I know how much our seniors wanted one more go-round at home. It wasn't meant to be, and some of our guys let their frustration show in a 3-0 loss to Western Michigan.
The Bulldogs got off to a good start, but the sledding was tough. Western came ready to play on Senior Night, and the Broncos were hitting everything in white that moved. UMD couldn't generate speed through the neutral zone, as Western was all over Bulldog players, especially in the middle of the ice.
Give the Broncos credit. You can blame lenient refereeing if you want, but UMD was able to fight through things on Friday. The biggest difference was Western played much more aggressive on Saturday than Friday. The Broncos also played a smarter game, avoiding selfish penalties and also doing a better job clogging up areas UMD wanted to play in.
When a team is trying to clog things up, it takes precision execution to win, and UMD didn't have that on Saturday. The Bulldogs whiffed on a couple early chances, then a bad line change led to the first -- and eventual game-winning -- goal.
I didn't think UMD was as mentally engaged as it has to be to win games, but saying that was the only reason the Bulldogs lost is 1) untrue, and 2) a discredit to Western Michigan's effort and execution.
That said, UMD will have to be better against bigger, grinding-type teams. Won't face one this weekend, as the playoff series at Denver will be racehorse hockey, but the NCAA Tournament can bring all types of opponents.
Denver is up next in the NCHC playoffs. The games between these two teams in the regular season were really, really good. I expect more of the same this weekend.
No question in my mind that there are two legitimate NCAA contenders at it this weekend, and while Denver is eighth in the PairWise, I don't think DU's in danger of falling out of the rankings. These teams can tear each other to pieces to see who moves on to Target Center and the NCHC Frozen Faceoff.
But is there advantage in defeat? Will the losing team take nearly two weeks of rest and use it to strengthen from within for an NCAA run. We know UMD is in, and we're pretty sure Denver is, too, after all.
I'll never advocate losing at the time of the loss, but it's undeniable that UMD's 2010-11 team was galvanized by losing to Bemidji State at the Final Five. It wasn't so much the days off that came after that loss. It was the loss itself. UMD knew it didn't play well and knew what it had to do starting the next week. The timing of that loss and the nature of it -- losing in overtime on a power play goal that came from a terrible call against UMD -- helped set up UMD's mindset that year.
Hopefully it doesn't take a loss this weekend to do that.
UMD, of course, is far from healthy.
Sophomore forward Alex Iafallo has missed two weeks with what we now know to be mono. Sophomore defenseman Dan Molenaar dealt with mono in January and missed significant time. With what little I know about the illness (I've never had it, so I looked it up on the internet), I'd think Iafallo won't be back until next week at the earliest, possibly not until NCAA regionals. That said, I also know everyone is different.
(Side note: This is at least four NCHC players I know of who've gotten mono this season. Molenaar had it. So did North Dakota's Trevor Olson, and it's been reported that Omaha's Dominic Zombo has it, too.)
Making matters worse, senior captain Adam Krause suffered an injury on the hit that got him run from Saturday's loss. He knocked knees with hulking Western Michigan forward Willem Nong-Lambert. Neither appeared to be seriously injured on the ice, so hopefully there is nothing wrong with Krause that will keep him from playing this weekend.
If Krause can't play and Blake Young can't return, UMD will have to deploy both its extra defensemen -- Dan Molenaar and Nick McCormack last weekend, with Molenaar playing both games and McCormack scratched -- as forwards on the fourth line.