GRAND FORKS, N.D. -- From the arena that puts everyone else in college hockey to shame, it's go time for the UMD Bulldogs.
At 11-12-5 and 23rd in the PairWise rankings entering the weekend, hope is not lost. A middling non-conference record and three losses to the one-bid WCHA (including two to mid-pack WCHA team Bemidji State) somehow hasn't sunk UMD's at-large hopes.
But the ship is taking on water.
UMD probably needs three wins the next two weekends to continue any hope of that at-large bid. Did I mention UMD is at North Dakota this weekend and St. Cloud State next weekend? Yeah, there's that.
If the Bulldogs can survive the next two weekends with a winning record, then sweep Miami at home March 4-5, it's entirely possible the Bulldogs won't have to win the NCHC Tournament to get in the NCAAs.
Playing a tough schedule has its benefits, I guess.
As for this weekend, it's obviously a tough task. This is a team that UMD has traditionally struggled against, and it's a building UMD has traditionally struggled in. I have UMD at 5-15-3 all-time at the new Ralph Engelstad Arena, which opened for the 2001-02 season.
Silver lining: UMD is 3-3-1 in the last seven games here, and has played quite well even in a few of the games that were lost. There used to be something about this team playing in this building, but the Bulldogs have shown in recent years they're more than capable of winning here.
Good, because now they probably have to, even if the coaches are trying to remove the pressure and preach a "just relax and play" message. In and of itself, that's not wrong.
"The pressure's on them," UMD coach Scott Sandelin said this week. I don't disagree. UND was swept in a road series for the first time since 2011 last weekend, losing twice in Denver. Rookie head coach Brad Berry -- a former teammate of Sandelin's at UND -- liked most of what he saw, but he wasn't thrilled with his team's defensive play.
I would expect that to be a priority for the -- um, er -- Fighting Hawks this weekend. It remains to be seen whether that affects a transition game for UND that is positively lethal, as dangerous as any in college hockey. UND scored three transition goals in the Friday game in Duluth, winning 3-0. It scored two power-play goals in the Saturday game before adding a late empty-netter.
Last weekend, that transition game was vital to the North Dakota offense yet again, but UND was way too sloppy in its own zone to secure a win in either game.
Limiting North Dakota in transition is a big point of emphasis on the weekend. Of course, it was last time, too, and we all saw how that went.
If UMD doesn't solve Cam Johnson, who allowed zero goals in that December series despite facing 78 UMD shots. Sandelin talked Wednesday about seeing some weaknesses in Johnson's game during that Denver series, but he obviously isn't going to identify them publicly, and exploiting them is another matter completely.
Iafallo - Toninato - Kuhlman
Osterberg - Thomas - Cameranesi
Johnson - Decowski - Mackay
Sampair - Spurrell - Young (Austyn)
Welinski - Pionk
Soucy - Raskob
Corrin - Kotyk
Kaskisuo - McNeely
Caggiula - Schmaltz - Boeser
Janatuinen - Johnson (Luke) - Wilkie
Gersich - Simonson - Poganski
Sanderson - Gardner - Olson
Poolman - LaDue
Ausmus - Stecher
Shaw - Thompson
Johnson (Cam) - Hrynkiw - Tomek
(UND lists freshman defenseman Christian Wolanin as an extra skater for warmup. I'll update on Twitter if he is inserted into the lineup for someone.