DENVER -- Greetings from the Mile High City on a stunningly awesome day. Temps pushing the 60s and no mentionable threat of precipitation. Or cloud cover.
This is what people like me adore about Denver. Latter part of January and it's almost shorts weather, yet when you go walking along trails in the city, you can still find snow cover in areas that don't get much sun.
Anyway, there is a game of significance for UMD Saturday night. The Bulldogs absolutely need three points out of this weekend. It's not about the PairWise, because UMD is far from out of it there. It's not about the league title, because that ship left port already. It's not about home ice, because UMD will remain at least in striking distance of a home ice spot even with a loss in this game.
It's just time. The Bulldogs have played seven teams currently ranked ahead of them in the PairWise (which I only looked at for the purposes of this exercise because dammit it's only January and it's not time yet *pounds fist on hotel desk because this hotel actually provides a desk*). Those seven opponents account for 15 of UMD's 22 games so far.
UMD's record in those 15 games? 3-8-4, with no wins in ten games since Oct. 30 (UMass-Lowell).
No forward changes for UMD in the rematch, which isn't surprising, because who would you take out after Friday's game? There are changes elsewhere.
First off, senior goalie Matt McNeely gets his first start of the season. It'll be just his second appearance (he played the third period of the Halloween night loss to UMass-Lowell) of the season, and his first start since a 6-3 win over Northern Michigan last Feb. 7. His last go before that was possibly his best start in a UMD uniform. McNeely made 31 saves as the Bulldogs beat Minnesota 2-1 at the North Star College Cup, one year ago Sunday (Jan. 24, 2015).
Kasimir Kaskisuo started every game this season prior to this one, and as of this writing I'm of the belief it isn't a health-related move to get McNeely this start.
Also, junior defenseman Carson Soucy is back after a bout with something that kept him at the hotel on Friday night. Junior Brenden Kotyk will be scratched to make room. UMD's blue line was exploited a bit on Friday, I thought, and based on the chart you'll see below, the coaches may think so, too. I don't know that the pairings you see will be permanent, but what it does is create balance across the blue line pairs. UMD doesn't get the choice of matchup when on the road, and having all the top four defensemen together creates a third pair that can be exposed as a matchup problem against guys like, say, Danton Heinen.
It's why "one-line" teams will sometimes break up that top line on the road. They'll talk about how it creates balance, and it's sometimes true, but the other upshot is it makes those top players harder to check defensively. UMD doesn't have that problem up front right now, but having Andy Welinski and Neal Pionk paired together when Soucy was out put quite a bit of pressure on the other four to get the job done against Heinen's line, and that clearly didn't happen to the extent that was necessary.
We'll see what head coach Scott Sandelin has to say about that when I meet with him about 90 minutes before faceoff. Follow Twitter for more updates and discussion (@BruceCiskie) and #ListenToTheRadio.
Young (Blake) - Toninato - Iafallo
Farley - Cameranesi - Kuhlman
Johnson - Decowski - Mackay
Sampair - Spurrell - Young (Austyn)
Welinski - Molenaar
Soucy - Raskob
Corrin - Pionk
McNeely - Kaskisuo
Moore - Gambrell - Heinen
Janssen - Shore - Terry
Lukosevicius - Levin - Staub
Arnold - Marcinew - O'Connor
Hammond - Zajac
Butcher - Hillman
VanVoorhis - Plant
Cowley - Jaillet - Ogard