THUNDER BAY, Ont. -- For UMD, staying healthy and setting a solid starting point for the second half of the season are big keys this weekend.
Yes, wins are nice, but let's be honest: With 20 games in ten weekends between now and the end of the regular season, and up to nine more games in five weekends after that, this team has to keep its best players upright and on the ice.
A very physical exhibition game started UMD's second half here Friday night, as the Bulldogs ralled from a pair of deficits to win 3-2 on Andy Welinski's rebound goal with six tenths of a second left in overtime.
For UMD, it wasn't a perfect performance, but the Bulldogs managed to put 51 pucks on Lakehead goalie Jeff Bosch, and they managed to rally from 1-0 and 2-1 down to win another tight hockey game.
The power play was decent. The penalty kill had a pretty good night (the only Lakehead power play goal came off a crazy scramble right as a five-on-three ended). Those are good jumping-off points for those units after an up-and-down first half of the season.
After getting pulled from UMD's last game before break at Michigan Tech, freshman goalie Kasimir Kaskisuo got back in the groove with a steady 26-save performance. UMD did a good job clearing lanes for "Kas" to see pucks, and he did a good job controlling rebounds. There was a hairy rebound in the first period, but UMD's defensive work around the net rendered it meaningless.
(This was something I mentioned on the air during the postgame of the Michigan Tech loss Dec. 13. Instead of coming back and playing the next night, UMD had two weeks to forget the painful loss to the Huskies. Kaskisuo had two weeks to forget the worst start he's had for our colors.)
UMD's top line of Dominic Toninato, Alex Iafallo, and Adam Krause buzzed throughout. Iafallo's assist on Austin Farley's power play goal was the only point from that line, but they were good. Farley, Tony Cameranesi, and Karson Kuhlman had another very strong game. Kuhlman scored the first UMD goal on a great individual effort, beating Bosch through the five hole after he was taken down by a Lakehead defender. Farley's wicked wrister tied the game 2-2 after Lakehead had taken the lead for the second time.
Depth guys like Blake and Austyn Young contributed to the offensive cause, even though they didn't score.
UMD owned the puck a good chunk of this game and forced Lakehead to do a lot of chasing. The Bulldogs hit at least three and possibly four goalposts/crossbars and were robbed a few times by Bosch, who was sharp as a tack in his first game since October (concussion symptoms).
There were multiple skirmishes in the game, none bigger than a near-brawl not long after Lakehead opened the scoring in the second period. It happened in the Thunderwolves zone after a Bosch save and stoppage. All ten skaters on the ice were involved, with UMD's Brenden Kotyk and Lakehead's Carson Dubchak getting ten-minute misconducts and roughing minors, while two other players got roughing minors.
It led me to believe we'd see a fight at some point, but after a couple more post-whistle fracases (fracasi?) in the second, things cooled a bit in the third.
The biggest issue was all the facemasking, an ejection in NCAA hockey but not even worth talking about in Canada, or so it seemed based on Friday.
Goes back to how much I've prioritized health in this weekend series. It doesn't mean you sit your best players, or you tell guys to go half-speed. But I'd like to see Saturday's game played cleanly. No need for the kind of garbage we saw on Friday, and while Lakehead initiated a fair amount of it, things work both ways (in fairness).
Get in, do more good things, do a better job winning faceoffs and getting traffic to the net, and win another game before the Great North Dakota Freeze Out next weekend.
Elsewhere, former Duluth Marshall star Judd Peterson's goal early in the third stood as the game-winner as St. Cloud State stormed back from 2-0 down to beat Quinnipiac 3-2. Also, Denver tied Dartmouth 1-1 at the Ledyard Bank Classic. Miami got two from Riley Barber in a 3-2 win at RPI.
UMD remains third in the PairWise rankings, behind Minnesota State and Harvard. Remember, the polls don't matter.