It's now 40-22.
UMD put up a four-spot in the third period to turn a 1-0 deficit into a 4-2 home win over St. Cloud State. The Bulldogs fell behind late in the first period after Blake Winiecki beat Kasimir Kaskisuo from a distance in the final minute. The goal was a bit deflating for the crowd, as UMD had just killed off a Huskies power play.
(And that isn't easy. The SCSU power play was at over 28 percent on the season in conference play.)
The Huskies held that lead all the way into the third, but UMD was controlling possession, for the most part. SCSU had a couple flurries, but generally could not get anything going in the offensive zone. The Bulldogs held a potent Huskies attack under 40 shot attempts in the game, largely because of dominant puck possession that was keyed by a great performance in the faceoff circle.
For a team that was struggling on faceoffs, UMD sure has surged the last couple of games. The Bulldogs won 41 of 68 draws last Saturday against Northern Michigan before taking 37 of 61 on Friday night.
The catalyst? Freshman Jared Thomas, who was on the fourth line before being elevated last Saturday to take the spot of injured top-line center Dominic Toninato. Thomas scored the tying goal three minutes into the third on a great move toward the middle after he ran down a puck on the left wing in the offensive zone. Derik Johnson's first of the year and just his second career goal gave UMD the lead more than three minutes later. Justin Crandall and Adam Krause added goals later, Crandall's coming after a great defensive play by Alex Iafallo prevented a short-handed chance for SCSU.
Yeah, coach Scott Sandelin and his staff believed in Thomas, a former Hermantown star. As assistant coach Jason Herter said Wednesday, "We recruited him for a reason."
However, Sandelin was quick to point out last week that it the move was also about the lack of center depth and Sandelin's desire to keep lines centered by Tony Cameranesi and Cal Decowski together intact. They'd both been playing well -- especially Cameranesi, Austin Farley, and Karson Kuhlman -- and he didn't want to disrupt that.
(When Toninato was suspended for the Saturday game against Western Michigan, Sandelin moved Decowski to that top line, and it didn't go as well as this move has.)
Thomas has been a hell of a find for that top line. Buoyed by his 27-10 performance on faceoffs over the last two games, he and linemates Iafallo and Krause have spent more time with the puck and less time chasing it. Cameranesi -- who has quietly been vastly improved in the faceoff circle -- continues to hold up his end of the bargain, and what was a weakness for 25 games is becoming a strength.
(Going back to the Saturday game in Denver, UMD has been getting better and better on draws. It's a potentially huge development for a team that has been so good in puck possession despite being in the bottom ten of the national rankings in faceoff percentage.)
The win puts UMD at 18 wins, two shy of a 20-win season that would be the fifth in seven years for the Bulldogs. If that ends up happening, it'll be the first time in program history that UMD has posted five 20-win seasons in seven years.
UMD needs to be better. While the Bulldogs held Jonny Brodzinski in check (three shots, minus-two, 6-15 on faceoffs), Joey Benik had a goal and eight shots. The Bulldogs were guilty of some sloppy play in their zone again, though I would argue they did a very good job in the neutral zone, and that largely covered for any mistakes in their end.
But St. Cloud State is going to come at them on Saturday. I can't imagine Bob Motzko was pleased with his team losing faceoffs, turning pucks over like crazy, and only taking 36 shots on the night. With goalie Charlie Lindgren pulled late, SCSU didn't get a shot on goal, eventually conceding captain Adam Krause's empty net goal.
In the third period, UMD took 26 shots to seven. Motzko won't be happy about that, but his team had already shown a propensity for irresponsibility, especially in the neutral zone.
That's a huge change I expect to see on Saturday. SCSU won't be that sloppy again. UMD will have to be sharper with its own puck management and will need to continue to do a good job defending the transition game.
Discipline will help. UMD took just two penalties for four minutes and shut down a 23-percent power play that was eight for its last 23. UMD scored a huge power-play goal off the rush in the third, as Iafallo broke up a scoring chance in his own end, led the charge, and fed a puck across the slot to Crandall.
The four-week race to the Penrose Cup started Friday, and with one exception, the league's top four teams held serve.
That notable exception was Omaha, as the first-place Mavericks fell at home to Western Michigan 2-1. The Broncos went Meat Loaf on the power play, getting man-advantage goals from Colton Hargrove and Taylor Fleming, and that was enough for Frank "The Big" Slubowski. The veteran WMU goalie kept UNO off the board until Jake Guentzel got one in the final two minutes.
In Grand Forks, North Dakota beat a heavy-hearted Denver team 4-2. DU is playing without its head coach this weekend, as Jim Montgomery left the team after the death of his father. We send him and his family our sympathies. Quentin Shore tied the game 2-2 for DU in the third, but Nick Schmaltz answered to give UND the lead, and Michael Parks scored his second of the game on the power play with 4:43 left. Zane McIntyre made 18 saves as North Dakota picked up its 20th win for the 11th time in 11 seasons under Dave Hakstol. Yet message board idiots get all fired up every time they lose. Man, some people need hobbies.
Miami got a short-handed goal from Riley Barber in the second period to take the lead for good in an eventual 3-1 win at Colorado College. The RedHawks also got goals from Cody Murphy and Justin Greenberg in support of goalie Jay Williams, who made 22 saves.
UND takes the league lead by two points over Omaha and Miami, who are tied for second. UMD is three points back in fourth, while Denver now trails by seven points. I know it looks like there is some more separation, but that can change in one short night.