Saturday, February 27, 2016

Saturday Hockey Notes and Thoughts: UMD Jumps St. Cloud State Early, Rides Kaskisuo to Upset Win

ST. CLOUD, Minn. -- A college hockey game is 60 minutes in length.

It is the rarest of things when something bad happens to a team that leads for 59:21 of the possible 60:00. And not even some of the rotten luck UMD has dealt with this season was going to change that Friday night.

Adam Johnson scored a greasy goal 39 seconds into the game, and UMD led the rest of the way in winning 4-1 here over No. 3 St. Cloud State. The win might not make a big dent in UMD's PairWise deficit, and it won't put the Bulldogs in the NCHC title race or anything like that, but what it does is give this team some confidence that it has been desperately seeking for a while.

UMD got rewarded for good hard work early in the game, overcoming an SCSU power play when Jimmy Murray took an interference penalty in the neutral zone. On the delayed penalty, Tony Cameranesi set up Brenden Kotyk to make it 2-0. Then Karson Kuhlman went through St. Cloud's defense like a knife through hot butter and beat goalie Charlie Lindgren to make it a 3-0 game through one period.

Justifiably, most of the over 4,800 in attendance were in shock at this point. UMD hadn't scored three goals in a road period since Nov. 20, and you have to go back to last year's Northeast Regional semifinal against Minnesota to find the last time UMD scored three goals in a first period.

An a'ight road period, I'd say.

I'm not going to say UMD cruised from there. St. Cloud State threw the kitchen sink at UMD goalie Kasimir Kaskisuo, and the sophomore didn't even flinch. The Huskies peppered the UMD net throughout the night, but only a wicked shot by freshman Mikey Eyssimont got behind Kaskisuo. That goal made 3-1 in the second period, but Kaskisuo permitted the adversary to get no closer on this night.

The last time UMD played St. Cloud State, I felt Kaskisuo conceded a couple "Man, I bet he'd like to have that one back" goals. And while I don't think I've been critical of Kaskisuo, it was clear that he wasn't stealing points for UMD. He was solid, but hadn't been able to pull off a spectacular performance when his team needed him to.

Until Friday. Any need for redemption on his part -- which in my opinion was minimal -- is erased after his performance. He was outstanding, and you can safely say Kaskisuo stole these three points. The team in front of him wasn't bad, which probably helped the goalie's cause. But St. Cloud State likely out-chanced UMD in the game and it could be argued the home side deserved a better fate.

UMD is familiar. It's happened a lot this season, and even if one were to look at this game as a case of outright thievery, I doubt an apology or gift basket will be coming St. Cloud State's way.

A few things stood out.

Alex Iafallo (3-5-8 his last eight games, two assists Friday) was great. He's really stepped to the forefront, looking more like the player I know he can be here. His speed is game-changing and he's really been moving lately.

Kuhlman (three point night) was fantastic in all phases. Officially, he was credited with three blocked shots, but he's a disruptive player without the puck who played confidently with it Friday. Well, outside of the two-on-zero where he tried to pass to Cameranesi and there ended up not being any shots taken by either player in the sequence. We'll just forget that play happened.

Kotyk used his body effectively to win a couple puck battles, blocked two shots, and scored that second goal off Cameranesi's dish to the slot.

And did I mention Kaskisuo made 49 saves, a new career high for him (beating the old mark by 13)? Yeah, he was pretty good.

(It's believed to be the first 50-shot game by a UMD opponent since Omaha put up 53 Jan. 11, 2014, a game UMD won 3-1 behind 52 saves from Aaron Crandall.)

Every SCSU player had at least one shot except Ben Storm and David Morley. Eyssimont had 11. But UMD did what it could to maintain Kaskisuo's ability to see pucks while the Huskies tried their damndest to screen him and tip shots.

It was a fun, cleanly played game, and a much, much-needed Bulldog win.

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