Friday, January 15, 2016

Saturday Hockey Notes and Thoughts: Discipline, Battle Level Betray Bulldogs in Home Loss

It seems like the words "home loss" have become all too common. Since opening 2-0 at Amsoil Arena, UMD is a pedestrian 2-5-1 on home ice.

Oh, and those two wins were Dec. 4-5 against Western Michigan. Outside of that, 0-5-1 and outscored 19-5, shut out three times.


The latest setback came Friday night, 3-1 to No. 5 St. Cloud State. Before we get to the nuts and bolts of things, let's give credit where it's due. Too often, we -- and I mean all of us as fans of particular sports teams -- are too quick to tear down those who we feel may have failed (hi, Blair Walsh!). Oftentimes in doing so, we forget to give credit to those who come through in the clutch and do what it takes to win.

St. Cloud State was not perfect on Friday night, but head coach Bob Motzko has to be thrilled with his team's commitment to a 200-foot game in the series opener. UMD was hounded all over the ice by adversarial players, and SCSU used active sticks and good body position to win races, win battles, and break up UMD passes and chances for the Bulldogs to get the puck down low.

But let's go back to Wednesday. At his weekly press conference, UMD head coach Scott Sandelin was asked what it would take to beat St. Cloud State.

"Stay out of the penalty box, number one," he said. "A key to us winning two games in their building last year was us staying out of the box and not giving them opportunities."

In case we weren't listening, he repeated this mantra to me -- almost verbatim -- before the game. Kraig Karakas said he ran into Sandelin Monday night and basically heard the same speech.

I'm guessing he told the players a time or two, as well.

And while discipline didn't reach the levels of embarrassment Friday night, key breakdowns on UMD's part proved very costly.

At 8:33 of the second period, UMD lost a puck battle on the offensive zone (more on that coming) and Kyle Osterberg -- who later left the game with an upper-body injury and is likely out Saturday -- took a tripping penalty. Seven seconds later, Ethan Prow to Joey Benik to Kalle Kossila, and Kossila buried the puck for a 2-1 St. Cloud State lead.

Eight minutes later, UMD captain Andy Welinski took a needless and very much out of character interference penalty (he isn't afraid to play physical, but you don't see that kind of penalty from him often). It didn't lead to a goal, but it did lead to a great rush chance for Dominic Toninato. As he was burying a short-handed goal, referee Timm Walsh was calling freshman Neal Pionk for interference probably 40 to 50 feet behind Toninato in the neutral zone. Goal nullified, game stays 2-1, and UMD goes down two men. It was a killer.

(There was much debate about the call. I did not see the replay provided on the arena video board, as it came after play had resumed and I had to call a five-on-three power play. That took precedence over trying to watch TV. What I saw live action was Pionk trying to hook a St. Cloud player, and it appeared to me he was doing it to slingshot past the guy into the offensive rush. Could you argue it's not a penalty within the context of this game? I saw worse let go. But it's against the rules.

I had to give up watching to follow the puck. So while it could be argued the whistle was maybe a little late, it's hard to argue that Pionk didn't do anything to merit a penalty, given what I saw and how I remember it playing out. It actually looked quite silly, to be honest, on Pionk's part, because it was so insignificant to what was going on 40 feet or whatever it was in front of him.

I'm not fully adamant about this, by the way. I know a few people in the press box disagreed with the call, and I know the UMD staff didn't like it. I'm willing to be shown the error of my ways. It's hard when you don't get to look at the replay. Then I have to react to things the way the officials do on the ice. What the hell fun is that? :D)

Blake Winiecki got one for the Huskies about halfway through the third that took a lot of air out of a building that didn't have very much of it. It was a short-side shot that beat Kasimir Kaskisuo. To be perfectly blunt, it's a shot Kas has to stop 100 times out of 100. It didn't cost UMD the game, but it was not a good goal.

UMD never seriously threatened with Kaskisuo pulled in the final minutes. In fact, SCSU probably had the better of those scoring chances. Cal Decowski, who scored UMD's goal, made a great hustle play to prevent an empty net goal, and UMD blocked a couple shots at the yawning cage.


Discipline was an issue Friday night. I wrote in the series preview that I don't think it's been a huge problem this season, and I still don't. UMD has had more power plays than its opponents this season, and the gap actually ended up growing on Friday.

But look at UMD's losses. There's a bit of a weird trend that's developed. In those eight games the Bulldogs have lost, UMD has averaged 15 penalty minutes per. In eight wins, UMD has averaged 6.75.

I'm not smart enough to understand how such a disparity can happen, and it's still admittedly a bit of a small sample. But it's clear that the Bulldogs are capable of playing clean, disciplined hockey. It's also clear UMD doesn't do it consistently.

Then again, do the Bulldogs do anything consistently well at this point? Even a defense that looked to be in lockdown mode last weekend sprung a myriad of leaks on Friday, leading to SCSU's first goal and some other good chances. The power play, which has shown signs of life, did little to nothing on Friday against a penalty kill ranked near the bottom nationally and under 75 percent on the season. The power play was consistently out worked and outhustled, and the theme of lost races and lost battles carried over into five on five play.

"There's still lots of season left" is starting to wear thin for many of you. I understand that and agree to an extent. I saw lots of signs last weekend that things can turn around, but Friday night felt like a step in the wrong direction. I hope I'm overreacting, and it wouldn't be the first time.


Elsewhere in the NCHC, Austin Ortega scored in overtime to lift Omaha past No. 1 North Dakota 4-3 in Grand Forks, ending the Fighting Hawks' eight-game winning streak. UNO coach Dean Blais pulled a Dean Blais, starting freshman goalie Alex Blankenburg in his college debut. He allowed three goals on 29 shots. Jake Guentzel factored in all four UNO goals, with one goal and three assists.

In Denver, the Pioneers ran their unbeaten streak to five with a 5-3 win over Western Michigan. Quentin Shore scored twice for the Pioneers. Sheldon Dries had two for the Broncos in a losing effort.


tUMD15 said...

I would think turibble would be a better adjective than pedestrian to describe a 2-5-1 home record.

jsiiter55 said...

Season is daggered