Thursday, November 19, 2015

Bulldogs Still Seek Breakthrough Performance

COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. -- For UMD, Saturday was a huge load off a lot of shoulders.

A scoring drought of 106:34 was snapped in the third period, as senior Tony Cameranesi took what he called "an absolutely perfect pass" from freshman Adam Johnson and had a tap-in to tie the game against Denver. The goal came after three glorious UMD chances -- an Andy Welinski short-handed breakaway where Welinski beat the goalie clean but rang a wicked wrist shot off the goalpost, a Charlie Sampair pass to Austyn Young on a two-on-one where Young was robbed blind by DU goalie Tanner Jaillet, and a Johnson partial breakaway where the puck wobbled and his backhand shot went wide -- went awry.

"I give our guys a lot of credit," coach Scott Sandelin said this week. "We've gone through this a couple times. Teams go through it. There's not a lot you can really say as a coach. Keep doing the things you're doing, if you're doing good things. We were generating opportunities."

UMD outshot Denver 46-20 through the five-on-five overtime Saturday. To put that in perspective, you have to go back more than a year to find the last time Denver allowed that many shots in a game. The Pioneers gave up 48 on Oct. 25, 2014 ... to UMD. To find the last time Denver was outshot by 20 or more in a game, you have to go all the way back to Dec. 6, 2013, in a 3-1 win at Miami (34-12 shots in favor of the RedHawks). That's a stretch of 76 games for DU without being that badly outshot.

I know, you're sick of hearing about shots on goal. You want results. However, I'll go back to that quote you see above from Sandelin.

"Keep doing the things you're doing, if you're doing good things."

In other words, stick with it. It isn't always easy when things are perceived to not be going your way. And things surely weren't going UMD's way on Saturday. For the second time in four goals on the weekend, Denver scored when a puck went in off a UMD defender. Friday, it was Jarid Lukosevicius trying to pass across the slot and having the puck go in off Andy Welinski's skate. Saturday, a left point shot by Adam Plant bounced in off the shoulder of Carson Soucy.

But UMD kept at it, outshooting DU 19-5 in the first period and eventually cracking Jaillet, who made 45 saves on the night and watched in horror (maybe not literally) as Evan Cowley, who shut the Bulldogs out on 27 saves Friday, earned NCHC Goaltender of the Week honors.

(Sorry, NCHC, you got the wrong guy. With all due respect to Cowley, who's a solid goalie, Jaillet's 45 saves on 46 shots was much, much more impressive than his 27 saves on 27 shots. Not even close, in my view.)

Total shot attempts were 82-34 in UMD's favor, much more similar to the Omaha series than it was to the Friday game against DU. The Bulldogs went from not being very good to being very good and plain unlucky.

And when Cameranesi put that last puck by Jaillet in the three-on-three, you could tell by the way UMD celebrated that it meant a little more to them than the one standings point would indicate. It was the positive jolt UMD needed and it couldn't have come at a better time.

"Hopefully a game like that where the result is what we got, gives our guys some life," Sandelin said. "Because the other way, right now going into Colorado, I'd be very worried with our mindset. If you look at the last four games, three of the four you play well enough to win, it's a hard thing to manage."

"I thought we played well," Cameranesi said. "I just think after the first one went in, you could see a little weight come off guys' shoulders. You could tell by the way we reacted on that goal, it was a lot of hard work to get that extra point. If we keep playing like that, we'll be fine."


Never one to make excuses, Sandelin said this on the UMD Coaches Show Wednesday on 92.1 The Fan:

"You can't control the bounces. We haven't had a lot of puck luck either way, offensively or defensively, I'll be honest. It's not an excuse, but you need a little bit of that, too."

Look at the numbers. Look at the shooting percentages. Sandelin is on to something. This isn't just a case of guys who can't score. UMD has hit pipes and found ways to hit goalies at an alarming rate in the early going.

We discussed it heading into the Denver series. Trust me, one goal on 73 shots isn't going to help the percentages.

But at some point, one has to wonder if the overall confidence of the team becomes more fragile if there isn't a breakout game to be found.

Sandelin was talking last week about the offensive struggles and correctly noted that this isn't a team that's built to win games 8-2 all the time. He said that before St. Cloud State put that 11-1 whooping on Western Michigan on Saturday. Reality is that UMD will win most of its games in 3-1, 3-2, 4-2 variety. That's just the way the team's constructed, combined with how the sport works right now. The days of teams winning games 8-4 are generally over.

(This is a bit of a subtweet, or subblog if you will, towards those who like to remind us how many points Bill Watson accumulated in a single season. Those days are gone, though not forgotten. The game has evolved, not all of it good, and scoring is what it is, unless the rules committee does something like make nets bigger, which would be rather silly if the NHL isn't following suit.)

But to win games 3-1, you have to score three goals. UMD hasn't done that in its five-game winless streak. There are more things the Bulldogs can do, even more than they did on Saturday. There's more work that can be done in front of the net, taking the goalie's eyes away and increasing the chance said goalie will give up rebound chances. There are times UMD is too tight in the crease area, decreasing its chances of pouncing on rebounds. In fact, I'd argue the forwards have either been too tight or too loose in front of opposing goaltenders as of late. Too loose means you have games like Cowley's on Friday, where he was entirely too calm and relaxed. Too tight means you miss on the chance to get pucks back to the net after the goalie kicks them out.

It's up to the Bulldogs to figure out the happy medium, because it does exist. Cameranesi showed what happens on Saturday when you get where you need to go at the netfront.


