Monday, November 02, 2015

Monday Musings: Second Period Dooms UMD in Split

I sensed quite a bit of consternation on Twitter after UMD's 6-3 loss to UMass-Lowell on Saturday night. Disappointment is one thing, but fans seemed pretty ticked that the Bulldogs dropped the second game of the series.

Surely, the three-goal second period Lowell hung on the hosts left a sour taste, but I was intrigued by some of the responses I saw. Maybe people are just listening to me when I talk about the importance of non-conference games toward the PairWise.

Saw one fan call it the "worst effort I've seen in years." Now, I'm not saying the second period was pretty. It wasn't. But we've seen UMD lose games 8-2 and 5-0 to unranked teams at Amsoil Arena. I can't imagine Saturday's defeat to a team that will be legit top five for at least a chunk of this season would qualify as similarly putrid.

As for the game itself, UML was simply a better team on Saturday than it was on Friday, and UMD couldn't consistently match that level of play. The Bulldogs had spurts, like the start of the second period after Kyle Osterberg's late first-period goal tied the game 1-1. UMD started strong in the second period, carrying the play, but Tony Cameranesi took a slashing penalty that put the RiverHawks on the power play. 35 seconds before Cameranesi was scheduled to be released from the box, freshman defenseman Neal Pionk blocked a shot, dumped the puck down the rink, and headed to the bench. He got tangled with a Lowell player and took a needless slashing penalty.

UMass-Lowell scored on the five-on-three to take the lead, added another goal (both from defenseman Dylan Zink) on the five-on-four to make it 3-1, and controlled much of the rest of the second period, eventually adding a Joe Gambardella goal for a 4-1 advantage. It wasn't a good period, but clearly those two UMD penalties -- Pionk's was especially silly, and it looked like he found the bench for a stretch of the second period as a result of it -- made a big difference in how the game played out.

In the third period, the Bulldogs tried to rally. Off a pretty silly UMass-Lowell penalty, Austin Farley tallied to make it 4-2. Then 52 seconds later, Brenden Kotyk blasted one by goalie Kevin Boyle to cut the lead to one. UMD buzzed for a couple shifts after that, but UMass-Lowell got two insurance goals and salted the win away.


This was good October hockey. Both teams can bring it, and both did for large chunks of the weekend. Unfortunately, the Bulldogs' lapse on Saturday was enough to cost them, but there were a lot of good things about the weekend.

UMD scored a pair of power play goals, doubling the season total to four. No, a 12.5 percent power play isn't going to scare anyone, but if the puck movement and shooting continue, UMD will be just fine with the man advantage.

The penalty kill struggled Saturday, but overall the numbers are good, and improvement was there over the weekend. Scott Sandelin wanted more aggression out of his killers, and they generally gave it to him, limiting UML's chances and putting more pressure on the RiverHawks. The back-to-back power play goals were a killer, but the first came off a scramble down low where the puck got kicked up high, and the second was on a great shot from a very tough angle. At first, I think many of us thought Kasimir Kaskisuo gave up a clunker, but the more I saw it, the more impressed I was by Zink's shot. It was really good and hard and in a perfect spot where Kaskisuo had virtually no chance.


Finally, UMD opens NCHC play this weekend in Omaha, as the Bulldogs play in Baxter Arena for the first time.

Sorry. Can't help myself.

Anyway, Omaha is 6-2 after getting swept in Kalamazoo by what could be a criminally underrated Western Michigan team (picked seventh in the league). The Mavericks started 6-0 despite being outshot -- sometimes badly -- five times, and they turned around and got swept while outshooting WMU in both games.

Why? Because hockey. That's why.

Dean Blais has another dangerous group, led by dynamic forwards Austin Ortega and Jake Guentzel. Local products Jake Randolph (Duluth East) and Avery Peterson (Grand Rapids) are off to strong starts, while the blue line is led by Brian Cooper and Luc Snuggerud.

Goalie Kirk Thompson was off to a nice start, but got lit up a bit by the Broncos, so we'll see what Blais does in goal.

Baxter Arena -- named for a local auto dealer, not the dog in "Anchorman" -- seats close to 8,000, around half of what UNO's old home, Century Link Center, could hold, but rarely did for hockey. UNO has basically sold out the season in its new digs, which I look very much forward to seeing for the first time on Friday. I'm told it's similar in design to our building, only bigger. And it looked like they had a great atmosphere for the home opener against Air Force. Surely, they'll be pumped to play for points, though I'm intrigued what a Nebraska home football game Saturday night does to our crowd in Omaha, less than an hour away from Lincoln.

We'll watch the status of senior forward Tony Cameranesi this week. He left Saturday's game in the third period with an upper-body injury. Coach Scott Sandelin told Matt Wellens Cameranesi was day to day, which jives with optimism I've heard regarding his status. We'll see if he can get on the ice for practice and hopefully play in Omaha. I trust the UMD staff won't unnecessarily risk his long-term health for points this weekend, so trust that if he is playing, it's because he's been cleared to do so without major risk.

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