a 1-1 game into a 4-1 game in less than seven minutes' time.
UMD outshot UND 32-19 over the last 40 minutes. Just like Friday, UMD had the puck a lot.
The difference? UMD had more glaring breakdowns in its own zone, and more struggles in the neutral zone. North Dakota didn't necessarily make a ton of strategic adjustments. Instead, it executed better and used more speed to create havoc. The Bulldogs just made too many mistakes. Carson Soucy and Willie Raskob were a combined minus-seven, and that was with Raskob having a hand in both UMD goals. Karson Kuhlman (minus-three) accidentally put a puck in the UMD net after it bounced off goalie Kasimir Kaskisuo.
It was one of those nights.
And then things disintegrated. I didn't like Stephane Pattyn punching UMD defenseman Derik Johnson. No matter what you perceived of Johnson's alleged flop after he was hit, it's not part of the game. Glove on or not, that's a sucker punch in my view. Not cool.
There were a couple skirmishes. At one point, there were 11 players in the penalty box, six for UND and five for UMD. McIntyre started one of those by taking a late shot at UMD's Cal Decowski. It was physical in front of both goalies both nights, so you can give McIntyre a bit of a pass, even though it wasn't the first shot he took at a UMD player on the weekend. He's competitive, just like the rest of the players.
(In the end, the Pattyn-Johnson incident was the only thing that made me cringe a little. The rest of the rough stuff isn't okay, but it didn't go way overboard, and in a fast, intense, emotional game, you're going to have breakdowns in discipline on occasion. Despite taking 30-some minutes in penalties, UMD only gave North Dakota three power plays. That's significant. UMD has given opponents just 24 power plays in its last ten games going back to before break. That's 2.4 power play chances allowed per game. If the penalty kill continues to click the way it is right now, UMD will find it's harder and harder for opponents to score goals. Last I checked, that was a good thing.)
In the end, it was just not UMD's evening. The Bulldogs did a lot of good things in their first "real" weekend back from break, but there is work to be done. Western Michigan will exploit UMD's back line if it doesn't shape up before the weekend. The Broncos are a hard-working, opportunistic team that will take those defensive- and neutral-zone mistakes and turn them into odd-man rushes. With skilled players like Colton Hargrove and Justin Kovacs leading the offensive charge, WMU has the horses to cash in on those opportunities.
It'll be interesting to see how UMD adjusts its week-to-week schedule. Players need practice reps, for sure, but it's not abnormal for practice times to drop a bit in the second half of the season. Since the Bulldogs are down to 13 forwards and are at seven defensemen until Dan Molenaar returns from illness, they need to be mindful of overworking the healthy guys during the week. Coach Scott Sandelin has mentioned this a couple times, so we'll see how it plays out.
With the extra two games allowed to UMD by its appearance in the Ice Breaker event in October, there are no byes in the second half. And with the nation's No. 1-ranked schedule not getting any easier, there are no easy weekends. It'll be a great way to prepare this team for what we hope is a long run in March, but health is a huge key as the end of January approaches.