Saturday, October 31, 2015

Game 7: UMass-Lowell at UMD

Happy Halloween from Amsoil Arena, where UMD looks to do more than just scare UMass-Lowell. The Bulldogs seek their second sweep of 2015-16 on this night, and will do so against a motivated RiverHawks team that has more than enough talent -- led by their extremely capable goalie -- to earn a split.

UMD has a few areas it will try to improve, including the power play. Yes, it scored the winning goal Friday in a 2-1 triumph. And it was a very nice goal, a greasy goal made possible by good work in front of the UML net. But UMD also surrendered two short-handed breaks in a previous power play. Might want to clean that up.



Iafallo - Toninato - Young (Austyn)
Farley - Cameranesi - Kuhlman
Osterberg - Thomas - Johnson
Sampair - Decowski - Spurrell

Pionk - Welinski
Soucy - Raskob
Corrin - Kotyk

Kaskisuo - McNeely - Fons

Smith - Gambardella - Louria
White - Fallon - Dmowski
Wilson - Campbell - Francis
McGrath - Master - Chapie

Zink - Kapla
Folin - Mueller
Panico - Forney

Boyle - Cleary

(NOTE: Boyle started Friday, when the  goalies were listed in the other order. Don't know if this means Cleary is starting. Clearly, I'm an idiot, but follow me on Twitter for updates.)

Friday, October 30, 2015

Saturday Hockey Notes and Thoughts: Bulldogs Grind Out Quality Win

It was a game much more entertaining than the final score indicated, as the UMD Bulldogs won a goaltenders' duel at Amsoil Arena Friday night.

UMD sophomore Kasimir Kaskisuo and UMass-Lowell senior Kevin Boyle traded big save after big save, but a Dominic Toninato rebound goal late in the second period gave the Bulldogs a 2-1 lead they would not relinquish. The win runs UMD's unbeaten streak to five since a season-opening loss at Bemidji State.

The game started a bit slowly, but UMD's Blake Young got a minor penalty for playing hockey charging just short of the 6:00 mark of the first. UMD killed it off without allowing a shot, and the Bulldogs started to get going after that. The first ended scoreless, but UMD ended up leading 11-4 in shots, and the Bulldogs started getting the better of zone possession as the period wore on.

All the game's scoring came in the second period, and after the teams traded goals, it was UMD's fourth line that really got things working. Cal Decowski, Charlie Sampair, and Blake Young had a great shift, with Young and Decowski both getting a couple shots, and while they didn't score, they hemmed UML in for quite a long time and eventually drew a penalty. 11 seconds into the power play, Toninato banged home a rebound off an Alex Iafallo shot that hit the post, and UMD led 2-1.

Lowell generated some real possession time in the third period, but only managed 11 shots on goal. There were a couple sequences where the Bulldogs struggled to get the puck out of their zone, and when they did, it didn't go more than six feet across the blue line before it was rapped back in. The RiverHawks, however, didn't get a lot of great looks at Kaskisuo, who made his best saves on a futile UMD power play early in the second period. A couple bad turnovers gave UML two short-handed breaks in the same UMD power play. Kaskisuo stopped both of them to keep the game scoreless.

This might have been the best game "Kas" has played at UMD. He made a few point-blank saves in the second period, and he did a good job controlling rebounds. His defense blocked 17 shots, which helped him, but he was strong from the outset, despite not seeing any shots of any kind for the first half of the first period.

It's obvious Kaskisuo improved over the offseason. Outside of a couple hiccups, mainly in the Bemidji State game, his rebound control has been exemplary. He's standing tall and making the saves he's supposed to make. Also, his puck play -- while still not at Stalockian levels -- has certainly gotten better. It's certainly early, but Kaskisuo is at a .933 save percentage through six starts, which would mark a superb improvement over his solid freshman numbers. I don't think it's necessarily reasonable to expect a goalie to post that kind of save percentage over 34 games against this kind of schedule, but if he does, it's a bonus for UMD and bodes well for the kinds of goals this team has.


I was looking for a few things this weekend. I wanted to see how UMD responded to UML's "pack it in" defensive game. The RiverHawks do an outstanding job in their own end, and it's rare that you see the puck cycle down low and have the offensive player not outnumbered. UMD players coughed up a few pucks Friday because they were trapped and outnumbered deep in the offensive zone. But as the game wore on, the Bulldogs appeared to wear down UML a bit with a strong forecheck. They got that going by being smart about dump-ins and getting to pucks quickly. Every line generated pressure and chances, and every line had at least four shots on goal in the game.

I liked how UMD got to Boyle and kept the pressure on him. He's a whale of a goaltender, very athletic and fundamentally sound. He played a great game, and UMD did a lot of good things to keep the heat on.

With the goalie pulled in the final 1:30 or so, the RiverHawks never really got a great look to the net. UMD won a couple faceoffs and battles, and the clock ran out when Kyle Osterberg, who assisted on Andy Welinski's goal to open the scoring in the second period, dumped it down the rink.

I know it ended 2-1, but it was a very entertaining, very cleanly-played game between two very good teams. Whatever happens on Saturday, this is a quality win for UMD and will absolutely help them going forward.


Six NCHC teams played games for conference points on Friday. In Kalamazoo, Western Michigan never trailed in handing Omaha its first loss of the season in a 4-2 game. Ohio State transfer Collin Olson started for WMU in goal and made 31 saves, and the Broncos got goals from four different players. Sheldon Dries gave Western the lead for good in the second period, then Aaron Hadley added insurance in the third.

In St. Cloud, the homestanding Huskies dominated Miami, winning 3-0. SCSU outshot the RedHawks 40-15, including 17-4 in the first period. Patrick Newell scored twice for St. Cloud State, and goalie Charlie Lindgren made the 15 saves for a shutout.

In Colorado Springs, the kids were all right for North Dakota in a 5-2 win over Colorado College. All five UND goals came from rookies, with Chris Wilkie tallying twice. Goalie Matt Hrynkiw made 19 saves for the win, as the Tigers fell to 0-7.

Also, Denver got a late goal from Will Butcher to tie Boston College 3-3, but Matthew Gaudreau scored with 36 seconds left to lift the Eagles to a 4-3 win over the Pioneers. Danton Heinen scored twice for DU, which plays Boston University Saturday to close out the weekend out east.

Local Division III teams also kicked off their seasons Friday night. St. Scholastica got a goal from Dylan Nowakowski with 54 seconds left to complete a comeback from 2-0 and 3-2 deficits and get a 3-3 tie against UW-River Falls. The Saints welcomed back head coach Mark Wick, who missed the end of last season on medical leave. He revealed to the Duluth News Tribune he was battling depression.

In Ashland, UWS got third period goals from Anton Svensson and Jordan Neduzak to beat Northland 3-1. The Yellowjackets head to the Upper Peninsula for a Saturday game against Finlandia.

Game 6: UMass-Lowell at UMD

We solemnly swear to not make electricity jokes.

This marks UMD's first Friday night home game of the season. It also marks UMass-Lowell's first game outside of the state of Massachusetts (four home games and one at Merrimack so far for the RiverHawks).

As I wrote about earlier, I expect this to be a very interesting weekend. UMD likes to push the pace and use its speed. UMass-Lowell is closer to a lockdown-variety team, and a very fundamentally sound one.

Too bad healthy scratches can't just leave the team for the night, because the Wild have healthy-scratched defenseman Christian Folin, and his younger brother Niklas -- a freshman -- is a top-pair blue-liner for UMass-Lowell.



Iafallo - Toninato - Young (Austyn)
Farley - Cameranesi - Kuhlman
Osterberg - Thomas - Johnson
Young (Blake) - Decowski - Sampair

Pionk - Welinski
Soucy - Raskob
Corrin - Molenaar

Kaskisuo - McNeely - Fons

White - Fallon - Dmowski
Smith - Gambardella - Louria
Edwardh - Master - Chapie
McGrath - Campbell - Francis

Mueller - Folin
Zink - Kapla
Panico - Forney

Cleary - Boyle

(NOTE: Looks like UML lists goalies numerically. Grr. Anyway, we're assuming Boyle starts until someone says he isn't.)

Bulldogs Battle for Space Against Big, Experienced RiverHawks

This is going to be a meat-grinder.

The Bulldogs have long looked comfortable playing what basically amounts to racehorse hockey. When a team wants to engage UMD in a game of "up and down the rink," the Bulldogs are at their best. UMD wants to play with pace, and sometimes struggles when the opponent won't allow that to happen.

That's what I expect this weekend. UMass-Lowell is one of the better defensive teams that we'll see this season, led by senior goalie Kevin Boyle and his obscene .961 save percentage. But to watch UML play -- I watched back the Merrimack games from last week -- is to appreciate how good a job this team does defensively.

The RiverHawks just don't give much up to the opponent. It's exceptionally hard to get to the net and make anything happen against these guys, and that's something assistant coach Jason Herter addressed this week when we spoke.

"We're challenging our guys to get to the net and move their feet," he said. In order to get and sustain pressure and earn quality scoring chances against UML, UMD will have to move its feet at a very high and consistent level.

Merrimack had 35 shots on goal in the Warriors' 1-1 tie against Lowell last Friday. What I don't see are the kinds of quality chances it takes to beat a goalie of Boyle's caliber. He's a 6-1 goalie who played like he's 6-4 or 6-5. I'm very impressed with what I saw from him last weekend. He could be a tough nut for UMD to crack.

Herter said this UML team reminds him a bit of the Western Michigan team that knocked off UMD in the NCHC playoffs two years ago in Duluth. With just the Merrimack games to go on, I'd argue those Broncos may have had more speed and pure skill, but the RiverHawks play their system to a tee, as well and as consistently as any UMD opponent I've studied.

I do think UMD has more speed and forward depth than Merrimack, and that could be a different layer of a challenge for UMass-Lowell.

"They will be the strongest team that we have played so far," head coach Norm Bazin said this week of UMD. "They've got eight seniors and seven juniors so you're thinking about 15 upper classmen guiding their team, they've got good goaltending, they've got big defensemen and speedy forwards so they've got a good mix.  We want to play our game and see where it takes us; it should be exciting hockey."

UML has veterans, too, with seven seniors and four juniors. Like UMD, the RiverHawks have four players at 100 or more career games. As Herter pointed out, UML has a large number of players who came in after spending time in junior hockey, most commonly the USHL. It's another trait largely shared by UMD, but the RiverHawks have five 1991 birthdates among their seniors compared to two for UMD.

I'm looking forward to this series. I think it's a great challenge for the Bulldogs. Last year, UMD didn't necessarily play well against tougher defensive-minded teams, especially WMU. To make plays this weekend, UMD needs to take advantage of smaller windows than maybe they'll get against other opponents. UML does a great job defending its net, starting with Boyle, but the five skaters on the ice play a role there, too. The Bulldogs have to use their speed and skill to spread out UML as much as possible.

