Monday, January 16, 2017

Monday Musings: Bulldogs Blow Lead, Win in Overtime

Everything came up roses in the early going for UMD Saturday against St. Cloud State. The Bulldogs weren't overwhelmingly good, but instead pounced on opportunities and took a 3-0 lead on the Huskies when Dan Molenaar scored early in the second period.

But oh how things change when the team playing from ahead gives up a bad goal and becomes undisciplined. Blake Winiecki got SCSU on the board with a bad-angle shot that caught UMD goalie Hunter Miska off-guard. It was a rare miscue for Miska, who has been so solid this season, but it didn't look like he had any idea there was a puck coming his way.

Shortly after that, UMD began a parade to the penalty box. Jared Thomas took a double-minor (two for goalie interference, two for roughing), and St. Cloud State got a power play goal to make it 3-2. Thomas' penalty was just the first, however. Dominic Toninato got a slashing minor, and then Brenden Kotyk was ejected for a hit from behind 31 seconds later, giving the Huskies a long five-on-three and relegating UMD to five defensemen for the rest of the night.

Jimmy Schuldt unleashed a rocket of a one-timer from the high slot to tie the game during the five-on-three, but true to its season-long form, the UMD kill rallied back and killed off the rest of Kotyk's major to keep the game tied.

UMD came up empty on a five-minute power play of its own in the third, but largely controlled five-on-five play. Couldn't get one home, so it wasn't until Molenaar set up Kyle Osterberg's tip for the winning goal that UMD emerged victorious.

Good game, nice crowd, lively building (something we haven't seen enough of this season), and a good way to close out the homestand. UMD has been a much improved home team as of late, and it was uncharacteristic to see the Bulldogs go winless over three at Amsoil Arena (with just four regulation goals scored).

It wasn't a virtuoso, not at all. But heading into the weekend, I was looking for improvement. Friday against SCSU was better than Saturday against Colorado College. UMD took another positive step on Saturday, and not just because it won. Saturday was a more complete effort by the Bulldogs, one that can be built on as North Dakota looms.


It's not all duckies and bunnies. There's no panic over the fact UMD has taken major penalties in three of the four games since holiday break ended. Of the three, only one of them -- Willie Raskob's contact to the head major that drew a one-game suspension from the NCHC -- was a truly regrettable hit. Avery Peterson had no intent, but probably deserved an ejection for his hit in the Friday CC game.

The call on Kotyk looked good to me until I watched the replay. By no means is this a rip of the officials involved. They don't get to look at the replays, which appear to show Winiecki was already falling down and Kotyk barely made any contact. Live action, it looked -- and I said this -- like Kotyk followed through on a push to the back, and I can't be mad at the call that was made based on that.

What I can be mad at is the NCAA Rules Committee still refusing to allow video review of potential major penalties in the regular season. Officials were allowed to look at video of such plays during postseason games last year, something that was well-received by everyone involved.

"When there’s so much on the line come playoff time for these schools, I think everyone enjoys the fact that the right call is going to be made a very high percentage of the time," NCHC Director of Officiating Don Adam told me in September.

I continue to hold out hope the committee will see the light. On Will Borgen's interference major in the third period, the officials spent the entire media timeout discussing the hit (a high and late hit on UMD's Neal Pionk) and still hadn't reached a verdict when we came back from break. Allow them to review that video, and there's no doubt in my mind the delay isn't as long.

(By the way, the replay I saw, it looked like Borgen got Pionk square in the head. Since I was pretty vehement about the fact Raskob deserved a suspension for his hit, I would be negligent of my duty if I didn't say Borgen deserves and should get a game for his hit. We'll see if the NCHC takes action.)

Anyway, I really don't think there's any reason for panic. There's an element of bad luck involved here. That said, I am a bit concerned about the poorly-timed run of penalties in the second period of a game UMD led 3-0. The Bulldogs took six penalties in the game, all in the second period. All six infractions occurred in a span of 5:06. Is it worth panicking over a game where the adversary had four power plays? No. But UMD has to do a better job avoiding runs like that.


Next up is the return trip up Highway 2, as North Dakota gets the rematch it's probably had circled since UMD finished a home sweep Oct. 29.

(I'm not sure anyone will admit it in Grand Forks, but let's not be dumb. This matters to them, and it should.)

Those two UMD wins in Duluth moved the Bulldogs to No. 1 in the national rankings for the first time. They held that spot -- outside of one week -- until the CC games in Duluth Jan. 6-7 knocked them from the perch.

Since playing UMD, North Dakota has gotten healthier -- Brock Boeser is back from wrist surgery in December, an injury that had impacted him for some time before he got cut open -- and the Fighting Hawks appear poised to make a run. There was a hiccup Friday against Miami, as the RedHawks scored five in the third period to win 6-3, but UND is 4-1 since its holiday break ended, and included in that was a two-game sweep in Omaha where it put up 16 goals.

I do think North Dakota can be vulnerable in the back, a spot it was quite strong last year, but the biggest key for UMD is avoiding matchup nightmares with the UND top lines while playing on the road. Boeser and star freshman Tyson Jost are separated at the moment, so we'll see which line Brad Berry wants dealing with Carson Soucy, and which one has to deal with Pionk. Neither are a picnic to play against.

No comments: