Saturday, January 23, 2016

Saturday Hockey Notes and Thoughts: Bulldogs Can't Hold Two-Goal Lead, Fall in Series Opener

DENVER -- Boy, you probably couldn't have scripted a better start for UMD Friday night in Denver.

By the 6:13 mark of the first period, UMD had a 2-0 lead and appeared to be rolling. Even in the subsequent half-dozen or so minutes, the Bulldogs looked to be in complete control of the affair.

Problem: That still left around 48 minutes of hockey to be played.

Denver rallied, and had the game tied 2-2 before the first period ended. Danton Heinen's second of the game came with just a bit less than seven minutes remaining in the second, and that was enough to give Denver a 3-2 win here Friday.

Honestly, I'd love to sit here and nit-pick the things that UMD didn't do well in the game. There were a few. I thought the Bulldogs were not sharp in their defensive zone, and DU exploited it at times. Breakouts weren't always crisp, and the Bulldogs looked like they had troubles with DU's forecheck, which we all know is very good.

After starting hot in the faceoff circle, things went badly for UMD from about the 12-minute mark of the first on. Denver ended up winning 42 of 70 draws on a night full of stoppages, including taking 14 of 20 in the third period. The large number of stoppages of play gave Denver a chance to further exploit the absence of UMD junior Carson Soucy (illness) on the blue line by getting favorable matchups against Heinen's line. As a result, Heinen led DU with five shots on goal, including four in the second period.

Finally, when UMD took a 2-0 lead, DU replaced goalie Tanner Jaillet (five saves on seven shots) with Evan Cowley. Despite watching Cowley fight the puck for most of the first period, UMD couldn't get enough bodies to the net to make him pay for it, which combined with flat-out missed opportunities allowed Cowley to settle in and DU to surge back into the game.

Cowley made 39 saves and earned star of the night status, but none of the 39 were of the "How did he do that?" variety, at least that I can recall. It's a flimsy narrative to go on, because it's not like we're keeping a statistic of "holy crap" saves a goalie makes in a game. If we did, it would be more subjective than scoring chances. But it was my feeling -- perched in the press box, naturally, where everything looks nice and easy -- that UMD's net drive in the last 48 minutes wasn't quite as good as it was in the first 12.

Of course, part of that is Denver upping the intensity level on its end. They've got guys with scholarships and pro aspirations and pride, and Heinen brought it after his coach, Jim Montgomery, was somewhat critical of him in our conversation this week. Montgomery said Heinen was "putting too much pressure on himself," to the point where the coach said his star sophomore was so desperate to score goals he was "cheating" on his defensive responsibilities and extending shifts and getting caught on the ice too long. If Montgomery will say those things to the opposition's radio guy, I have to think he was just as open -- if not more -- to the player.

He got what he was looking for out of Heinen Friday night. He scored twice, linemate Trevor Moore had two assists, and DU ran its unbeaten streak to seven.

UMD fell to 8-2-2 when scoring first, but the Bulldogs are 1-8-3 when failing to score at least three goals. Oh, and while the power play looked good at times over two chances, it netted zero goals in those chances and now sits at no goals in 23 chances going back to Dec. 11. In all, the power play has scored in just eight of UMD's 22 games this season.

By no means was this a bad performance by UMD. But it's becoming like Groundhog Day for this team. Do a lot of good things, but not quite enough. There's still, believe it or not, a lot of time to get things righted. I don't know how that happens, but the talent's in place, the character's in place, and the coaching is definitely in place.


Weird night in the NCHC. Four of the eight starting goalies were pulled, including both in the Colorado College-North Dakota game. There, UND jumped to a 4-0 lead and chased CC starter Tyler Marble. But on the way back to a tie game and eventually a 5-4 lead, CC chased UND starter Cam Johnson. Rhett Gardner's second of the game came in the final minute and tied the game for North Dakota, and it stayed tied through five-on-five and three-on-three overtime before UND got a shootout goal for the extra NCHC standings point. Hunter Fejes had a four-point night for the Tigers, while Luke Johnson added two goals for the Fighting Hawks.

Also getting a hook from his start was Western Michigan goalie Lukas Hafner, who allowed four goals on 11 shots in St. Cloud. Backup Trevor Gorsuch conceded four more on 20 shots as the Huskies blasted the Broncos 8-2. Joey Benik scored once and had four assists, while Patrick Newell had two goals as part of a three-point night.

Miami went into Baxter Arena and upset Omaha 3-1. Jay Williams made 27 saves and Matthew Caito scored the winner on a power play with 2:03 left after UNO was called for too many men on the ice. Kevin Morris iced Miami's victory with a late empty-netter.

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