Special teams are always huge, and the RiverHawks have killed all 18 power plays they've given opponents. I'm looking forward to seeing what the Bulldogs have cooked up on the power play. The numbers are not good, but for the most part, the power play has done good things even when it hasn't scored. Last weekend is more of an exception, but UMD cleaned a few things up Saturday against Notre Dame, and hopefully will take another step this weekend.


Glenn "Chico" Resch is sure one of a kind.

The former UMD goaltender gets the ultimate Bulldog Hockey tribute Friday night at Amsoil Arena, when the school retires his No. 1 jersey. The affable Resch will be in Duluth this weekend, but he also stopped by Amsoil Arena last week on hockey media day. Not surprisingly, he held court for the assembled professional journalists.

Oh, and I was there, too.

He joked about how he didn't believe a request from UMD Athletic Director Josh Berlo to get a hold of him was anything important. Then he heard from alum Walt Ledingham, who told him Berlo really had something important to tell Resch. When we met with Resch last week, he still seemed a bit in shock it was really happening.

Nearly 35 years later, the man they call "Chico" still raves about his time at UMD.

"My world was never the same after I graduated (from UMD) in 1971," Resch said. "I have so much to be thankful for."

Resch played goalie for UMD starting in the late 1960s, and served as team captain as a senior in 1970-71, when he earned All-WCHA second team honors and was also named UMD's Outstanding Senior Athlete that year. From there, Resch played 14 years in the NHL with the New York Islanders, Colorado Rockies, New Jersey Devils, and Philadelphia Flyers before retiring in 1986. He played in three NHL All-Star Games, becoming the first former Bulldog to do that.

After his playing career ended, Resch moved into broadcasting, working UMD games on TV with the great Jim Rich before becoming the lead analyst for the New Jersey Devils, primarily on the MSG Networks.

There, Resch formed one of the NHL's most popular local broadcast teams with NHL play-by-play legend Mike "Doc" Emrick. Resch retired after the 2013-14 season, his 18th calling Devils games on TV. The duo was so beloved among Devils fans that the team held special nights in Emrick's honor after he left to work full-time doing games on NBC, and for Resch when he retired.

I had a chance to interview Resch in 2010, the week UMD played its final games at the DECC. I called on a number of alumni to help send the place out with a bang, and Resch really delivered. It didn't take much to get him going, though I'll always remember him being more than willing to talk about his UMD memories with me, and equally upset that he couldn't get out of his MSG television responsibilities with the Devils to be at the last game in person.

Head coach Scott Sandelin calls Resch a "great guy," and is happy to see his program honoring greats from the past. Resch will be the fourth men's hockey player to have his jersey retired, joining Huffer Christiansen, Brett Hull, and Bill Watson, whose No. 14 was retired last year.


Arrive at Friday's game early to see the Resch ceremony at 6:45. He'll be signing autographs and greeting fans after the first period, and if you're tuning into the game on the radio, we'll have him on after the second period.

I know some fans are nervous about UMD "over-retiring" numbers, but I look at it as a cool way to engage our fans in the history of the program. Resch is a fantastic guy and someone who will embrace this honor, similar to Bill Watson last year.

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Monday Musings (on a Tuesday): Bulldogs Break Out Ties in South Bend

I bring two ties on every road trip. I know, I should probably bring more, but two games, two ties.

UMD brought two ties home on the bus from South Bend Saturday night/Sunday morning. The Bulldogs, arguably, should have won Friday before a 3-3 draw against Notre Dame. The Irish, arguably, should have won Saturday before a 3-3 tie.

T'was that kind of weekend.

It was an entertaining series, as most of us expected. Notre Dame has a reputation for being a bit on the boring side, but I've never agreed with that. The Irish have too much skill to consistently be branded that way. That's not to say Jeff Jackson doesn't want his kids to play defense. He does. It's saying he does turn the kids loose and lets them display their speed and skill, especially in the middle of the rink. These teams tend to play enjoyable, watchable, clean hockey against each other. It was the last of a four-series deal between the programs (two weekends in each city, with UMD also getting invited to last year's IceBreaker in South Bend), but hopefully they're able to work it out to play each other more in future seasons.

The Bulldogs weren't their crispest or best over the weekend, but yet UMD found a way to avoid losing either game. Friday night, the Bulldogs blew a 2-0 lead, thanks in large part to an anemic power play that struggled with faceoffs, zone entries, and general possession. Saturday's tie came despite a power play that struggled some more, though it did unquestionably show improvement on faceoffs, zone entries, and possession.

UMD never was good enough to put a lot of pressure on a Notre Dame defensive corps that I thought was a bit vulnerable going in. I didn't think there was enough net drive by the Bulldogs, and while they still generated gobs of pressure, there were at least a half-dozen quality rebound opportunities that ended up being harmlessly cleared away because no one in a maroon sweater was crashing down low.

Speed was a big advantage I expected UMD to exploit, especially at forward. While Tony Cameranesi's line -- with Austin Farley and Karson Kuhlman -- made more than a few plays by using their speed, there wasn't of that on the weekend.

Honestly, when you read this, you probably think UMD lost a game. The fact that didn't happen is a credit -- in large part -- to a couple entities: The penalty kill, and Kasimir Kaskisuo.

Kas' save percentage actually went down on the weekend, but don't be fooled. He was superb, especially on the penalty kill in Friday's game. And don't be fooled by the knuckle puck that he let squeak by him from Notre Dame freshman Dylan Malmquist in the first period Saturday. He bounced back from that to put in another strong effort.

The kill allowed two goals in 11 power plays on the weekend, but was actually better than even that number would indicate. UMD outshot Notre Dame on its power plays Saturday, with five short-handed shots compared to four power-play shots for the Irish. At one point, I got to use the "Who's on the power play?" line everyone loves so much, especially when it's your team executing a penalty kill well enough to make it a valid line.


And what can we say about Cameranesi? The guy plays with reckless abandon, to the point that I'm almost concerned about the risks he takes. But good luck getting him to slow down. This is how Tony Cameranesi plays, and when his team needed him most. the senior really cranked up the jets and used his speed to score a huge goal in Saturday's game.

We call that "leadership" around here.

Cameranesi scored later in the second Saturday to cut the lead to 3-2, then set up Neal Pionk's first career goal that tied things up in the third. He's one guy who constantly was using his speed to make plays, and it showed. That line -- Cameranesi, Farley, and Kuhlman -- was UMD's best down the stretch last year, and it's been the most consistent so far.


UMD hosts UMass-Lowell this weekend. Arrive early Friday to watch the school retire the No. 1 worn by goalie Glenn "Chico" Resch, who will hopefully join us on the radio Friday night. That ceremony was scheduled for the first intermission, but has been moved to pregame, so keep that in mind if you have tickets for Friday.

Lowell is a very good defensive team, one that's allowed only five goals in five games (3-0-2 record). The RiverHawks tied Merrimack 1-1 in both games of a home-and-home series over the weekend to kick off their Hockey East schedule.

It's a good challenge for UMD, trying to score goals against a team that simply doesn't give up much. UML was outshot 58-33 by Merrimack, but got two ties out of it.

UMD has outshot its opponents 116-71 at even strength over the last four games. Keep that up, and hopefully we'll see good results this weekend.

Saturday, October 24, 2015

Game 5: UMD at Notre Dame

SOUTH BEND, Ind. -- For UMD, this game is a chance to win a season series. As junior Dominic Toninato said this week, "every game counts."

Yeah, it's early, but the bottom line is you want to rack up season series wins so the PairWise likes you in March. You know, the only time it matters one iota.



Johnson - Toninato - Iafallo
Farley - Cameranesi - Kuhlman
Osterberg - Thomas - Young (Austyn)
Young (Blake) - Decowski - Sampair

Pionk - Welinski
Soucy - Raskob
Corrin - McCormack

Kaskisuo - McNeely - Deery

DiPauli - Hurley - Bjork
Lucia - Fogarty - Herr
Malmquist - Evans - Oglevie
Wegwerth - Cook - Ostlie

Gilbert - Wade
Nardella - Ryan
Ripley - Gross

Katunar - Stasack - Petersen

Friday, October 23, 2015

Saturday Hockey Notes and Thoughts: Blown Opportunities Doom UMD to Tie

SOUTH BEND, Ind. -- What was a golden opportunity to put Friday's game away turned into a nightmarish power play for UMD.

A failed five-on-three, followed by clunky five-on-four time, then another failed five-on-three, followed by a short-handed goal.

That short-handed goal got Notre Dame back in what was a 2-0 game, and the Irish eventually picked up a 3-3 tie against the fifth-ranked Bulldogs.

In the end, UMD will be stuck lamenting seven power plays missed, including a pair of two-man advantages that totaled over a minute each. Yes, the Bulldogs hit a pair of pipes and had a few good looks on those power plays, but they got nothing by Notre Dame goalie Cal Petersen and were outscored 2-0 on special teams.

Iffy special teams play is certainly one way to lose. UMD didn't lose, however, because it kept throwing pucks at Petersen and eventually got one in the third on an Austyn Young rebound. The Bulldogs couldn't hold 2-0 and 3-2 leads, but surely will take a tie on a night where there were a few things not clicking.

UMD had some uncharacteristic turnovers, but handled Notre Dame's forecheck pretty well and generally had the better of the play. Problem: The night was full of special teams play.

On the power play, UMD lost faceoffs too routinely, especially on the five-on-threes in the second period. There was too much time spent chasing the puck down, and Notre Dame did a good job pressuring the visitors in the neutral zone, which caused turnovers and slowed up rush opportunities.

Generally, faceoffs can be overrated. They can be terrifically random at times, and puck possession so often changes within a few seconds of puck drop that you can't put too much stock into it. UMD has been really good lately at regaining possession within seconds of a faceoff loss. In those cases, the stat is almost completely meaningless, because it contributes nothing to the overall flow of play.

However, losing faceoffs is a bad way to do business when you have an extra player on the ice. It usually means the loss of 15-20 seconds or more of power play time, just like every other time a team clears while short-handed. It also ratchets up the pressure on all five guys to be clean out of their zone and through neutral, so they can set up and get something going while there's still time.

They don't parse the power play faceoffs out for us, so unless you go look at the official play-by-play, it's hard to get an accurate read. And as much of a nerd as I am, I'm not doing that.

UMD had 12 shots in seven power plays, and the Bulldogs outshot the Irish at even strength 28-13. I'll take my chances with the way UMD has controlled play at even strength this season, outshooting opponents 103-65 in four games, an average of 26-16 per game at even strength. With Kasimir Kaskisuo playing the way he is, that will win UMD a lot of games.

What am I saying here? The faceoff number (.445 in four games) is ugly. But even if it doesn't vastly improve over time, the shot totals -- which translate to scoring chances -- are what matter most. And while the power play is important, odds are we aren't going to see too many games like this one. More often than not, power plays will settle into the 3-5 per game range. Games like Friday will be the outliers, not the norm.

