Friday night at Amsoil Arena, the Bulldogs showed that depth once again. The fourth line of Jared Thomas, Charlie Sampair, and Austyn Young was crucial throughout the night. Fittingly, it was Thomas scoring at Amsoil Arena for the first time as a Bulldog as UMD got two in the third to beat Northern Michigan 3-1.
UMD started slowly, which was about the only thing it did wrong in this game. Northern Michigan's DJ Vandercook -- which I'm 76.43 percent sure is a made-up name -- scored at 2:52 of the first off a UMD turnover. Vandercook was a late addition to the lineup when Mitch Jones was scratched (we don't know if he was healthy or if he got hurt or sick) after the warmup.
The Bulldogs just weren't quick out of the gate. They struggled with the puck, made some bad decisions, and really didn't have their feet moving.
No fear. That changed.
The Thomas line got things going with a quality shift. UMD built some positive momentum off a power play that came up empty. Eventually, a low-shot first period turned into UMD taking 36 total shots in the first and getting 12 on goal (NMU blocked 13 shots in the first alone).
UMD got on the board short of the midway point of the second, towards the end of a Wildcat power play. Junior defenseman Willie Corrin stole a puck in the defensive zone and led the short-handed charge. Instead of just dumping it in, Corrin fired a laser from just short of the blue line that beat NMU goalie Michael Doan clean from about a foot or 18 inches off the ice.
I've seen pucks take goofy bounces past goalies from the neutral or defensive zones. I've never seen a goalie beaten clean from that distance.
Oh, and that unassisted short-handed goal? Corrin's first career goal. Dan Molenaar made sure to save the puck for the International Falls native.
The Thomas line kept doing work. Sampair was making things happen with his speed. Young was using his speed and smarts to make plays, including a sweet move around Corrin when the two nearly ran into each other during an interchange along the left-wing boards.
All four lines were able to hem NMU in at times, using speed to get around the rink and disrupt the Wildcats on the breakout. That "fourth line" was particularly impressive, and Scott Sandelin recognized it, making sure they got more ice time than the typical "fourth line" would in a tight game.
In the third, it was all UMD. The Bulldogs took 32 more shots and got 21 of them on net. Thomas scored off a great feed by Derik Johnson from behind the NMU net to make it 2-1, and one of Tony Cameranesi's nine shots on goal found the net late in a power play to ice the game.
Everyone contributed. Justin Crandall and Kasimir Kaskisuo were the only UMD players who were in the game but didn't register a shot in the official statistics.
Kaskisuo is the goalie, in case you forgot. He was sharp, too, shaking off the early goal to make 16 saves, including a couple of the impressive variety when the game was still tight.
Of course, only three of those saves came in the third period, as UMD outshot NMU 21-3. UMD had 32 attempts to 10 in the third, 92-39 in the game.
It was a dominant effort keyed by a strong forecheck, contributions from everyone, good work on faceoffs, and solid discipline (just one penalty for two minutes). Give Doan credit, because he stood in there and took a ton of pucks. He made a few great saves among his 43, but he couldn't keep enough pucks out of the net to secure an upset win for his team.
UMD got its 16th win Friday, matching its 2013-14 season total with at least 11 games (nine regular season and two guaranteed playoff games) remaining. Oh, and Friday was UMD's sixth win at home (6-4-1). We won five games at home last year (5-10-3).
Despite the strong performance, a couple lineup tweaks wouldn't shock me. We might see Blake Young play Saturday, and we'll see if Willie Raskob and/or Nick McCormack get back in on the blue line. Wouldn't pass out if Matt McNeely got the start in goal, though Kaskisuo was so seldom tested Friday that it could be argued the No. 1 goalie could use some more work on Saturday.
Basically, I don't know. Watch Twitter for updates when I do. Talk Saturday with the lineups. Game's at 7. Bring your money if you're going. Pink stick auction going on, as we try to raise a few bucks for the Essentia Health Foundation. I know it's probably geared a bit toward hockey players, but I have possession of a few sticks I don't ever envision allowing my son to use, since they're signed and all. They're cool sticks, and they'd make a good keepsake for fans of all shapes, sizes, and ages.
Not much else going on this weekend. On Friday, Danton Heinen had a goal and two assists as Denver won 3-0 at Colorado College. DU's Tanner Jaillet got his first collegiate shutout, one week after being pulled from Saturday's relief appearance against UMD. Denver is one point back of UMD for third place in the NCHC.
However, Miami can hop both teams if it beats Western Michigan Saturday afternoon. It's the only other game being played for points in the NCHC this weekend, and it's being played at Soldier Field in Chicago as part of the Hockey City Classic (Michigan and Michigan State also play at the event).
No matter what, the last four weekends will be nuts. This I promise you.