Colorado College awaits UMD this weekend. After an 0-10 start that featured games against Boston College, UMass-Lowell, North Dakota, and Denver, the Tigers took last week off. Second-year coach Mike Haviland has a very young team, with 14 freshmen -- including former Cloquet/Esko/Carlton star Westin Michaud, who is out for the season after tearing an ACL in October -- and only four seniors.

The Tigers are 0-10 and have been outscored 38-15. On average, they've been outshot in games 36-27. You think UMD's been unlucky? Well, CC's got them beat.

Opposing goalies have a generally unsustainable .941 save percentage against UMD through 11 games. Through ten games, opposing goalies have a .944 save percentage against Colorado College.

"They've played some very, very good teams," Sandelin said. "They've been in a lot of those games. They're hoping for something good to happen. They've got some good players. They're a young team. When you look at Rothstein, Bradley (there are two of them now), they've got guys who can make a difference."

UMD has to attack the Tigers' goaltending. Junior Tyler Marble and freshman Jacob Nehama have basically split the games so far (Nehama has played 317 minutes, Marble 274), and neither has been consistently good. Marble has a .901, and Nehama is at .897. UMD's Kasimir Kaskisuo, by comparison, has played all but 22 minutes this season and has a .910 save percentage.

The Bulldogs are due some luck. Maybe this is the weekend. But as much as I abhor the phrase "You make your own luck," there is a shred of truth to it.

You can't make luck. You can't manufacture luck. But you can be in better positions for something to bounce your way. I do believe that when it comes to the netfront, UMD can do more than it's been doing. And it can do smarter things that will help create the necessary traffic to score goals. I also think UMD can shoot smarter from distance, putting pucks at an elevation and in places where they can be tipped and/or create better rebound opportunities.

CC has some talent in the back, led by Teemu Kivihalme, the son of former UWS forward Janne Hassi. Cole McCaskill is a promising freshman, and Andrew Farny can play, too. But Kivihalme is only a sophomore, and Haviland has five freshman defensemen who have played at least five games so far. UMD's speed is tough to prepare for, because the Bulldogs tend to be faster on the ice than they are on video. They need to attack CC's defense and get them on their heels. The ability to do that and get to the net and create havoc will be a huge key for both games this weekend.


Got a great question Wednesday via email, and decided I'd answer it here.

Scott emailed and asked "Can you tell me a little bit what has happened to CC? I understand they were never a power, but what has happened to get to this?"

Well, they have been a power. They won a couple national titles many years ago, then were an NCAA Tournament regular through around 2008ish and a Frozen Four team in 2005.

That said, the program has been in a nose-dive for a little while now. Some of it starts with goaltending. The Tigers simply haven't gotten consistent goaltending for quite a while now, and that's the lifeblood of any program now. If you don't have goaltending, you don't have any real chance to win over the long haul. CC's simply had some guys not pan out there, going back to when they had Joe Howe (good in spurts) and Josh Thorimbert (same) a few years back.

Colorado College's last elite goaltender was Richard Bachman, who backstopped the Tigers to the NCAA Tournament in 2008 as a freshman. He won 25 games and posted a .931 save percentage on the season. But playing on home ice in the NCAA regional, Colorado College lost a first-round game to Michigan State despite outshooting the Spartans 42-23.

Bachman's save percentage fell from .931 as a freshman to .914 in 2008-2009. That year, CC was swept in the first round of the WCHA playoffs by Alex Stalock and UMD. The Bulldogs went on to win the Final Five and make the NCAAs, while CC hasn't been the same since.

The Tigers made the NCAAs in 2011 despite 18 losses, but were basically a .500 team in Scott Owens' last five years on board. Seeing the writing on the wall with a couple middling recruiting classes and the program fading into irrelevancy in the fledgling NCHC, the school made a coaching change. Haviland, as Sandelin noted on the coaches' show, is trying to rebuild the program. But that won't happen right away. It'll take time, and there's no better evidence of that than the 14-man recruiting class Haviland has brought in this year.

In Owens' defense re: recruiting, he did bring in two gems on the blue line in Jaccob Slavin and Gustav Olofsson. Unfortunately, the two players combined to play three years in college. Olofsson turned pro after the 2013-14 season, his freshman year, signing with the Minnesota Wild. Slavin left after two years and signed with Carolina (as of this writing, he's expected to make his NHL debut Thursday night for the Hurricanes, playing possibly with former UMD star Justin Faulk).

But that's what high-end players do. They leave early (at least most of the time). Other players haven't panned out, and CC's depth is really lacking as a result. Haviland brought in some promising youngsters, including Trey Bradley and Trevor Gooch up front and McCaskill, Farny, and Jake Emilio on defense. It's not going to get fixed overnight, but I do sense from watching the Tigers' games two weeks ago against Denver back that this team is similar to UMD, in that they could break out if they get a bounce at some point.

Also got another question via Twitter this week:

Adam: "dropping quickly in polls and low in pairwise. Should I be worried about frozen four hopes?"

Not now, no way.

Providence started 4-5-1 last year, including losses to non-NCAA teams Ohio State and Vermont. The Friars did OK.

Union slipped out of the gates in 2013-14 and even got swept at home by Lake Superior State. The Dutchmen did OK.

Yale lost five in a row at one point in 2012-13, scoring six goals in the losing streak. I'd argue the Bulldogs ended up OK.

Extreme examples, sure, but every team has adversity, and every team struggles at one point or another. I'd argue UMD needs to find its game quickly, but we're nowhere near panic time. That said, if you booked a flight to Tampa already for next April, you're a huge gambler. Even if this team ends up being great, there are just no guarantees in the NCAA Tournament.

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