I'm not saying it's a great tie. I'm saying it's a tie. Lessons can be learned, and improvements made. It's still way too early in the season to go into a panic because of a tie on the road. Especially one that so easily could have gone the other way.


Asked the Twitterverse for some questions, and figured I'd answer them here. For those who missed out -- it was late notice -- I'll be doing this at various times throughout the season, usually on road trips where my time constraints are minimal. If you don't follow me on Twitter @BruceCiskie, you miss out on a chance to get your question answered. You also miss out on a chance to read some really bad jokes and stream of consciousness tweets

@biddco: "Your thoughts on face-offs. Was UMD poor at face-offs last year?"

Yes, UMD had a bad year in the circle last year, finishing in the botton 15 nationally. Despite that, the Bulldogs outshot most opponents and were a very good five-on-five team. If that trend continues, I'll live with the faceoff struggles. Just know that I believe at least some of the power play problems can be traced to losing faceoffs. It isn't always a huge deal, but it can contribute.

@campbench: "Is whoever had that 5 min penalty suspended for Saturday?"

That was Notre Dame's Andy Ryan, ejected for a blatant elbow to the head of UMD freshman Adam Johnson. The hit happened after Johnson released the puck on a soft corner dump-in during a UMD power play. While Johnson was eligible to be checked and Ryan could have finished him cleanly, Johnson took what appeared to my admittedly biased eye to be a blatant elbow right to the head. Easy call for the officials, and they got it right.

Is it suspension worthy? Well, in a different league, UMD's Carson Soucy got a game for a shoulder near the head of Bemidji State's Leo Fitzgerald. Like Johnson, Fitzgerald didn't appear to be injured and didn't miss a shift. However, what makes that case supremely different is that Fitzgerald was in no way eligible to be checked. Johnson was. The hit on Johnson was more flagrant, but will Hockey East see it as suspension-worthy? Without knowing much about the league's supplemental discipline policy or history, I'd guess Ryan will not be suspended.

@TeddyThighs (I won't ask if you don't): "Waiting for Adam Johnson seemed like forever, your thoughts so far? I am impressed, he has speed, hands, and a great shot IMO."

Extremely impressed. Clearly a kid who knows what it takes to compete at this level, and I'm told he's worked extensively on his skating. His hands are first-rate, and he can absolutely shoot the puck. He's been so extremely close to his first goal, and once he gets the first one, I believe they'll come in bunches.

Feels like he committed in 1995, but he's totally worth the wait. Doesn't look out of place at all on the top line, and in fact has enhanced it, something we talk with Dominic Toninato about during the first intermission of Saturday's broadcast.

@theboust: "What is it going to take to stay off the penalty kill?"

Wish I had the answer. I don't know that it's risen to the level of a problem yet. We saw UMD take a couple stupid majors (justified calls, but not the smartest actions leading to the penalties) in Bemidji, but I'd argue more than a couple calls that have gone against UMD in the last two games have been of the "ehhhhhhhh" variety. In other words, arguably soft calls at a time of the year where there are a lot of soft calls.

I don't think it's "Move along, nothing to see here," only because we saw it be a problem at times last year, and we don't want that to happen again. However, I'm reserving judgment for the time being. I do think UMD needs to do a better job of avoiding the avoidable penalties, and there were a couple on Friday night. Neal Pionk's penalty was absolutely necessary. A couple of the other stick fouls were not.


In other action involving the NCHC, it was another good night for the league, which continues to make a killing non-conference.

Freshman Jack Roslovic's second-period goal held up for Miami in a 1-0 win at St. Lawrence. Ryan McKay made 26 saves for the shutout win. Johnny Simonson and Bryn Chyzyk scored for North Dakota, as it won 2-0 at Vermont. Third goalie Matt Hrynkiw started and got his first collegiate shutout with 27 saves.

Omaha opened Baxter Arena by punting Air Force 4-2. Freshman Steven Spinner scored twice, and goalie Kirk Thompson made 28 saves as the Mavericks improved to 5-0.

It wasn't all rosey for the NCHC. Clarkson got a late power-play goal and then an empty-netter to ice a 4-2 win over Western Michigan. Quinnipiac scored four goals in the second -- the first goals allowed by Charlie Lindgren since he was a Bantam -- and the Bobcats beat St. Cloud State 5-2. Former Duluth Marshall star Judd Peterson had both goals for SCSU. Also, Boston College shut out Colorado College 3-0 in Colorado Springs.

Game 4: UMD at Notre Dame

SOUTH BEND, Ind. -- Off and running from South Bend, where No. 5 UMD opens a key non-conference series against Notre Dame.

Sorry for short blog, but lines were late and I'm still stunned after spending way too much money at the campus store. It is Notre Dame, after all.



Johnson - Toninato - Iafallo
Farley - Cameranesi - Kuhlman
Osterberg - Thomas - Young (Austyn)
Sampair - Decowski - Spurrell

Pionk - Welinski
Soucy - Raskob
Corrin - Molenaar

Kaskisuo - McNeely - Deery

DiPauli - Hurley - Bjork
Lucia - Fogarty - Herr
Wegwerth - Evans - Ostlie
Malmquist - Oglevie - Jenkins

Ripley - Ryan
Gilbert - Gross
Nardella - Wade

Katunar - Stasack - Petersen

Thursday, October 22, 2015

Avoiding Letdown Key for UMD in South Bend

SOUTH BEND, Ind. -- Let there be no doubt, UMD fans. The players and coaches heard you loud and clear Saturday night.

"It was fricken awesome," said junior center Dominic Toninato.

Head coach Scott Sandelin talked multiple times this week about how great the crowd was Saturday. The record gathering of 7,569 at Amsoil Arena saw UMD topple Minnesota 3-0. Not only did it finish off a weekend sweep of the archrival Gophers, but it also clinched a sixth straight win over Minnesota, something UMD has never done before.

Now, however, a different challenge awaits the Bulldogs as they prepare for a weekend non-conference series against Notre Dame.

How do you avoid a letdown?

You can talk all you want about the importance of every game, as Sandelin did when I asked him about a letdown. Of course, he also admitted that was a great question, because no one truly knows if it'll happen until the players hit the ice Friday and Saturday at the b-e-a-utiful Compton Family Ice Arena on campus.

Reality is that every game is really important. The six NCHC teams that made the NCAA Tournament last spring had a combined non-conference record of 42-17-4, and that isn't an accident. UMD went 8-4 out of conference last year, and that success played as big a role in the team being locked into the NCAA Tournament entering the conference playoffs despite a meh fifth-place finish in league.

"It's big, it's huge for the PairWise. I know it's early, but every game counts," Toninato said.

He's right. Something I've preached -- probably to the point people are sick of hearing it -- is that I believe these non-conference games almost carry more weight than league games do. UMD doesn't play teams like Providence, Boston College, Boston University, and other top Eastern schools. A good way to flip close comparisons toward UMD would be for the Bulldogs to do well the next two weekends, playing Hockey East opponents Notre Dame and UMass-Lowell. Do well in these series, then hopefully the Irish and RiverHawks pick off some quality opponents themselves (they will). Come selection time, it will benefit UMD. Lose these games, and the chance exists the Bulldogs will lose comparisons to other top Hockey East teams because of it.

So, back to the original question: How do you avoid a letdown? Notre Dame draws well here, averaging nearly 4,500 a game last year. There should be a good atmosphere.

But these aren't the Gophers. And this arena won't be jumping like the home rink was Saturday.

"We have to stick to our game," Toninato said. "We have to compete. We have to win those 50/50 puck battles. We have to be disciplined."

Usually, when a team goes on the road and faces a tough opponent (which Notre Dame undeniably is), it's not a bad thing to get out of the first period scoreless. Obviously, you want to score and have the lead, but 0-0 isn't the end of the world. As an example, I felt UMD took the best punch Minnesota had in the first period at Mariucci Arena last Friday. 0-0 game, and UMD led in shots. That isn't bad.

In a game like this one on Friday, I'd look for something good to happen for the visitors early. Could be a goal, but it could also be a big hit, a big save, or a successful penalty kill. Could be something even less significant than that. Just enough to galvanize the bench a bit and get guys emotionally into what's in front of them.

If UMD comes out Friday and, as Toninato said, wins races and/or battles, and maintains its discipline early, it could very well be a good night, and a good weekend.


I've never formally met Mario Lucia. Talked to him briefly at a press conference before the Ice Breaker last year, and enjoyed listening to him address reporters.

But I like him.

Lucia is one of six seniors on the Notre Dame roster. However, no one would have batted an eye if he wasn't one of them. Lucia could have turned pro after last season, and signed with the Minnesota Wild (drafted in 2011). Instead of taking his 49 goals and accepting paychecks, Lucia came back.

Edina's Steven Fogarty, who had a hat trick in Notre Dame's 7-4 season-opening win over Penn State last Friday, is the Irish captain for a second straight year. But Lucia is the biggest name and probably the top player. He entered the season with 86 career points, 40 more than fellow senior Sam Herr, who was the next highest career scorer, and 43 more than Fogarty.

Lucia showed some real maturity in explaining his decision to the South Bend Tribune earlier this month.
“It came down to: What’s the best opportunity? I could have gone and played in the minors for the whole year. The Minnesota Wild have a great team this year. They only have a couple new guys who made their roster.

“Coming back here, being a leader, playing an important role – I wouldn’t know what my role would be there. I felt (coming back) was best for my development.”
Obviously, we want two wins this weekend. But I see parallels between Lucia and UMD captain Andy Welinski, who is back because he wants to become a better player and lead his team to a championships. These stories are good for college hockey, and they're better stories if Lucia (and Welinski, for that matter) go on to succeed in pro hockey after spending four years in college.


Fogarty, Lucia, and Herr are the leaders of an interesting Notre Dame team. The Irish have six seniors, many of whom have been impactful players. Despite that experience, Notre Dame is the fifth-youngest team in Division I, according to College Hockey, Inc. The Irish six freshmen and nine sophomores, and their average age is just a shade under 21. Only Boston College, Boston University, Michigan, and Wisconsin are younger.

There's talent. Lucia isn't over 50 career goals by accident. Blueliners Jordan Gross and Dennis Gilbert can make some noise, as can Andy Ryan, who had two goals last Friday at Penn State. Sophomore goalie Cal Peterson had his struggles last weekend, especially in the Saturday loss, but he was good in earning the No. 1 job as a freshman.

Notre Dame has developed a reputation of being a more defensive-oriented team over the years, but this group appears more able to open things up. Jeff Jackson is a heck of a hockey coach, and he'll adapt to the talent on hand and do what fits best.

"They do some things that could cause you some problems if you aren't aware of what's going on," Sandelin said this week. I do see Notre Dame being more aggressive offensively as I watch back the Penn State games. We'll see how that develops this weekend. I see UMD being the faster team, so if the feet are moving and UMD is smart with the puck, opportunity should present itself to make plays.


If you're inclined to listen to the radio, thanks as always. 4:30 Central time pregame Friday, 5pm Saturday.

