I've joked with radio analyst extraordinaire Kraig Karakas that he has a lifetime contract with me. As long as someone wants me calling UMD games, I want him sitting next to me while I do it. Saturday night is a good example as to why.
When Dominic Toninato took advantage of one of the luckiest bounces imaginable to get UMD on the board in its exhibition game against the U.S. Under 18 Team, Karakas immediately recognized something in Toninato's reaction to what seemed at the time to be a mundane goal in a mundane game that didn't count in any tangible way.
"I like (his) reaction to that," Karakas said on the air. "He looked a little bit POed that they're losing 3-0 to this team.
"UMD to this point hasn't had that guy, in my opinion, that when the guys are down, says 'Get on my back.' I think Dominic has the skill set and the will to do that."
That was 18 seconds into the third period. UMD had little going, but as you know by now, UMD was able to get plenty going its way in that third period and overtime, rallying to win 4-3 as Toninato capped a hat trick with a power play goal in overtime.
I doubt we'll ever really know if Toninato did the "Get on my back" speech or some derivative of it. But he took control of a game where UMD had little going and put his stamp on it. Yes, it was an exhibition, but it is something that could have an impact going forward.
At 7-7-3 with goal-scoring struggles aplenty, UMD is a team screaming for someone to take control from within. It doesn't have to be a captain, as we've talked about before. It doesn't have to be a senior. But someone needs to do it. And as Kraig said when Toninato scored that lucky goal to start Saturday's rally, he's the kind of player who has the skill and the will to make it happen.
Obviously, the test of this theory comes when times become difficult in games that count. Toninato's already done a good job establishing himself as an improved 200-foot player. Now we need to see the kind of jam in the offensive zone he provided on Saturday.
We know UMD is probably not going to win the NCHC. But with all due respect to the conference and its leadership, that's not what matters in the end. I think most of you are already aware of how difficult it is to win a national championship, and recent trends aside, there is just no way of predicting who will emerge from the rubble come April 9, even once you get a gander at the tournament pairings. And UMD's players will gladly give up a shot at the conference title for a real chance at the national championship, I'd imagine.
My point? Just get in the tournament. Yeah, a team that's 7-7-3 at the midway point has work to do to make that national playoff. But if UMD can string together a run of strong play in a tough league, the Bulldogs will quickly put themselves in a position to make the NCAAs.
Just get in.
It starts with Miami this weekend. The RedHawks are struggling, sitting seventh in the league and under .500 overall. These are games UMD needs ahead of next week's showdown with St. Cloud State. Don't assume anything. Go get the six points and hopefully it'll help the Bulldogs make some headway.