Friday, October 30, 2015

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.

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