Friday, March 27, 2015

Saturday Hockey Notes and Thoughts: Bulldogs Trample Gophers, Advance to Northeast Regional Final

MANCHESTER, N.H. -- Sometimes, you survive and advance.

Friday at Verizon Wireless Arena, it was more like "thrive and advance" for the UMD Bulldogs.

After a sleepy start, UMD put up three goals in a 5:59 span of the first period en route to a 4-1 win over Minnesota in the NCAA Northeast Regional semifinals. The win puts the Bulldogs in Saturday's regional final against No. 1 seed Boston University.

"I thought we started a little slow," head coach Scott Sandelin said. "Kas (freshman goalie Kasimir Kaskisuo) made a couple saves early on, then we found our legs. From that point on, we played a pretty good game."

I'd say.

For the first six or seven minutes, the Bulldogs looked every bit a team coming off a bye. The Gophers took it to UMD, getting the early lead in shots and generating a couple scoring chances, though UMD did a good job sticking with its structure and avoiding big defensive zone breakdowns.

The Bulldogs' third line, centered by Jared Thomas with wings Justin Crandall and Kyle Osterberg, put together a strong shift in the UMN zone, getting UMD its first real scoring chances about eight minutes into the first. It wasn't the turning point, but it started to get the Bulldogs going and get them into the game.

Then Willie Raskob set up Tony Cameranesi for a back-door tap-in to get UMD on the board. From there, it was all Bulldogs until the outcome was decided.

"It's really important against any team," Sandelin said, "but certainly our success against Minnesota in the four wins, we scored the first goal."

Less than three minutes later, Brenden Kotyk set up a Justin Crandall tip that made it 2-0. Then Raskob added one -- that went in off Minnesota junior Mike Reilly -- before the first period ended, and at 3-0, there were actual Gopher fans on social media declaring the end of the game.

Sandelin noted that he implored his guys to do a better job getting to the net, and clearly players took heed.

"We talked pretty much the last two weeks that we need to do a better job of getting to the net, getting pucks to the net," he said. "I thought we did a better job of that and we were rewarded with some goals."

The second period was all UMD on Friday. The Gophers barely had the puck long enough to turn it over. UMD created chances, cycled pucks, intercepted clearing attempts, and had huge gobs of offensive zone time. Each line, it seemed, took a turn doing something of note in the offensive zone.

Minnesota just didn't have anything.

"Maybe it just seemed like we were a bit emotionally flat at times," Gophers coach Don Lucia said.

More than anything, I think this is what surprised me the most. Yeah, Minnesota pushed back in the third period a bit. AJ Michaelson had a nice scoring chance, Hudson Fasching got loose down low a couple times, and Seth Ambroz got a late goal to spoil Kaskisuo's shutout bid (so much for Kaskisuo being overcome by nerves in his NCAA Tournament debut; he said afterward it was just a "normal game" for him). And I've never really thought of the Gophers as a chippy, dirty team that takes cheap shots when it's behind late. 

That said, there just seemed to be a lack of emotion. They weren't engaging UMD physically, instead just standing around and letting the Bulldogs do whatever they wanted.

A reporter asked the Gopher players who were made available at the press conference if they thought the small crowd played a role. For his part, sophomore Vinny Lettieri wasn't having anything to do with it.

"There were more fans here than when we came out in Detroit (at the Big Ten Championship last weekend)," he said.

I've said that I think small crowds at regionals tend to randomize results in some cases.

But in this case, there was nothing random. For the better part of 40 minutes, this was a nationally televised whipping administered by a UMD team that has spent the entire season showing it has Minnesota's number. Over the last seven meetings dating to last season, UMD is 5-1-1 against the Gophers with four straight wins. Considering Minnesota hasn't been some middling outfit the last two seasons, that's a really impressive number.


This sets up what should be a great regional final Saturday between UMD and Boston University. The Terriers got a Danny O'Regan overtime goal to edge past No. 4 seed Yale 3-2 in the first game Friday. Hobey favorite Jack Eichel set up the winner with a blast from right point that came off the pad of Yale goalie Alex Lyon and went right to O'Regan for the winner.

O'Regan, Eichel, and Evan Rodrigues have combined for 65 goals and 173 points this season. Eichel has 67 points on 24 goals and 43 assists. Oh, and he's a draft-eligible freshman.

(BU dressed eight freshman skaters on Friday. Neither team is blessed with much NCAA Tournament experience.)

BU coach David Quinn -- an alum in his second season after taking over for retired legend Jack Parker -- made it clear Thursday that his team is not a one-line team. Second-line center Cason Hohmann has 28 points, and right wing Ahti Oksanen has 24 goals after getting one Friday.

But UMD got goals from its second and third lines, plenty of pressure from its top line, and fourth-line wings Austyn Young and Charlie "Chuck" Sampair had five shots between them against Minnesota. It's a one-game snapshot, but BU's third and fourth lines combined for six shots against Yale, two for Nick Roberto and three for Robbie Baillargeon.

I think that will be a huge part of Saturday's game. Definitely bears watching. Will UMD's depth make the difference? Or is Boston University's high-end top line going to be too much for UMD to handle?

Also, with somewhat limited time to study up, how will Quinn handle matchups. He's the home team coach, so he has last change. I'd guess he tries Eichel's line against Dominic Toninato's line at first. Neither team is good on draws, but Cameranesi has become very good as of late, and Toninato really struggled in the circle (3-16) against the Gophers.

I don't think Sandelin minds this matchup. Toninato, Alex Iafallo, and Adam Krause have the ability to play physical and possess the puck. Just like Minnesota, I think that'll be a huge part of this regional final. UMD wants to play a possession game, make opponents play defense and play a 200-foot game to generate any kind of possession on their own. The best defense is puck possession. Eichel and friends can't score if they're defending in their own zone.

Sounds simple. It won't be.

But equally important to the Eichel line matchup is how the other lines play against BU's other lines. If UMD can show an advantage in depth, and whoever plays against the Eichel group can find a way to slow those guys down, the Bulldogs will work from a position of strength.


Good Friday for the NCHC, not so good for everyone else.

In Fargo, St. Cloud State -- should I do the ESPN thing and call them "St. Cloud (Minn.) State"? -- and North Dakota pushed the NCHC to a 3-0 start to this NCAA Tournament, and also guaranteed the second-year league at least one Frozen Four team.

St. Cloud got an overtime goal from Duluth's Judd Peterson to beat Michigan Tech 3-2. The Huskies couldn't hold a late lead, as Jonny Brodzinski tied the score with 37 seconds left in regulation. Peterson's goal was set up by Joe Rehkamp after Tech defenseman Riley Sweeney fell down at the blue line, creating an odd-man rush.

West Regional host North Dakota polished off Quinnipiac 4-1 to finish the day in Fargo. Drake Caggiula scored and had an assist, while Zane McIntyre made 29 saves for UND to set up a rematch against a Huskies team that won over North Dakota at last week's NCHC Frozen Faceoff.

After his team's win, birthday boy Bob Motzko said his SCSU team would either get a road game or a neutral-site game on Saturday.

It'll be a road game, not that I have to tell you.

Also Saturday, the Midwest and Northeast Regionals open up. In the Midwest Regional at South Bend, No. 1 Minnesota State plays RIT, while Omaha battles Harvard. Providence houses the East Regional, which has top seed Miami playing Providence while Denver takes on Boston College. Those regional finals are Sunday evening to finish filling out the Frozen Four field.

Coverage of UMD-BU can be heard on 92.1 The Fan and the Red Rock Radio Bulldog Sports Network starting at 4pm (Central). The game will be televised on ESPN2 and available on the WatchESPN app (sign in with your TV provider, and you'll have access to the stream as long as you get ESPN2 at home, which I think is available on even the most basic cable/satellite packages).

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