We'll start there and save the negative for later.
UMD ground out a win against an opponent that wants to slow the pace of the game. Saturday's game was played at NMU's pace, with not many scoring chances either way. This has been an issue for past UMD teams, but the Bulldogs stuck with their tight defense and didn't give NMU much of anything. The Wildcats' only goal came off a UMD mistake, as Adam Johnson tried to weave through the neutral zone and coughed up the puck. Dominik Shine got it back over the UMD blue line and fed Darren Nowick to cut UMD's lead to 3-1.
Not only did that close the scoring, but the Wildcats didn't seriously threaten after that goal, either. By no means was it pretty, but it was an effective defensive performance by a team that really needed one.
Going into Friday, head coach Scott Sandelin really wanted to see his team play tighter defensively. While there were spurts of it in the series opener, NMU scored four goals, and three of them came off questionable defense (including a transition goal that UMD allowed not even 30 seconds after taking the lead in the third period).
The effort in the UMD zone was much more consistent and effective on Saturday, and the Bulldogs were rewarded for it with a victory.
Offensively, it wasn't pretty. In fact, I'm not sure what the final 40 minutes consisted of, because there weren't a lot of hockey-type things happening. But the Bulldogs jumped on NMU freshman goalie Matthias Israelsson, making his fourth appearance of the season, for two goals on three shots in less than four minutes. Matthias Dahlstrom took over from there, but the damage was done when Tony Cameranesi and Parker Mackay scored for a 2-0 lead. Dominic Toninato jammed in a rebound late in the first to make it 3-0.
The Bulldogs didn't do a whole lot offensively the rest of the night, but they also didn't have to. They weren't threatened.
It was a win, a win where Mackay continued his ascent by scoring again and contributing a very nice game. A win where senior captain Andy Welinski chipped in another point for a three-point weekend. A win where Kasimir Kaskisuo made 19 saves and was solid in net. A win where Alex Iafallo picked up his first assist of the calendar year. A win.
Good thing it was a win, because it takes the stain off the last 40 minutes, which was honestly some of the worst hockey I've seen all season. That's not all on UMD. The Wildcats didn't appear to have much urgency, even late in the game down by two goals. It wouldn't be fair to say NMU was content to lose the game 3-1, but it did look like that at times. Like I said, UMD went against a team that likes to slow the game down and limit scoring chances, and the Bulldogs didn't have to worry about chasing the game like they did Friday, because they scored first Saturday and never looked back.
It also makes the power play's performance less painful.
But that one still stings.
The power play was scoreless in seven tries. It generated just three shots on goal, marking the same number of shots on goal UMD got short-handed. The Bulldogs are now scoreless in their last 36 power plays going back to Dec. 11. Of those 36 power plays, UMD has been held without a shot on goal in 17 of them, including eight of 11 over the weekend against Northern Michigan.
There's been some bad luck -- goalposts, missed nets, "How did he do that?" saves, etc. -- thrown in to ruin effective man advantage efforts by UMD. Not all 36 power plays have been garbage, far from it, actually. But they've all had the same net result: No goals.
On Saturday, the power play looked like a group that didn't think it had a chance to score. Movements and passes were deliberate. Players appeared indecisive, unsure of themselves. And from my seat, our power play just looked way too easy to defend.
The system hasn't changed. We've seen it work. This was a power play hitting at over 20 percent before the slump started. But it works when passes are crisp and decisions are quick. That didn't appear the case on Saturday, and I don't know how that gets fixed.
I do know that is has to be better. We've beaten this subject to death, and yet it will inevitably come up again this week. I'm not going to call for personnel changes, largely because they just made personnel changes and constantly switching up personnel won't solve the issue.
(In fairness, special teams are far from a disaster. The penalty kill continues to shine, and it is probably equal parts Kaskisuo and the killers doing a good job. That's good to see. They're not overly relying on Kaskisuo to save the bacon, and instead doing things like preventing clean zone entries and blocking shots to make his life easier at times.)
Next up is a three-game homestand that will play out over five days. It starts with Colorado College in town Friday and Saturday. The Tigers are a .500 team since an 0-13 start to the season, and clearly CC is playing better hockey. I watched back the Tigers' games at St. Cloud State Jan. 8-9, and CC earned that split.
The Tigers have also swept Miami since UMD played in Colorado Springs Nov. 20-21 (5-0 and 6-0 wins). CC rallied from 4-0 down to eventually steal a point at North Dakota two weekends ago, and this past week the Tigers beat Omaha 5-1 Friday before losing 6-1 on Saturday. In the Saturday loss, CC was held to just 12 shots on goal.
It's also Hockey Day weekend, so we invite you to make a day of it on Saturday. Outdoor high school games at Bayfront Park start at 10am, and there's plenty of time after the second high school game to grab dinner and join us inside Amsoil Arena for the second game against the Tigers.
The homestand concludes with Bemidji State next Tuesday, Feb. 9. That's a makeup from the power outage-spoiled home opener that was scheduled for Oct. 9.