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

No comments: