Friday, November 13, 2015

UMD Must Show Confidence Not Shaken by Omaha Sweep

No question the Omaha trip was a frustrating one for UMD. Call it a hot goalie, bad luck, ineffective finishing, or a combination of the three, but the Bulldogs scored four goals on 84 shots and were swept out of Baxter Arena by the Mavericks.

Instead of licking their wounds, UMD got together Monday and set out to move on as quickly as possible.

"I thought Scott Sandelin's speech to the team Monday was one of the best I've seen him give," assistant coach Brett Larson said. "When you go out and get 160 shot attempts to their 80, go out and score a couple power play goals, Grade-A chances are heavily in our favor, it's tough to be mad at you. We all hate losing, but it was hard to be mad at the group after the weekend."

Sandelin said multiple times Wednesday that the Bulldogs "did a lot of good things" against Omaha, "everything but score enough goals." Obviously, the return of senior forward Tony Cameranesi from a shoulder injury is going to help. But it's not the cure-all.

More than anything, UMD needs to keep doing what it did in Omaha, minus some puck management errors and defensive lapses. Even then, it's not fair to blame those factors by themselves. Over 120 minutes, it's just not realistic to expect mistake-free hockey. Errors -- mental and physical -- are going to happen. They're inevitable. Coaches make corrections and move on to the next game, where errors -- hopefully different ones -- will happen.

Driving home from Nebraska on Sunday, I have to admit being quite a bit peeved at the weekend result when we set off from our hotel near the arena. Even the announcer hates when UMD gets swept, after all. But by the time we pulled into our driveway, it was more disappointment about the result, because it is simply not fair to be disappointed by that effort. The effort was good, and there were many more positives than negatives to take from the series.

Larson, who was on a recruiting trip and not in Omaha (typically, one assistant goes with the team on a road trip, and the other will go somewhere to recruit), echoed those sentiments this week. He said the coaches got together to watch the video Monday and quickly realized they couldn't be mad about the players' effort.

"You can sit here and skirt it," Sandelin said. "You can sit here and try to go around it. You meet it head on. We did a lot of good things."

Sandelin wants more "moxie or patience" around the net, but otherwise not many adjustments from the Omaha effort.

Cameranesi has been skating, so his conditioning should be pretty solid. I don't expect him to take a lot of faceoffs initially, instead ceding that task to fellow senior Austyn Young, who will center a line with Austin Farley and Cameranesi. If that's how things start, it would open the door for Dominic Toninato and Alex Iafallo to reunite after two-plus games on different lines.


Nothing will likely change until UMD's shooting percentage does. The Bulldogs scored goals on 8.9 percent of their shots on goal last year, but are only shooting at a 6.9 percent clip in 2015-16. Toninato -- who scored 16 goals on 87 shots last year -- is shooting at half that percentage so far this year. Iafallo has one goal on 30 shots, Karson Kuhlman one on 24, Adam Johnson none on 24.

Willie Raskob's goal Saturday was his first in 24 shots on goal. Cameranesi's shooting percentage is down slightly so far this season, as is Jared Thomas'.

Did I mention UMD's shooting at a 6.9 percent clip right now? 6.9 percent!

These are, frankly, unsustainable shooting percentages. I'd say the same thing if the Bulldogs were shooting at a 17-plus percent clip, like Harvard is right now. Of course, they'd be averaging something like six goals a game with that shooting percentage, so let's be honest: If that were the case, we'd all be booking April flights to Tampa.

For UMD, there is something to be said for being a little smarter with the puck in the offensive zone, trying to work around the defense and make goalies more uncomfortable, but it was doing so many of those things in Omaha (especially on Friday) and getting nothing out of it.

I hate to blame luck, but a lot of it comes down to that. These players have generally proven themselves at this level. They simply aren't going to perform like this all year.


The opponent this weekend doesn't care about UMD's three-game losing streak. But don't think Denver coach Jim Montgomery has avoided the topic with his players. His team has been far from perfect so far, and with the margin for error only shrinking as conference play kicks in, expect Denver to come in here and go for the throat while UMD is at least perceived to be a little down.

Montgomery spoke this week about the immense respect he has for UMD. Forwards Trevor Moore and Danton Heinen are among the most explosive players in the country, and defenseman Will Butcher has taken a huge step forward so far, averaging over a point per game while trying to help cover for the loss of All-America blue-liner Joey LaLeggia.

Things haven't gone as smoothly as Pioneer fans hoped. Heinen has shown flashes of brilliance (Montgomery indicated there's been some inconsistency with his game so far), but the coach is still tinkering with line combinations and has actually played Heinen -- a Boston Bruins draft pick that one NHL guy I trust a great deal said could play with the "big boys" right now -- at all three forward positions so far.

Montgomery talked about stepping into a hornets' nest this weekend, and while he says his team isn't happy about being 5-3 and still trying to find some consistency up front, his team shouldn't be as unhappy as UMD. The Bulldogs get Tony Cameranesi back from injury, and I expect a spirited effort from the home team, which is under .500 at 3-4-2 in a season full of expectations.

"I don't know how they're on a three-game losing streak," Montgomery said. "I've watched those games (against UNO), and I thought they were in control of both those games."

Honestly, I don't know, either. But you are what you are. Let's see if UMD is still a sub-.500 team after a pair of critical NCHC home games.

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