If you're more of a TV type, Friday's game is on the American Sports Network and will be available on NESN Plus and CSN Chicago Plus, for those who have access to regional sports networks. Saturday will be televised nationally on NBC Sports Network and streamed on NBC Sports Live Extra.


Monday, October 19, 2015

Monday Musings: Bulldogs Sweep Overmatched Gophers

No single stat probably shows the shifting of tides in the Minnesota-UMD men's hockey rivalry than this:

Before Scott Sandelin arrived at UMD in 2000, the Bulldogs were 56-111-11 against Minnesota, a pretty terrible .346 winning percentage.

After Saturday's 3-0 win over the Gophers, UMD is 23-23-6 against their longtime I-35 rivals under Sandelin. That'd be .500, and a vast improvement over previous years.

Included in that are the two longest winning streaks UMD has ever had against Minnesota. The current six-game run is a record. It broke the old mark of five, set by the Bulldogs between 2003 and 2004.

So not only is Sandelin now .500 against UMD's biggest rival (sorry, St. Cloud State and North Dakota), but his teams are responsible for the two longest winning streaks against Minnesota in program history.

Sandelin will tell you it's not about him, and he's not wrong. But the players he's recruited and the style he coaches have combined to make UMD more consistently competitive against the Gophers than they've ever been before.

Saturday was another masterful performance, as the Bulldogs outshot the Gophers 17-2 (!) over the first 20 minutes of a 3-0 win. Now, this Minnesota team does not have the look of a serious national contender (yet). The Gophers are too young in key spots, especially center, to make a lot of noise when you look at the level of talent and experience that others possess.

Doesn't matter. UMD needed to see its best players step up. Check. UMD needed to play more consistently. Check. UMD needed its penalty kill to rise up. Check.


Two things really stood out to me on the wekend. Sandelin made it abundantly clear he wanted to see more out of his best players. He wasn't going to identify them, but outside of the first period, Dominic Toninato had a rough game against Bemidji, and Tony Cameranesi's line had its struggles.

Both lines were outstanding in both games against Minnesota. Toninato scored twice, including one of the better individual efforts you'll ever see to clinch Friday's win 32 seconds after Minnesota had cut a 2-0 lead in half. The UMD junior scored on this third shot. He simply followed the initial shot to the net and found himself in position for a rebound. Gophers goalie Eric Schierhorn fought that off, but Toninato's third shot found the net from a sharp angle to give UMD a 3-1 lead.

FS North analyst Ben Clymer said it was an example of why Toninato has a chance to play in the NHL, and he talked about the leadership you see from a player when he does something like that in a time of need. To me, it's a sign of something everyone involved with the team has talked about. Leadership doesn't just come from captains. In fact, as Austin Farley told me last week, guys who don't wear letters will step up -- both in the room and on the ice -- and show that leadership and make the team better by doing it.

Toninato's wicked wrister got UMD on the board first Saturday, a great shot into a tight spot over Schierhorn's shoulder that cranked the crowd up to another level. It wasn't as early as his opening minute goal last year at home against Minnesota, but it had the same effect on the crowd and the bench.

Karson Kuhlman was great Saturday, Jared Thomas was strong all weekend, and the Bulldogs saw the kind of effort that will take them places. I still want to see this team bear down more on its scoring chances, but no question the weekend was a huge positive and a giant step in the right direction.

Defensively, I have no complaints. Andy Welinski is off to a great start. Neal Pionk was better Friday than he was Saturday, but I expected him to struggle a little going from big ice to small. You can still see his poise, even when he might not be playing his best. Carson Soucy came off suspension Saturday and was superb. I thought Willie Corrin had a nice weekend, and Nick McCormack played well in Soucy's spot Friday. The blue line is deep and talented, and I'm excited to watch the group develop.

So UMD's best players were their best players. And the penalty kill was great all weekend. Going eight for eight against the high-end skill the Gophers possess is a superb start to the season. The kill has allowed 26 shots in three games and 12 power plays, but not many of them have been of the "Grade-A" variety. When they have been great chances, Kaskisuo has shut the door (like on Hudson Fasching and Justin Kloos in the second period Saturday, preserving the 3-0 lead).

Penalty killing, goaltending, and top-flight players stepping up. Sounds like a formula for long-term success.


Now, the challenge may be to avoid a letdown. Notre Dame will host UMD Friday and Saturday at the beautiful Compton Family Ice Arena. The Fighting Irish are off a .500 season, but loaded with more experience this year. I'll talk to coach Jeff Jackson later this week, but I have to think he was about ready to throw a party when Mario Lucia decided to come back for his senior year.

Notre Dame is experienced, but did have to replace leading scorers Vince Hinostroza (left early for pro hockey) and Robbie Russo (graduated). Lucia and captain Steven Fogarty -- both Minnesota kids (eight Minnesota kids on the roster, including four from Edina) -- had four points each in a split against Penn State over the weekend.

Lucia is especially talented and dangerous, but Fogarty is an underrated player who will have a big season. Should be a very good test for the Bulldogs, who aren't lacking in experience or depth.

After freshmen Billy Exell and Parker Mackay made their debuts against Minnesota, forward Blake Young is the only skater who hasn't gotten in a game yet. I'd expect that to happen this weekend, and I'd also be surprised if senior goalie Matt McNeely didn't get a game in before conference play starts in Omaha Nov. 6.

Saturday, October 17, 2015

Game 3: Minnesota at UMD

After Friday's impressive UMD win at Mariucci Arena, the Minnesota Gophers are trying something new.

A lot of something new.

Don Lucia appears to have thrown his forward lines in a blender. Lots of changes for a team that has scored one goal in 120 minutes and was outshot in both of its games so far. Friday's 35-25 margin in favor of UMD is even a little deceptive, as the Bulldogs actually had a 35-17 gap at one point before the Gophers got some late pressure, but couldn't crack sophomore goalie Kasimir Kaskisuo.

Not much changes for UMD, but Scott Sandelin does work Parker Mackay into the lineup for his first game in these colors, while Carson Soucy (suspended Friday) and Brenden Kotyk draw back in on the blue line.



Johnson - Toninato - Iafallo
Farley - Cameranesi - Kuhlman
Osterberg - Thomas - Young (Austyn)
Sampair - Decowski - Mackay

Pionk - Welinski
Soucy - Raskob
Corrin - Kotyk

Kaskisuo - McNeely - Deery

Reilly - Kloos - Sheehy
Cammarata - Novak - Fasching
Gates, Jr. - Lettieri - Bristedt
Michaelson - Romanko - Ramsey

Seeler - Collins
Bischoff - Glover
Johnson - Brodzinski

Schierhorn - Lehr - Kautz

(I'd almost be willing to bet money Schierhorn starts, but the line chart contains the usual warning. I'll make it official on Twitter as always.)

Saturday Hockey Notes and Thoughts: Bulldogs Make it Five Straight Against Rivals

In the annals of UMD hockey history, it hasn't always been a given for the Bulldogs to compete with in-state rival Minnesota.

Now, expectations have changed.

UMD tied a school record with its fifth straight win over the Gophers Friday at Mariucci Arena, winning 3-1 and never trailing in the game. It marks three straight games at Mariucci Arena where UMD has won and never trailed. And the five straight wins over Minnesota ties a program record set with a streak that started in February 2013 and continued through four meetings in the 2003-2004 regular season.

To add some perspective, Scott Sandelin's teams are now 22-23-6 against Minnesota in his 15-plus seasons at UMD, a .490 win percentage. That might not signal domination, but it does signal serious improvement. Prior to his arrival, UMD was 56-111-11 against the Gophers, a win percentage of .346.

Rome wasn't built in a day, right?

So not only can UMD establish a new program high with a sixth straight win over Minnesota when it hosts the rematch Saturday at Amsoil Arena, but a win means the Bulldogs are .500 in 52 meetings against Minnesota with Sandelin as head coach.

As assistant coach Brett Larson said this week, the Bulldogs have found a formula for beating the Gophers. It worked again Friday.

Even when the game was 0-0, Minnesota was more focused most of the time on playing tough in its own zone. Outside of a flurry during and after the Gophers' only power play of the game, Minnesota had a whale of a time establishing itself in the offensive zone. The Bulldogs, being outshot 7-4 at one point late in the first period, went on to outshoot Minnesota 31-10 over about a 40-minute span that lasted deep into the third period.

Jared Thomas wired a wicked wrist shot off the crossbar and in to give UMD a 1-0 lead in the second. It was the Bulldogs' first power play goal of the season, and it was quickly followed by a second, as Austin Farley converted a Neal Pionk rebound three minutes later for a 2-0 advantage.

The most impressive UMD sequence, however, came after Brent Gates, Jr., scored for Minnesota at 5:40 of the third period. With the Minnesota fans buzzing for the first time in quite a while, and the public address just finishing announcing Gates' goal, Dominic Toninato drove the slot and -- on his third shot -- scored from a nearly impossible angle to get UMD's two-goal lead restored.

(By the way, that Minnesota goal broke a run of 116:44 without a goal against UMD at Mariucci Arena, dating back to November of 2013.)

The Gophers threatened in the closing minutes with freshman goalie Eric Schierhorn pulled, but never were able to tally, and UMD got its first win of the young season.


On a team with 21 returning players, it isn't always easy to stand out as a freshman. Playing time will be scarce most of the season for freshman forwards Parker Mackay and Billy Exell, it's been made clear from the start that Adam Johnson would play a lot, as would Pionk.

To crystalize that, both are on power play units, and both got their first UMD points on Friday night. Johnson assisted on Thomas' goal, and Pionk on Farley's.

It's a just reward for two guys who were, frankly, awesome Friday. Johnson used his speed to create scoring chances that weren't obvious to the naked eye when the play started. Multiple times, we saw Johnson get UMD into an odd-man rush by simply using his speed through the neutral zone.

(Adam Johnson skating full speed and forwards > anyone skating backwards.)

Pionk's poise is clear. It's not just confidence because he's playing with senior captain Andy Welinski. It's maturity beyond his years, and it's really impressive to see. He earned some power play time in the second period, and he made the most of it. Pionk and Dan Molenaar both worked the point on the second unit -- Carson Soucy's spot -- with Soucy suspended for the game. Nick McCormack took Soucy's spot alongside Willie Raskob, and I thought both he and Willie Corrin had some strong points to their games defensively.

Outside of the push I mentioned Minnesota having when its power play ended in the first period, the Gophers simply didn't sustain much offensively until they pulled Schierhorn in the final minutes. This was despite Minnesota winning 37 of 62 faceoffs. It was similar to last year, where teams won faceoffs against UMD, and the Bulldogs had the puck within ten seconds because they were doing the right things and not chasing it around the rink.


UMD announced Saturday morning it will host the 2017 IceBreaker tournament at Amsoil Arena. The traditional season-opening event will include Minnesota, Michigan Tech, and Union, and be played Oct. 6-7, 2017.

