Remember how I kept saying -- probably to the point y'all were sick and tired of reading it -- that UMD just needed to stick with it?
(Specifically, we addressed the offensive issues here, here, and here.)
Well, UMD stuck with it, and the Bulldogs have put up 24 goals over the last four games, including three games of six goals or more. That's likely not any more sustainable than the Bulldogs' lack of scoring was earlier in the season, but it's nice to see guys get rewarded.
UMD won 6-2 on Saturday in a game that, despite the somewhat-similar final score to Friday (7-0), was completely different. The Bulldogs had to deal with a significant Western Michigan pushback, especially in the early going. Shots were 6-1 and 7-2 in Western's favor on Saturday before UMD started to get a few things going. At no point, however, did this game resemble Friday's beatdown.
On Friday, you could have argued the final score was as much about what UMD did right as it was what Western Michigan did wrong. The Broncos used some superb play from goalie Lukas Hafner to keep that game relatively close into the third period. But once it got to 5-0 it ceased being a competitive sporting event. I don't like accusing college athletes of quitting (if you're not in their heads you just don't know), so let's just say WMU's body language and compete level weren't as good as they could have been. The Broncos looked every bit a team that was getting blown out and losing a seventh game in a row.
Saturday, the Broncos brought a much better and more consistent compete level, and UMD had to match their intensity to succeed. Mission: Accomplished.
Austin Farley scored twice, Tony Cameranesi notched four points, freshmen Adam Johnson and Neal Pionk had outstanding games, and while goalie Kasimir Kaskisuo let a couple pucks by him for the first time in three weeks, UMD had more than enough offense to win.
What's changed these last four games? Well, start with that pesky shooting percentage. In the first 11 games, UMD scored 24 goals on 408 shots on goal. That's a hideous 5.9 shooting percentage. It's also unsustainable, as shown the last four games.
In those four games, UMD has matched its goal total from the first 11 by scoring 24 times. It's taken UMD 154 shots on goal to hit that number, for a shooting percentage of 15.6. The power play has been a huge part of that, shooting at a 28 percent clip (nine goals on 32 shots). That leaves 122 shots taken by UMD over four games, and a total of 15 goals for a pretty solid 12.2 percentage that's less unsustainable. And even if it drops back into the high single digits, UMD will probably be fine.
Some individual stats from the last few games:
--> Farley has points in all four games of UMD's winning streak, with 13 points on six goals and seven assists over the two weekends. He's twice had four-point games.
--> Cameranesi has eight points in those four games, including four on Saturday.
--> UMD has a few players on point streaks. Farley has points in all four games of this winning streak, with 13 in total. Freshman Neal Pionk has points in three straight, as do seniors Andy Welinski and Austyn Young, junior Alex Iafallo, and sophomore Karson Kuhlman. Adam Johnson has points in four of the last five games.
--> Kaskisuo's shutout streak reached 263 minutes, 58 seconds before it was snapped on a goal by WMU defenseman and countryman Oliwer Kaski. That said, he's stopped 97 of 99 shots (.980 save percentage) over the last four games, and his season numbers are now a 1.82 goals against and .928 save percentage. Not bad, eh?
--> With Kaskisuo's urge, combined with the improved offensive production, UMD's team save percentage is now ahead of that of its adversaries. Kaskisuo, Matt McNeely, and the empty net have a .921 for UMD, while opposing goalies are at .915. The margin through eight league games is now .929 to .907. Kaskisuo's NCHC save percentage is at .938.
--> Special teams are special right now. The power play is hitting at a nine for 21 clip (43 percent) since the streak started, while the UMD penalty kill is perfect in a baker's dozen opportunities over the four games.
The Bulldogs move on now, and face a hell of a challenge this weekend. UMD hosts North Dakota, a legit top five team in the national polls that don't matter, and the first-place team in this conference. The Fighting Hawks (yes, I'm still getting used to this) have started hot under first-year coach Brad Berry (yes, I'm still getting used to this). At 14-2-2, one of the big stories of this season for UND has been goaltending.
Highly-touted freshman Matej Tomek hasn't played a game yet because of injury, and backup Cam Johnson went down in the team's second series, a home and home with Bemidji State. After struggling out of the gate, junior Matt Hrynkiw (third goalie entering the season) went on to play 12 games, starting 11. All Hrynkiw (pronounced "her-RINK-yoo," by the way) did was go 9-2-1 with a 2.11 goals against and .911 save percentage in his first game action for UND.
Johnson's back, and he has a .934 save percentage in eight games. Tomek has yet to play in a game, and with how Johnson is playing, there probably isn't a ton of rush on that.
Certainly, some of the credit for this goes to UND's defensive corps, which is probably the best in the NCHC and elite nationally. North Dakota sports great depth in Paul LaDue, Troy Stecher, Keaton Thompson, captain Gage Ausmus, Tucker Poolman, and promising freshman Hayden Shaw, among others.
Up front, North Dakota has as good a line as you'll find in the "CBS" line. Nick Schmaltz centers Drake Caggiula and Brock Boeser, and the three have combined for 27 goals (Caggiula has 13) and 68 points (Schmaltz has 21 assists).
Many of you might look for UMD to match Cameranesi's line against Schmaltz, and may the best puck possession win. Personally, I'd expect Dominic Toninato's line to draw this assignment, at least to start things on Friday. Toninato, Iafallo, and Johnson were set to match up against Trevor Moore and Danton Heinen when Denver visited, I believe, but that was rendered moot when DU opted to put them on different lines. I highly doubt Berry is going to break up the most prolific scoring line in the country because his team is on the road and can't dictate matchups.
(This isn't a rip on DU. Jim Montgomery made it clear that week that he was still looking for the right combinations of forwards, and there was little doubt in my mind he was going to try Moore and Heinen on different lines as part of that search.)
The argument for using Cameranesi's line against "CBS" is that the Bulldogs will match strength on strength and bet on their strength to win out. The argument for Toninato's line is the history he and Iafallo have checking opponents' top lines, though that history is relatively untested this season with Johnson playing in Adam Krause's old spot on right wing.
In the end, I think this series comes down to UMD's ability to get pucks by the fantastic UND blue line and get pressure to the net. It also comes down to depth, and UMD's depth has been fantastic in the last three weeks. They don't necessarily have to score, but they're capable and they have been producing as of late. More later in the week once I watch back UND's games from last weekend and talk to coaches on both sides.
Couple public service announcements:
1. This is a busy, busy weekend at the DECC complex. There's the Bentleyville Christmas light display at Bayfront Park, the Nutcracker ballet shows at DECC Symphony Hall, and the Arrowhead Ice Fishing Show at the DECC. They will all draw huge crowds, on top of the 7,000 and change expected for the hockey games. Consider yourself warned. Go early, walk over to Canal Park and kill some time, and know you have a parking spot and fairly easy access to the arena to get in the game on time.
2. Saturday night, UMD is conducting its annual toy drive. If you're going to the game, please consider bringing a new, unwrapped toy or two to donate. Hopefully, we can set a record with a standing room only gathering anticipated. Sadly, no Teddy Bear Toss this year, but the toy drive should be huge. Would love it if you could bring something to donate.