Monday, January 11, 2016

Monday Musings: Bulldogs Break Out and Get Four-Point Weekend

I get the occasional tweet from someone arguing that my tweets and blog mentions of shots on goal mean nothing in the context of UMD's performance in games. I've had arguments with people who think UMD just doesn't take good enough shots and doesn't generate good scoring chances. Telling them that the admittedly subjective count of scoring chances in some games has yielded a 3:1 ratio in UMD's favor in games the Bulldogs have lost doesn't help.

They want goals. They want wins. As I mentioned in my Saturday blog, fans are frustrated and want results.

Well, the "shots don't matter" crowd was impressively enabled by the Bulldogs on Saturday. A season-low 22 shots on goal led to five UMD goals and a convincing 5-2 win at Miami to complete a four-point weekend that keeps UMD in third place in the NCHC standings.

The Bulldogs got goals from five different skaters and three different lines. Defenseman Neal Pionk -- who along with Andy Welinski I thought had a great weekend -- scored off a Miami defender to open things up for UMD at 13:52 of the first. Tony Cameranesi's second goal of the weekend made it 2-0 not three minutes later, and UMD got goals 2:04 apart from Dominic Toninato (off a great play by Blake Young for his first UMD point) and Parker Mackay (intercepted a bad outlet pass from Miami goalie Ryan McKay).

(I whined on the blog Thursday about how we never see UMD score on a point shot that hits an adversarial player. Pionk did just that on Saturday. Warmed my heart to see the hockey gods read the blog.)

Young also set up Iafallo's empty-netter with a strip of Miami's Josh Melnick in the high slot. He didn't get an assist, but he made the play.

The 22 total shots on goal was a season low for UMD, as was the 15 shots UMD allowed to Miami. The game was played similar to Friday, with good defensive zone work by both teams, but fewer pucks thrown to the net. The Bulldogs held Miami to just six shots in the final 40 minutes of the game and 40 total in six periods plus overtime.


That might be the big takeaway from the weekend, and not the offensive breakout.

Over time, goals will come and go. But this team can win with its defense. That blue line is as deep as anyone's, starting with Welinski and Pionk. It's only been three games -- including an exhibition -- since the pair was reunited with Welinski playing his off-side.

"I'm comfortable. I like it," Welinski said last week. Head coach Scott Sandelin, who routinely played his off-side in his career and has told me he preferred it, panned he and the staff were "too stupid" to try this earlier.

Willie Raskob and Carson Soucy continue to be solid as the second pair, and Willie Corrin and Dan Molenaar had a good weekend.

(Molenaar blocked three shots Saturday, while Welinski had four blocks Friday and six on the weekend. Welinski and Pionk were a combined plus-five Saturday, and Corrin was plus-two.)

The way these six are capable of playing, it's easy to forget that UMD also has Brenden Kotyk and Nick McCormack. They've both had their moments this season, and McCormack didn't even make the trip to Oxford. That's how deep that blue line is right now. Talk all you want about the forward depth, the Bulldogs will go places playing the kind of defense they did over the weekend.


The Bulldogs didn't get all their bags to Oxford until late Thursday, despite an early afternoon arrival for the team and staff. Similar foibles on the trip home, but all is well as classes starting at UMD Wednesday.

That means Omaha transfer Avery Peterson can start practicing with the team this week. He is eligible January 2017.

(By the way, off topic a second but somewhat travel-related, I'm pretty sure I could have stood up and yelled "fire" in that airplane Sunday and not gotten the reaction I got when I blurted "He missed it" after I saw the KFAN tweet that Blair Walsh missed that damn field goal. So glad there were UMD players accusing me of making it up. Shows what they think of my character. :D)

(Oh, and props to the Packers. I picked them to win but didn't think they would. That was a pretty impressive bounceback after a hideous start.)

UMD hosts No. 5 St. Cloud State Friday and Saturday. The Huskies beat Colorado College 2-1 Friday to tie idle (from league play) North Dakota for the top spot in the NCHC. SCSU was unable to take sole possession of first on Saturday, as Colorado College pulled a 5-2 upset over the Huskies. Expect some pace hockey this weekend, and UMD's discipline will be a huge key against a team hitting at nearly 30 percent on the power play.

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