From a scheduling standpoint, it's significant because Minnesota was not scheduled to visit Duluth in the 2017-18 season until this opportunity presented itself. It will be a great event, and UMD is already beginning its promotional push.

The IceBreaker will be part of 2017-18 season ticket packages, and more information will be available at a later date.


In other NCHC action Friday, Miami got a late Jack Roslovic goal to win 3-2 at Ohio State. Omaha got two goals apiece from Fredrik Olofsson and Austin Ortega to win 4-3 at Vermont. UMass-Lowell scored late to fend off Colorado College, 3-2.

Bemidji State got two third-period goals to tie North Dakota 4-4. More significantly, UND starting goalie Cam Johnson was injured, leaving UND down to third goalie Matt Hrynkiw, who allowed two goals on 12 shots. More on Johnson's injury should be available before Saturday's rematch in Grand Forks.

Also, Denver beat Michigan State 4-2, and St. Cloud State beat struggling Minnesota State 4-0 in St. Cloud.

Friday, October 16, 2015

Game 2: UMD at Minnesota

MINNEAPOLIS -- Greetings from high atop Mariucci Arena, where UMD will soon begin its quest for a fifth straight win against Minnesota, its main men's hockey rival for over half a century. To put that number (5) in perspective, if UMD wins this game, it will have just its second five-game winning streak against Minnesota ever.

As it stands, this is UMD's third-ever four-game winning streak against Minnesota. The others were between 1972 and 1973 under Terry Shercliffe, and from 2003-2004 under Scott Sandelin. Guess you don't go 77-134-17 against someone by dominating stretches of the rivalry.

But things have turned around as of late. UMD is 5-3-2 in the last ten against Minnesota, which is more than respectable (it's not like the Gophers have been playing garbage hockey lately). Sandelin is 21-23-6 lifetime against Minnesota.



Johnson - Toninato - Iafallo
Farley - Cameranesi - Kuhlman
Osterberg - Thomas - Young (Austyn)
Sampair - Decowski - Exell

Pionk - Welinski
McCormack - Raskob
Corrin - Molenaar

Kaskisuo - McNeely - Deery

Gates, Jr. - Kloos - Fasching
Bristedt - Novak - Reilly
Cammarata - Sheehy - Lettieri
Michaelson - Romanko - Ramsey

Seeler - Collins
Bischoff - Glover
Johnson - Brodzinski

Schierhorn - Lehr - Kautz

(We believe Schierhorn starts, but the line chart does not always indicate the starter here. Follow me on Twitter @bruceciskie for the latest.)

Thursday, October 15, 2015

Rivalry Renews as Gophers and Bulldogs Meet Again

Unlike some players or coaches UMD may add over the course of time, there's no need to indoctrinate Brett Larson into the rivalry with Minnesota. A Duluth native and former UMD defenseman before joining the coaching staff for his first stint in 2008, Larson knows all about it.

"There's always that mentality that you feel like you have something to prove," Larson said this week. He relayed a story from his childhood, hearing a Minnesota assistant coach do a TV interview where he talked about how big the games were "for the kids from Duluth."

"One of the assistants from the Gophers goes on and says 'Ah, it's such a big weekend for the kids from Duluth. They all wanted to be Gophers but couldn't, so now they're trying to prove themselves.'

"There's nobody more fun to play against, and there's nobody more fun to beat."

It's a mantra echoed by Larson's one-time-boss-and-now-boss-again, head coach Scott Sandelin.

"To me, they're always a fun team to play, and they're always a fun team to beat, if you can. I think our guys feel the same way."

It's Gopher week. No one cares about last week (both teams lost their season openers to teams that were at least perceived to be underdogs heading in). Now, it's go time.

If last week's 3-2 loss to Bemidji State is largely going to be forgotten by Friday, last year's 4-1 record against the Gophers is a distant and possibly repressed memory.

"I don't know if last year matters," Sandelin said. "We're different teams and it's a different year."

Veteran Minnesota coach Don Lucia -- five wins away from 400 on the Gophers bench -- agrees with Sandelin. He pointed out this week that his team has ten new faces who know nothing of last year outside of what they've read and heard.

"I'm not into revenge," Lucia said. "Last year, they had a good team and they played very well against us. They deserved to win those games. They knocked us out last year. So be it."

If anything was going to stick in Lucia's craw about last year's meetings with UMD, it would have to be the last one. His team was practically lifeless -- especially during the second period -- and UMD cruised to a 4-1 win in the Northeast Regional. Lucia called his team "emotionally flat at times" after that game, something you hate to hear a coach say after an NCAA Tournament game. And in Lucia's case, he wasn't bus-chucking or excuse-manufacturing. He was accurate. His team didn't apply serious pressure on UMD until it was too late to matter.

Lucia is human. His players are human. Those back from last year, including talented captain Justin Kloos and future NHL power forward Hudson Fasching, are human. They might say they don't care about last year, but don't be surprised if this Gophers team has a little bit extra in the tank for Friday night at home against basically the only team they couldn't figure out a year ago.

As for lessons from last week, Larson talked glowingly about his penalty kill in Bemidji, which only allowed one power play goal in a relatively high 12 minutes of BSU man advantage time. Keep in mind all 12 minutes came after one of UMD's best killers, defenseman Carson Soucy, was ejected. Soucy won't play Friday thanks to an NCHC suspension, meaning Nick McCormack likely draws in for his season debut against Minnesota.

"I was pleased with our start Saturday for sure," Sandelin said.

"I thought we made some bad decisions and didn't have the right coverage (later in the game). It led to some outnumbered rushes that we need to eliminate."

The Gophers are younger, especially up front, where Kloos centers the top line, and Lucia deploys three freshmen -- Tommy Novak, Tyler Sheehy, and former Minnesota Wilderness standout Darian Romanko -- as the other pivots. UMD has a definite advantage in experience, especially at center, but it'll take solid execution from the start to exploit that.

Freshman Eric Schierhorn started in goal against Vermont on Saturday. As of Lucia's Wednesday press conference, he said he hadn't decided on a goalie plan for the weekend, but it stands to reason Schierhorn will go at least Friday. Lucia has typically been a fan of having a clear-cut No. 1 goalie. We'll see if Schierhorn -- an Alaskan by way of Shattuck-St. Mary's -- can be that guy for the Gophers. He played well against the Catamounts in a 3-0 defeat.

It's been a storied rivalry largely dominated by the Gophers over its 228 previous games. However, UMD is 5-3-2 over the last ten meetings, and UMD is 5-2-1 against the Gophers since the conference shift happened before the 2013-14 season. To keep that run of success going, the Bulldogs need to call on past lessons learned against this team.

The experience is obvious. Honorary Minnesotan Austin Farley has torn up the Gophers for seven goals and ten points in ten lifetime games. Actual Minnesotans Tony Cameranesi and Dominic Toninato have seven goals (five by Toninato) and 17 points (nine by Cameranesi) combined in 18 games. And goalies Kasimir Kaskisuo (four starts) and Matt McNeely (five) have combined to allow a scant 16 goals to Minnesota in over 500 minutes of work, for a 1.88 goals against average and a .935 save percentage.

As Larson pointed out, they found a pretty good formula last year. Maybe it's as simple as remembering what worked and making Minnesota show it can do something about it.


Exceptionally sad news came Tuesday night/Wednesday morning for the UMD men's hockey family. Suzie LeGarde Menz, the wife of former UMD men's hockey equipment manager Rick Menz, died in an incident at Twin Ponds in Duluth. Menz was struck by a car that eventually ended up in the water. The driver fled and was later arrested. He is facing criminal vehicular homicide charges, among others, and he has quite a rap sheet, as detailed in the story linked above.

Rick Menz worked for UMD from 1979-2008, a run of dedication toward one of the more thankless jobs in college hockey. The gig of equipment manager is one that includes extremely long hours, along with travel wherever the team goes. Rick retired after the 2007-08 season, but he never really left. As Larson noted this week, he remained involved.

"He's always been around, and he's always been a part of it. Rick's always involved, always around the guys. He's a guy (alumni) want to touch base with when they're around. I know the guys are just praying for his family."

There are no words of conciliation. We offer thoughts and prayers to Rick and his entire family, and to all who knew Suzie. You can read her obituary here, and there's a link there to leave a memory or best wishes to the family.

Monday, October 12, 2015

Monday Musings: Late Goal Sinks UMD in Opener

Imagine this: Your teenage child returns home from school one day, and informs you s/he failed a test. You get mad and start asking questions, and the kid tells you everyone else in class either struggled or flat-out-failed, too.

Doesn't make you feel better, does it?

While it's crazy that the Nos. 1, 2, 3, 5, 6, and 9 teams in the preseason USCHO top ten all lost at least one game over the weekend (No. 8 didn't play), it doesn't help UMD much. In fact, it's an empty fact.

What has been probably UMD's most consistent bugaboo since the start of last season -- the penalty bug -- bit again Saturday. This time, it helped conspire to turn a game around the Bulldogs were dominating everywhere but the scoreboard, and the homestanding Bemidji State Beavers took full advantage, scoring with 22.7 seconds left to win 3-2.

By no means is this loss on defenseman Carson Soucy, justifiably ejected for a contact to the head penalty late in the first period, or is it on forward Kyle Osterberg, who got a major for charging in the second period.

Soucy's penalty came at a time where UMD was leading 12-2 in shots, had by far the better scoring chances, and almost had exclusive ownership of the puck. The top line of Dominic Toninato, Alex Iafallo, and Adam Johnson created chance after chance. Toninato finished with six shots, many of them in that opening period, but the Bulldogs couldn't beat star Bemidji State goalie Michael Bitzer early.

The Beavers put up nine shots on goal during the Soucy major, which came after he hit BSU forward Leo Fitzgerald as he flew through the neutral zone chasing the puck. There was little doubt in my mind it would draw a major and an ejection. Beyond the fact it got Soucy -- a player who is in my opinion the most NHL-ready on the UMD roster -- ejected in the first period, it also gave Bemidji State a chance to seize the momentum in a game it had nothing going in.

From that point on, UMD was outshot 31-18 and never looked the same team. From the Soucy major on, the Bulldogs were outshot at even strength 17-9.


The reasons were multiple. Surely, the Soucy major changed momentum a bit and gave BSU some life that it hadn't previously shown. However, the Beavers also were able to take advantage of a UMD blue line fatigued a bit by the ejection. Down to five defensemen, everyone's ice time increased, and Bemidji's forwards looked fresher than UMD's defense did down the stretch.

(This isn't all on Soucy, because there were 17 other skaters playing in the game, and none of them did enough in the second half of the game to reseize the momentum and get things going back in UMD's favor for more than a shift or two at a time.)

That kind of a thing will be less of a factor later in the season.

It's why it's so important to avoid those types of penalties. UMD was in bad enough position having to kill off two five-minute power plays in the game. The fact it lost Soucy on one of those calls made it even more difficult. He's an all-situation player.

