Monday, March 30, 2015

Monday Musings: BU Takes Advantage of Late Power Play to Eliminate UMD

One second.

That's all that separated UMD from a successful penalty kill in the third period against Boston University. Crow all you want about the holding penalty against Andy Welinski -- and based on the standard that had been set by the WCHA crew in calling nothing for most of the first 55 minutes and change, it was a terrible call -- but the Bulldogs were that close to rendering the call moot.

But Evan Rodrigues got open enough to rip a shot by Kasimir Kaskisuo and give BU a 3-2 lead it would hold for the final 2:24 to advance to the Frozen Four.

It was one of those moments. You could see the play develop, and there wasn't much that could be done. Rodriguez made a great play to drag the puck around a sliding defender, and he ripped a shot Kaskisuo had little chance to stop. Sometimes, you have to tip your cap.

UMD shut down Jack Eichel, who was held off the scoreboard for just the sixth time in 39 games, but the Bulldogs couldn't contain linemate Rodrigues, who scored twice. As a result, BU heads to the Frozen Four with North Dakota, Omaha, and Providence.

For most of Saturday, I actually thought UMD was the better team. The difference was that Rodrigues ripped off a couple great shots, and the Bulldogs couldn't solve BU goalie Matt O'Connor when they were able to generate gobs of offensive zone time and wear down BU a bit.

UMD showed its best traits on Saturday. The Bulldogs played with speed, were physical when required, rarely got pushed around despite BU possessing some bigger guys, and clearly weren't awed or intimidated by the Eichel line, even though it's damn good and Eichel's going to win the Hobey. Kaskisuo battled, played calm and relaxed, and just didn't get rattled. Neither did the rest of the team.


Four Bulldog careers closed on Saturday night in Manchester. Senior forwards Justin Crandall and Adam Krause, defenseman Derik Johnson, and goalie Alex Fons put on our colors for the final time.

Those doors close, and more doors open. Both the "warm bodies" door -- UMD has four recruits lined up for 2015 -- and the "leadership" door.

The 2015-16 recruiting class includes forward Adam Johnson of Hibbing, near the top of the USHL in scoring this season, and defenseman Neal Pionk of Hermantown, who leads the USHL in scoring by defensemen. Also, the staff has added Spruce Grove forward Parker MacKay, who should sign this spring. Nick Deery will come in from the MJHL as the third goalie starting next year.

(MacKay and the Saints are in the AJHL North Division finals at the moment, tied 1-1 in a best-of-seven series against Bonnyville. MacKay has eight goals in eight playoff games so far.)

That will fill the physical void.

How about leadership?

Great teams need strong leaders. Oftentimes, leaders emerge who aren't wearing a letter on their jersey. But UMD is losing two strong captains and a third guy in Johnson who -- in his last two years -- went from "barely able to get in the lineup" to being relied on for big minutes in big spots.

If Andy Welinski returns, the Bulldogs have a good candidate to be captain.

(More on this in a bit.)

But others will be needed. Will some seniors step up, like Cal Decowski (ahem, CAL DECOWSKI!!!11!1!), Tony Cameranesi, Austin Farley, etc.? Will we see leadership from juniors like Dominic Toninato, Kyle Osterberg, or maybe Carson Soucy?

Too early to tell.

But it will come from somewhere. If it's effective and strong leadership, UMD will be a contender again in 2015-16.


Kaskisuo was fantastic in the NCAA Tournament, to the point I voted him Most Outstanding Player for the Northeast Regional (votes were due before BU got the late power play). He played well in both games, and this summer will be a key to his success going forward. I think he has a chance to be one of the best goalies in the NCHC, if not Division I, next season if he has a good offseason.

His presence allows Hunter Miska to play one more year in the BCHL with Penticton. Senior Matt McNeely will back up Kaskisuo. His work ethic, even in not playing much this season, caught the eye of many around the program. McNeely is a highly-respected part of this team, and for good reason. His play against Minnesota at the North Star College Cup wasn't an accident, and if something had happened to Kas, he would have been ready to go when called on.


Now, for potential flight risks.

Welinski is the big one. The Ducks draft pick has multiple options, beyond "return for his senior season" and "sign with Anaheim." Because he was drafted in 2011, he could become a free agent if he waits out 30 days after leaving school and turning pro.

I have no indication what the mobile defenseman will do at this point.

Our other drafted players were sophomores Soucy and Toninato and junior Cameranesi. Soucy (Wild) will almost certainly be back. I'd be surprised if Toronto signed either Cameranesi or Toninato, though Cameranesi could be tempting given the organization's need for a reset and the strong year he had. His lack of size could be a hindrance, though he has plenty of speed and skill, and he showed a lot of toughness shaking off that big hit he took in the second period Saturday and not missing a shift.

Of the undrafted players, forward Alex Iafallo bears the most watching, I believe. I wouldn't rule out interest from the pro ranks, but will it be the right fit and make him decide he wants to leave?

Last year, we went into the offseason fairly certain Caleb Herbert would turn pro, and he signed within a week. The year before, we were surprised to see Chris Casto make the jump, but that also happened pretty quick after the season ended.

Reality: We should know within a month what departures we're dealing with for 2015-16, if any.


Finally, a word of thanks. First, the UMD staff -- Scott Sandelin, Jason Herter, Derek Plante, Christian Koelling, Chris Garner, DR. Suz Hoppe, Hogie, Bill Watson, Brant Nicklin, Blake Palmer, Josh Berlo, Bob Nygaard, Brian Nystrom, Jay Finnerty, Morgan "Li'l Nyggs" Nygaard, Jeff Stark, and everyone at Amsoil Arena and within the athletic department who help make this job easier.

It's cliche, but this job isn't worth doing if it ever stops being fun. I enjoy every day I get to spend around the UMD staff and players. I told Josh Berlo Saturday that this was the best group I've worked with in my ten years calling games, and I meant it. These kids were a treat to deal with, and they were a hoot to be around at the rink, on the bus, and at the airport.

Thanks to Matt Wellens for assimilating himself as best as possible, and for the transportation help in Manchester.

Most importantly, thanks to my wife and son for continuing to sacrifice and allow me to do this. Couldn't ever manage doing it without their support.

And thanks to all of you. I don't spend much time on blog metrics, and I'd probably keep writing this even if no one was reading it regularly. But I know a lot of you do, and I appreciate it. We're doing some different stuff at the radio ranch, and that's affected my ability to give you the kinds of updates I used to. Thanks for the patience, and for your loyalty. It isn't unnoticed.

Hopefully we can reconvene the band in October and take this thing to the beaches of Tampa next April for the 2016 Frozen Four.

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