It's somewhat fair to bring up discipline. It was a talking point for Scott Sandelin during the week, as well as before the game Saturday. It was an issue last season, unquestionably. It's been a problem in the past. Even with 22 minutes in penalties after Saturday's loss, it's way too early to cast judgments on this year's team. We just don't know if it's going to be an issue going forward.

But we know it can't be.

A season with this much promise can't -- and I mean it can't -- be sabotaged from within. It's up to the leaders and coaches to figure out a way to address the issue without taking away the aggressiveness that has made UMD such an effective team.

There's a line. Soucy definitely crossed it, and Osterberg probably did.

(After viewing both replays, I'd say it's hard to yell about either call. I absolutely agreed with Soucy, and I'll admit to privately wondering if the NCHC would try to send a preventive message by giving him a one-game suspension early in the season. I don't have anyone I know saying it will and I don't believe that will happen, it's just a thought in my head. I think it'd be a stronger possibility if the hit happened in the third period. And, yes, those things have been considered by leagues before, to the point that the new targeting rule in college football calls for players ejected in the second half of a game to sit the first half of the next one. In this case, I think time served of 42-plus minutes is enough. As for Osterberg, an argument exists that his hit wasn't enough to be a major, but the flip side is that -- again without looking at a replay -- it looked obvious he left his feet to deliver the hit, and that's a huge red flag for the men in striped shirts.)

(Remember to follow @umdhockeygifs on Twitter, an account run by a UMD fan named Ben. Animations that you can pause and rewind were posted of both hits. Also, when you watch those GIFs, remember that every time you watch the replay is one more opportunity than the officials got to watch it before issuing a penalty. Someday, I'll write another blog about the need to have replay review available for major penalties in all games, but that will be a different day where I actually have a beef with a call. That threshold is high because many of the ejections happen after bang-bang plays, but I'm sure it'll happen at some point.)


Yes, this was a tough week for ranked teams. No. 1 Boston College lost to RPI. No. 3 Boston University lost to Union. No. 5 Denver lost to Air Force. No. 6 Minnesota State was swept at home by Omaha. No. 11 Miami lost and tied against Providence.

It was such a bad weekend that the new No. 1 -- North Dakota -- got there by rallying from two goals down to beat mighty Lake Superior State.

Again, it's way too early for judgments. But if the first weekend of the season is any indication, we're in for another wild ride in 2015-16.

UMD fell to seventh in the USCHO poll, and I do not think UMD will stay there long. The Bulldogs have already seen what they're capable of. Now it's a matter of staying out of their own way enough to let it happen.


Minnesota is next, and like UMD, the Gophers are licking their wounds after an upset loss. Minnesota lost 3-0 to Vermont in the U.S. Hockey Hall of Fame Game at Mariucci Arena. The Gophers are young, nowhere near the experience level of last year's outfit. Captain Justin Kloos is the only center who isn't a freshman, and Don Lucia opted to start a freshman -- Eric Schierhorn -- in goal for Saturday's game.

Minnesota is dangerous, as usual, up front, and while the depth isn't quite there on defense, the presence of Omaha transfer Nick Seeler helps significantly. Jake Bischoff, Ryan Collins, and Jack Glover finish a pretty solid top four.

And if you don't think the Gophers have forgotten last year, when UMD won the last four out of five meetings, you're crazy. They might not admit it out loud, but they remember, and they'll be ready this weekend.

Hey, maybe we'll actually get both games in this weekend. #obligatoryelectricityjoke

Saturday, October 10, 2015

Game 1: UMD at Bemidji State

BEMIDJI, Minn. -- By now, you know that UMD's scheduled game against Bemidji State Friday was postponed. That makes what was supposed to be a Saturday return match in Bemidji both teams' season opener.

Beautiful day for a drive to a great facility in Bemidji. This building is wonderful and I'm glad to be back after a couple years without a trip here. Expecting a full house for this game. Broadcast time is 6:30, hope you enjoy.



Johnson - Toninato - Iafallo
Farley - Cameranesi - Kuhlman
Osterberg - Thomas - Young (Austyn)
Sampair - Decowski - Spurrell

Pionk - Welinski
Soucy - Raskob
Corrin - Kotyk

Kakisuo - McNeely - Deery

O'Connor - Bauman - Harms
Marinaccio - Ward - Parker
Dickman - Fitzgerald (Gerry) - Fitzgerald (Leo)
Gerbrandt - Arentz - Heller

Baudry - McCormack
Beauvais - Eichstadt
Pedan - Janco

Bitzer - Mimmack

Friday, October 09, 2015

Saturday Hockey Notes and Thoughts: Bulldogs, Beavers Stymied by Power Outage in Duluth

Greetings from where I lay my head: Home.

Usually, we talk about games in a weekly update that publishes Friday night or Saturday morning, subject to change based on my schedule during a particular weekend.

This one's easy. There was no game.

UMD and Bemidji State saw their scheduled season opener Friday night postponed, thanks to a power outage that affected the ice plant -- among other things -- at Amsoil Arena. The outage started around 2pm Friday, when a contractor "bored into an unmarked private underground cable," according to a tweet from Minnesota Power.

The game was said to be in peril around 4pm, when local media became aware of the outage. The announcement of the game's postponement came shortly after 5:30pm.

According to the Duluth News Tribune, the ice could have been in playing shape within 90 minutes of the restoration of power. However, with both teams traveling to Bemidji after the game, a decision was made that the game couldn't be played later than 8pm. Once it could not be guaranteed that power would be restored by 6:30, the game was called off.

In case you're wondering, a DECC employee tweeted to me that power was restored at 7:30. DECC do-everything dude Jeff Stark was asked on Twitter about the prospect of the ice having to be replaced, and he said as long as power was restored before around 11pm, it would probably be fine by Saturday.

(Kudos to Matt Wellens, who actually was at the rink for much of the ordeal. With logistical things to take care of at the radio ranch, it wasn't practical for me to be there when no game was going to be played. I took care of radio business that needed to be done once the game was called, then made my way back here, where we had fully functioning lights. And then we spent $100 at WalMart somehow when we only needed like four things.)

As for the game itself, UMD athletic director Josh Berlo said it would not be made up Sunday, as seemed logical. While I don't know for sure the reason, it's probably due to either travel logistics for Bemidji State or scheduling issues with the teams.

Looking at the teams' schedules, the only mutual off weekend is Dec. 18-19, the week before Christmas. Outside of that, the only option would be to play on a weekday.

This is purely speculative, but I have time to kill. Just keep in mind it's pure speculation.

One option that would seem to have potential is Feb. 9 or 10. UMD is going into a bye week and coming off a home series against Colorado College. Bemidji State is coming off a bye week and plays that weekend at Lake Superior State. The week of Halloween could work, too. UMD is home that weekend, while Bemidji is at Northern Michigan.

Without asking, I would assume UMD has no desire to play this game the week of a conference series. We'll see what can be mutually agreed upon, and will let you know as soon as we do.

So now the teams will play their season opener Saturday at Sanford Center in Bemidji at 7pm. Both teams traveled up Friday evening, so Saturday will be a normal game day.


In non-conference action involving the NCHC, the league had a mixed start. North Dakota opened the IceBreaker in Portland, Maine, with a come-from-behind 5-2 win over Lake Superior State. The Lakers shocked UND with two quick goals in the first for a 2-0 lead, but UND stormed back and took the lead for good in the second. UND plays Maine to finish up the event Saturday.

Western Michigan got a power play goal from Griffen Molino in the third period to beat Ferris State 3-2. The teams play in Big Rapids Saturday. Defending national champion Providence scored four straight goals between the second and third periods to blow open a 3-2 game, and the Friars beat Miami 7-3 in Oxford, scoring those seven goals on just 26 shots. Prized freshman Jack Roslovic tallied in his RedHawks debut.

Omaha got goals from Jake Randolph, Jake Guentzel, and Austin Ortega to lead 3-0 at Minnesota State, but the Black and Red Mavericks had to hold on to beat the Purple Mavericks 3-2. Kirk Thompson made 24 saves for the win.

Veterans Joey Benik, Blake Winiecki, and Judd Peterson scored for St. Cloud State in a 3-0 win over Alaska at the Kendall Hockey Classic in Anchorage. Charlie Lindgren only had to make 14 saves for the season-opening shutout. The Huskies play the host Seawolves tomorrow night. Arizona State is the other team in the tournament.

Quentin Shore's second goal of the game came with 6:46 left to get Denver even 4-4 at Air Force, but the Falcons got an overtime goal from Ben Kucera to upset DU 5-4. Danton Heinen and Emil Romig also scored for the Pioneers, who will host Air Force Saturday at Magness Arena. Trevor Moore had three assists Friday.

Also, UMass got a hat trick from Trevor Plevy to beat Colorado College 6-3. I expect CC to go through some serious growing pains, as Mike Haviland overhauled the roster over the offseason with a large recruiting class.

Thursday, October 08, 2015

Underrated Bemidji State Awaits Bulldogs

When Bemidji State sat in college hockey limbo after its old conference -- College Hockey America -- disbanded, the WCHA stepped up and helped out. Admission to the league could possibly have saved a longtime small-college hockey power. Bemidji State had already established itself in Division III and (now largely defunct) Division II before moving to the Division I ranks in 1999.

Tom Serratore then took over for legendary R.H. "Bob" Peters in 2001. It didn't take long for the Beavers to hit the 20-win mark for the first time in Division I (2003-2004 season). The 2009 team made the Frozen Four for the first time as a Division I program.

Since moving from CHA to the WCHA, BSU has had its struggles, but last year was a promising one for the Beavers. Bemidji State opened with a 5-1 win at (!) North Dakota, and later added convincing wins over UMD and Minnesota State to claim the North Star College Cup.

A later win over the Mavericks clinched home ice in the first round of the league playoffs, but Bemidji lost two straight to Ferris State to end its season. Still, an 10-6-2 record after Christmas (13-7-5 after Thanksgiving) showed the program was heading back in the right direction.

"We had really good success the second half of the year," Serratore said. "It's a tough pill to swallow (losing at home in the playoffs), but there's such a fine line between winning and losing. We lost our second game (to Ferris) in triple overtime.

"It was an interesting year. You take a look at our losses, we went through a stretch in November where we lost six straight. We could have gone 5-1, it was just amazing how well we played. It's hard to put a finger on things."

Serratore admits it will be tough to replace big-minute captain Matt Prapavessis, or defensive cohorts Sam Rendle and Sam Windle. He said he "isn't sure" how he will divide the minutes on the blue line this weekend, as the Beavers play in Duluth Friday, then host the Bulldogs at Sanford Center Saturday night.

The Beavers do have some skill up front. Senior Cory Ward leads the way, and is a prototypical Bemidji State 200-foot player. Brendan Harms is back, as is sophomore Kyle Bauman, who really came on late last season. And BSU has the Fitzgerald triplets, best known for the "Baby Geniuses" movie back in the day. Well, now they're pretty good at hockey. Gerry's probably the most explosive of the three, but all three can play an all-zone game and there's certainly a chemistry that exists when they're on the ice together.

In goal, Michael Bitzer is back. All he did as a freshman was post a .929 save percentage and wrestle the job away from Andrew Walsh, who graduated.


Other UMD blogs of note:

Great Expectations (season preview)
Monday Musings (wrap-up of Sunday exhibition win)


The second-half run wasn't enough to land the Beavers in the preseason national rankings, but surely it caught the attention of UMD coach Scott Sandelin. A couple times this week, Sandelin has talked about UMD teams of the past not having enough respect for Bemidji State. Going back to last season, however, Sandelin says this isn't the same BSU program. Before the loss in St. Paul last January, he praised Bemidji for bringing in more and more skill and being a different team -- though still difficult -- to play against.

He doubled down on that this week.

"I don't know that some of the games we've played them that we've respected them enough," Sandelin said. "And that's a bad omen, because if that happens you don't deserve to win.

"Tom's teams have always worked hard, have always been tenacious. Now they've developed through their recruiting more and more skill. I think they're playing a little bit different game with that skill, which is fun to play against. They still have the work ethic, they play well defensively, and they've always seemed to get good goalies."

Now, the challenge for the No. 2/3 Bulldogs is to ignore the preseason hype. Top three in the preseason national polls, consensus pick to win the NCHC, and all the preseason individual honors that have come in are nice. They aren't going to win UMD any games.

21 letterwinners are back for UMD this season. The fewest number of games played by a veteran? 12, by sophomore defenseman Nick McCormack. Blake Young played in 17 games last year. Both would have played more were it not for injuries. Every other returning player has at least 30 games under his belt in these colors. So it's not just about having a bunch of bodies back. They're experienced and battle-tested.

I asked Sandelin if this is the deepest forward group he's had at UMD. I preface this by saying I'm not a fan of doing the "This is just like the 2011 team" bit. No two journeys are the same, no two teams are the same. I don't think it matters that Welinski's path back to UMD can be compared to Mike Montgomery and/or Justin Fontaine before the 2010-11 season. I'm also not trying to compare Cal Decowski to guys like Brett Hammond or Jake Hendrickson.

Sandelin agrees, saying "I felt very comfortable last year with our depth up front. I'm really happy and excited about the other freshman forwards we have in place (Parker Mackay and Billy Exell). Those kids have done a good job and they're going to add some much-needed depth to our team.

"I think some guys understand their roles better, which will hopefully make them better players. I think (this is similar to) the 2005 year, where I thought we had good depth, but this is a little deeper. We've got really good balance and some very good players. I feel the same way in goal and on the back end."

And say what you want about conference realignment (in all honesty, there's been good and bad to it from my perspective), but this weekend is a good thing for college hockey in northern Minnesota. I'm not of the mind that these games mean nothing because points aren't on the line. Actually, I tend to think they might be worth more because of that.

Look at last season for evidence. Why did the NCHC get six teams in the NCAA Tournament? Because the eight teams combined to go 53-25-4 in non-conference play. Colorado College (4-5) was the only team under .500 out of league. North Dakota, Denver, Miami, UMD, Omaha, and St. Cloud State -- the six teams that went dancing -- combined to go 42-17-4. That strong non-conference record meant everyone gained huge points in strength of schedule just by playing league opponents.

Not only that, but people are excited. It's Homecoming at UMD, and we should have a good crowd Friday night. Saturday, Sanford Center will be rocking in Bemidji. Serratore notes that with the nice weather forecast, there's going to be tailgating and some fun happening outside the building, and it'll be packed inside once the game starts.

It's good for the fans, good for the players, and good for the game. Like it or not, Bemidji's fans just aren't going to get amped up for a weekend set against Lake Superior State like they will to play UMD. The fact UMD is so highly-ranked only adds to it.

Monday, October 05, 2015

Monday Musings: Bulldogs Explode in Second for Exhibition Win

Those in attendance Sunday night saw a UMD team that steadily improved as the game wore on, and ended up wearing down an overmatched Lakehead University group that was playing its third game in three days.

The 6-1 final was largely indicative of how the game was played, as UMD overwhelmed Lakehead from about the ten minute mark of the first period to its conclusion. The Thunderwolves used a first period power play goal to take the lead into intermission, but two significant Bulldog flurries late in the period really showed what was to come.

Power play goals by Tony Cameranesi and Nick McCormack -- Cameranesi scored on a five-on-three -- came 45 seconds apart and gave UMD the lead for good early in the second. Lakehead pulled effective starting goalie Jeff Bosch (24 saves on 26 shots) about halfway through the second, and UMD teed off on backup Justin McDonald, a former Midget teammate of UMD sophomore Blake Young. Austyn Young, Bill Exell, Alex Iafallo, and Blake Young scored goals 3:22 apart just after McDonald came into the game. That blew the game open, and UMD never looked back from there.

Shots ended up 50-11, with freshman goalie Nick Deery stopping four in the third after sophomore Kasimir Kaskisuo and senior Matt McNeely each stopped three in their respective 20 minutes of work.


I hate to be "that guy," but I learned very little from Sunday's game.

Worse yet, I'm not sure what I expected to learn.

Sometimes, there's a line to get a look at, or a newfangled defensive pairing. But even though the top line and top defensive pairing both feature freshmen, I had a pretty good idea what to expect from Adam Johnson and Neal Pionk. Wasn't disappointed by either of them.

This isn't a bad thing. It's a product of the team returning 21 letterwinners from a team that damn near made the Frozen Four.

The power play generated chances and moved the puck well. As frustrating as it can be when guys aren't shooting, reality is that possession is such an important part of a power play. Win the faceoff, establish possession in the offensive zone, and then it's all about generating opportunities by finding the spots on the ice where you can outnumber the opponent and execute your plan. Shooting for the sake of shooting isn't a good idea. It's a recipe for losing possession and chasing the puck down in your own zone.

The penalty kill got victimized by a goofy bounce for the Lakehead goal. Otherwise they were solid in limited work. Lakehead only got two shot attempts off during three power plays. I'm thinking the coaches will take that.

The freshmen all looked good. Johnson got extended playing time on the top line with Dominic Toninato and Iafallo, and Pionk played with Welinski, as expected. The "fifth line" came on in the second half of the game, eventually taking the spot of the top line on the bench, and Exell, Parker Mackay, and Blake Young had a good night, chipping in a couple goals. 


Had a few people at the rink and on Twitter ask why UMD decided against an experimental three-on-three. While I understand why some did it (Denver tried it after a 4-0 win over Calgary last night), ultimately UMD's call was to let the game dictate if there was overtime, and further if there would be a three-on-three period.

Why? What we were told is the decision was made because of the feeling that playing overtime -- even a fake, experimental overtime -- was not right after a regulation win of any kind. UMD has done experimental shootouts since that concept was introduced, but they came after convincing victories and made little sense in context.

Win a game 6-1, and now it's time of overtime? Nah, no need for that.


Bemidji is next. As I mentioned on the air, UMD owes the Beavers one. Last January at the North Star College Cup, Bemidji State put a pretty thorough 4-0 whipping on UMD. It was the low point of the season for the Bulldogs, one that spurred a bit of a turnaround starting the next afternoon against Minnesota in the consolation game.

That means nothing now, but it was a really impressive performance by the Beavers that afternoon, and I have to imagine UMD hasn't forgotten about it, especially with the aforementioned 21 players back from that team. Bemidji should be improved in the WCHA yet again, and this is a sneaky good matchup on the "Week 1" docket in college hockey. The atmosphere at both games -- especially Saturday's game in Bemidji -- should be very good. I expect the hockey will be, too.

By the way, this will be a regular Monday feature on the blog, recapping the weekend series and occasionally exploring other NCHC notes of interest. Hopefully you'll check back regularly.

Friday, October 02, 2015

Great Expectations

Senior-laden teams that have NCAA Tournament experience and plenty of motivation to take the next step don't always work out.

Captain Andy Welinski and the 2015-16 Bulldogs are determined to take that next step and see this program back to the NCAA Frozen Four. Last year's bitter ending -- a 3-2 regional final loss to Boston University where a controversial penalty on Welinski led to the game-winning power play goal late -- is last year.

UMD head coach Scott Sandelin, now in his 16th season, says "We've moved on."

By faceoff time against Bemidji State next week, it will have been nearly 200 days since Evan Rodrigues' power-play goal ended UMD's season in Manchester, N.H. That's a long time to stew on something, but this was pretty painful. No one would be mad at anyone in the UMD room that admitted they've thought a lot about the game since it ended.

But there is a new season to be ready for. And if the preseason polls are any indication, UMD isn't the only team looking to do what Providence did in April. Far from it.

Ten teams got first-place votes in the preseason poll. That's a preseason poll record. This season could be just as competitive -- if not more so -- than last season. The NCHC sent six teams to last year's NCAA Tournament. All but two were gone before the Frozen Four, and the survivors were beaten in the semifinals by two Hockey East teams. If you're betting against the NCHC putting six in the tourney again this year, you're either a fool or someone who simply hates money.

Oh, and why are you betting on amateur sports, you degenerate?

Anyway, UMD received the second-most first place votes (Boston College got more), and now the second-ranked Bulldogs head into a season full of expectations. Can they fulfill said expectations?

I picked UMD to win the NCHC, to sum it up, because I feel the Bulldogs have the fewest holes of any team in the league. That said, the Bulldogs lack the dynamic, explosive high-end skill Denver has up front and Miami has on the blue line, and UMD probably doesn't have the defensive depth or potentially-explosive freshmen forwards North Dakota possesses. It's far from a slam-dunk, as just about everything is this time of year.

Let's take a look at this UMD team, its depth, the freshmen, and answer some questions that came in on Twitter (@bruceciskie).

Previously on the Blog
UMD Projected Depth Chart (updated below)
UMD TV/Radio Primer
Preseason NCHC Predictions


At forward, UMD lost captain Adam Krause and do-everything Justin Crandall. Krause was the heart and soul of the team, while Crandall was second in goals with 13, including a team-high 11 in conference play. The leadership both provided is going to be difficult to replace (we'll discuss leadership as the blog moves on).

Who's back? Well, almost everyone. The top line of Tony Cameranesi, Austin Farley, and Karson Kuhlman is back intact. Dominic Toninato and Alex Iafallo will start a third year of being linemates at UMD, joined by potentially dynamic freshman Adam Johnson. Jared Thomas, Kyle Osterberg, and Austyn Young played well on the third line when given that duty last year. And assistant cap'n CAL DECOWSKI!!!1!! (it's an old bit, sorry) centers the fourth line as things get going Sunday with an exhibition against Lakehead. He'll start with Sammy Spurrell and Charlie Sampair with him. But no one can rest on their laurels.

On the lines, Sandelin says "I think that's the one nice thing. We have a lot of our lines intact. Look at Tony's line, you've got two-thirds of Dom's (line) back together. Jared Thomas and Kyle Osterberg played together a lot in the second half. If you really look at it, there's not a lot of changes. We've moved some guys around a little bit. You know it's a mature group. That familiarity is going to pay off."

Sophomore Blake Young is joined by freshmen Billy Exell and Parker Mackay as those waiting in the wings for a chance to crack the lineup. Young showed some potential as a big forward last year, and Mackay was captain in Spruce Grove last year and is a late find the coaches like a good amount.

Projected preferred lines
Farley - Cameranesi - Kuhlman
Iafallo - Toninato - Johnson
Osterberg - Thomas - Young (Austyn)
Sampair - Decowski - Spurrell
Young (Blake) - Mackay - Exell


A note on the freshmen: They're all older. Johnson played two years in the USHL, as did Pionk. Mackay was a three-year junior player in Canada who is 21 years old already (as is Johnson, while Pionk is 20).

If you are a hardcore fan who reads recruiting blogs and draft stuff, you haven't seen these names. That's because their draft eligibility is long gone. They're officially "under the radar" prospects. But they won't be under the radar for long.

I do think Mackay will struggle to crack the lineup consistently, at least in the first half of the season (barring injuries, of course, since that's always the great equalizer). It's not that he isn't ready or can't keep up in practice. It's that UMD has 11 forwards that can boast pretty significant playing experience, and Blake Young got quite a bit of ice time in the second half before he was grounded by a lower-body injury late in the year. It's a numbers game for the "fifth line," but it's a solid group that Sandelin and staff will make sure is ready to play when called upon.

I do think UMD benefits from having older freshmen to sprinkle into a pretty experienced lineup. I'm not saying there won't be growing pains. I'm saying the likes of Johnson and Pionk, who -- let's not mince words -- will play and play a lot from the outset, should be more prepared to take on the roles they're penciled in for than a younger player might be. The transition should be more seamless, and I do think it's fair to expect pretty consistent play out of both.

"I'm hoping they (Johnson and Pionk) can be big impact players," Sandelin said. "Adam had two great years in Sioux City, as did Neal. I think they're talented players. I think they're very driven, competitive. Neal's probably one of the most competitive kids we're going to have. Parker's been a captain, a leader, another good character, hard worker. Billy's got speed and skill, won a championship with the (Minnesota) Wilderness."

Sandelin said he expects an immediate impact from Johnson and Pionk, and noted Mackay is ready to step in if needed.

(The counter to this argument is Kuhlman, who came in last year having turned 19 just before the season started, and had a pretty good year from start to finish. His scoring dipped somewhat late, but he never looked out of place, and he earned a lot of trust from the way he played and how hard he worked. Jack Eichel is also a counter to this argument, but Jack Eichel isn't walking through that door.)


Pionk appears penciled in to a spot in UMD's top four on the blue line. I wouldn't be surprised to see him play with senior cap'n Welinski. You might have assumed Welinski would turn pro, but he chose to come back.


"It was tough for me to come up with reasons where I felt I really needed to leave," Welinski said. "One, I wasn't ready, and two, I didn't necessarily want to leave before I had to."

The former Duluth East blue-liner took a few weeks after the season ended before making his decision official. Before that, we already knew he would captain the team if he came back. And when I talked to Welinski in the days after the season came to a close, he didn't sound at all like a guy who was ready to bolt.

Sandelin was pretty pleased to see Welinski return.

"Anytime you get an elite player to stay for four years, it's huge," Sandelin said. "He's not just a great player, he's a great kid and he's going to be a great leader for us."

Welinski is joined in the returning group by Willie Raskob and Carson Soucy. Raskob fought off a couple trips to the press box in the first half of the year to become one of the team's more reliable rearguards in teh second half. By the end of the year, Raskob was playing the best hockey of his UMD career. Sandelin notes he's lost some weight and is in the best shape he's been in so far.

"We talked at the end of the year and told him if he played like that (in the second half), he wouldn't have been sitting out," Sandelin cracked. "That shows he learned, and I think that's the most important thing. I think he's looking to build off what he did at the end of the year and most of the second half."

Soucy, a draft pick of the Wild who got to meet with team management while they were in Duluth this week (no, he didn't sign), is in line for a huge year. I do expect that he will play with Welinski late in close games, and if you track minutes played, Soucy and Welinski will be the top two defensemen on the team, followed (in some order) by Raskob and Pionk.

Soucy is a steady, physical presence who's improved his puck-handling and skating appreciably since he arrived on campus. He was practically a beanpole when he got here, and he's filled out a bit to add strength to his frame.

Four guys who have playing experience fill out the defensive corps. Senior Willie Corrin, juniors Brenden Kotyk and Dan Molenaar, and sophomore Nick McCormack all saw ice time last year, with Corrin and Kotyk getting the most of the four. Corrin emerged as another offensive threat, while Kotyk -- an underrated skater, especially for a guy his size -- has a lot of potential.

Molenaar and McCormack both played in the playoff series against Denver, as the Bulldogs dealt with injuries and illness up front. The team was already shorthanded with Spurrell's season-ending back surgery and Brett Boehm's mid-season departure (he's playing, by the way, at the University of Saskatchewan now). When Iafallo went down with mono and Krause got suspended for the playoff opener, it forced both Molenaar and McCormack to play forward.

Projected preferred pairings
Pionk - Welinski
Soucy - Raskob
Corrin - Kotyk
McCormack - Molenaar


It might be too simple to say this is Kasimir Kaskisuo's net.

But I believe it to be Kasimir Kaskisuo's net.

That doesn't mean Matt McNeely won't play. It just means Kaskisuo has earned the right to hold the job until he loses it.

"He kept us in a lot of games," Welinski said. "It's game-changing saves left and right that really got us some wins. Without a few of those wins, who knows if we would have made the NCAA Tournament? He lets everybody from the crease out be able to play their game."

I firmly believe McNeely will play at least once -- if not two or three times -- in October. It all depends on a lot of variables, including how he performs in practice. But Kaskisuo slumped a bit in January last year, and UMD slumped along with him. I can't say for sure that the now-sophomore wore down from starting 20 straight games. Wouldn't be fair to assume that.

But there was no question he played much better after taking that day off, and getting another one off two weeks later against Northern Michigan. He was great down the stretch and was a big reason for UMD's success.

Nick Deery joins the program as the third goalie. He did turn down a Division I opportunity at Mercyhurst because of academics, so it's not a kid who can't play. But he's the emergency option for now.


I tossed out an invite on Twitter to submit questions, something I'll do quite a bit throughout the season. Here are a few.

Brent: "Does Farley have a chance to make a splash?"

Absolutely. I think there's room on this team for a couple 15-20 goal scorers, and Farley is as good a candidate as any. Remember, while his offensive numbers might have tailed a bit the last two years, he did finish second on the team in points during NCHC games (5-12-17).

I see this team being similar to last year, in that scoring comes from all lines and there isn't necessarily a "go-to" guy. That said, Farley is among the guys -- Toninato, Iafallo, Cameranesi, Osterberg -- who could break out under the right circumstances. Even if the whole is still greater than the sum of its parts, Farley could have big numbers this year.

Biddy: "What's the biggest hole to fill from last year? I say Krause's leadership."

Agreed, actually.

"It's a pretty close group," Sandelin said. "Here's a chance for Andy to be captain of a team that has a chance to do something. Our guys are going to work very hard toward that.

"We have four (captains). We have a big eight-man senior class. We chose to go with four guys. When those guys were picked by their teammates, we knew there were other guys in there, based on what they've done before on other teams. You've got some juniors and sophomores. Everyone plays a big part."

My thought: Leadership is grown organically. You can't force it, and you can't just assume it exists in a player just because he might be a senior. Also, some of the bigger leaders in UMD's history weren't guys that were designated as captains. Sometimes, it's the "other guys" stepping up and speaking up that makes all the difference on a team.

I believe Welinski -- a high-character kid who is very well-respected in the room -- will be a good leader. He isn't necessarily the same personality as Krause, but he doesn't have to be to be effective.

Adam (not Don): "Who will stand out among fresh faces? Will Kas leave early if he has another great year and teams need Gtenders?"

I think we've already answered the freshmen question pretty effectively.

As far as Kaskisuo goes, remember there is only one No. 1 goalie on a team. It's hard to break through at the position in professional hockey. I think UMD is as well-positioned in goal as it's been in many years, but Kaskisuo has to show some improvement. I thought he got away from his fundamentals at times last year, and I'm anxious to see what he's able to do after working with goalie coach Brant Nicklin for a full year.

But I always wonder about top college goalies. They're usually destined for the AHL or -- perhaps even more likely -- the ECHL after they leave school. You simply can't overdevelop a goalie.

Look at Jimmy Howard, for example. After three great years at Maine (an obscene .956 save percentage in 22 games in 2003-04), Howard turned pro.

He made his NHL debut with four games in the 2005-06 season, then didn't get back until the 2007-08 season. By the time Howard became entrenched as the Red Wings' goalie, he had played 186 regular season and 30 playoff games for AHL Grand Rapids.

Meanwhile, Jonathan Quick didn't play much in the minors, but he actually played 38 games in the ECHL after he left UMass in 2007.

More recently, Aaron Dell left North Dakota after the 2011-12 season. He actually played 44 games in the CHL before getting an ECHL opportunity. He has yet to play his 40th AHL game, but is considered a decent prospect with the San Jose Sharks organization.

My point? It isn't easy to break through in pro hockey as a goalie. For the vast majority of guys, it makes more sense to play three or four years of college before moving on. Unless Kaskisuo has a "Hobey Baker consideration" type of season (which I wouldn't complain about), I'd think he'll be a Bulldog again next year.


Lakehead is the opponent on Sunday, as UMD tunes up for next weekend's home-and-home against Bemidji State. The Thunderwolves are younger than usual this year, but do return fifth-year senior goalie Jeff Bosch, who had two very good games against UMD last year.

Bosch stopped 57 shots at Amsoil Arena in an October exhibition, then made 48 saves in UMD's overtime win Jan. 2 in Thunder Bay. In total, Bosch has played against the Bulldogs four times, making 151 saves on 164 shots for a sparkling .921 save percentage.

Lakehead is typically -- even as a young team -- older, because its players often have major junior experience. They don't appear as big as they've been in the past, but Bosch has always given UMD trouble, so if he plays the whole game, there's certainly a chance the Bulldogs will struggle, at least early in the game. UMD has the ability to dress extra players, over the normal allotment of 20, for exhibitions. Guessing Sandelin will give his freshmen all a chance to play. If the past is any indication, Kaskisuo and McNeely will split the game in goal.

It's a good chance to look at the special teams units against a live opponent. The power play was statistically improved last year over 2013-14, but was still a source of frustration at times. As for the penalty kill, it had its moments, and with the number of experienced players back, I expect improvement there, even though UMD lost valuable killers in Crandall and Krause to graduation. Kaskisuo certainly plays a role in that unit, too, but the experience UMD possesses up front should be a big boost to the kill, and special teams in general.

Official practice starts Saturday, then the game is Sunday, so it could take time to get people's feet wet.