Monday, January 23, 2017

Monday Musings: History Made as UMD Dominates for North Dakota Sweep

It's one thing to sweep an NCHC opponent on the road. UMD had already done that twice this season (St. Cloud State and Omaha).

It's another thing to sweep North Dakota on the road. UMD hadn't done that since Jan. 27-28, 1995, nearly 22 years ago.

Lots of neat little factoids came out of Saturday's 4-0 Bulldog win over North Dakota at Ralph Engelstad Arena.

  • It's the first time UMD has ever beaten North Dakota in five straight meetings.
  • First time UMD ever swept a four-game regular season series from North Dakota
  • First shutout of UND in Grand Forks since Glenn "Chico" Resch and the Bulldogs won 3-0 Nov. 22, 1969
  • First shutout of UND in Grand Forks for anyone since St. Cloud State's Ryan Faragher in 2011
  • First sweep of UND in Grand Forks for anyone since St. Cloud State in 2013
There's probably more. In fact, I know there is.

UMD's three biggest rivals are widely considered to be Minnesota, North Dakota, and St. Cloud State. The Bulldogs now have six straight wins over Minnesota (a program record), five straight over North Dakota (also a program record), and are 5-2 in the last seven meetings with SCSU. That's an aggregate record of 16-2 over the last 18 meetings.

Of all the things this group of players has accomplished so far, this might be the most impressive. At least temporarily, they've turned UMD's three most significant rivalries on their proverbial ears.

North Dakota junior Trevor Olson, a Duluth native and former linemate of UMD captain Dominic Toninato, gave the Bulldogs much credit after the game.

"They're a good team," Olson told reporters. "Big, fast, physical, veteran group .. . the way they play, they just frustrate teams."

UMD certainly frustrated UND over the weekend. As head coach Scott Sandelin bluntly said of Friday's game: "We were the better team."

UMD was fast, tenacious, and unafraid to get physical against a heavier opponent. The Bulldogs set the tone for the weekend quickly and never let up. On Saturday, North Dakota came out with a big push. Its top line of Brock Boeser, Austin Poganski, and Shane Gersich spent the better part of a minute in the offensive zone after the opening faceoff, getting a couple good scoring chances and nearly popping the game's first goal.

When that didn't happen, and Adam Johnson scored off a UND turnover that became the Bulldogs' first decent scoring chance of the night, it could very well have been over on the spot. If that and Willie Raskob's power play goal later in the first didn't end the game, Toninato and Alex Iafallo working their bag off to create a chance that led to Toninato's short-handed goal in the third sure did.

Instead of UND getting an early goal, momentum, and getting the sellout crowd into the game, UMD jumped on the Fighting Hawks and never let the crowd get involved. Turning one of the loudest buildings in college hockey into one of the world's largest public libraries was a huge development that just added to everything that was going right on this weekend for the Bulldogs.


So, Riley Tufte had a pretty good weekend. The freshman scored his first college goal in the Jan. 13 loss to St. Cloud State. He then took his act to North Dakota and spent the weekend abusing UND defensemen and winning position/physical battles in front of the net.

Tufte opened UMD's scoring in the Friday win by getting to the front of the net and tipping in a Dan Molenaar point shot. He won another battle in front and got to a rebound off an Avery Peterson shot for UMD's last goal of the game.

That meant Tufte got his first three UMD goals by going to the net and being a presence in front. But the kid can fire it, and he showed everyone Saturday when he stripped Hayden Shaw of a puck at the UND blue line, walked in, and ripped a wrist shot by Cam Johnson to make it 4-0. Earlier, Tufte had been robbed by Johnson on a great passing play that started when Peterson intercepted an outlet pass and found Karson Kuhlman, who sent a one-touch pass to Tufte in front.

The popular question among UMD fans revolves around Tufte at this point. What happened?

Well, if you'd been paying attention, either on the blog or on the air, you'd have known this was coming. It was just a matter of time. Tufte might not have been pleased with his first-half production, but his coaches were pleased with his progress once he found his way into the lineup. Tufte returned from break a determined player, and started playing like a more confident player in the offensive zone. His hard work is now paying off, and there's little doubt Tufte and Peterson are in position to be huge players for this team as the second half continues.

Peterson wins draws, plays with great intensity, and the work he's done with UMD power skating coach Bronwynn Pichetti is showing in games, as he's in better position to be a factor on the forecheck. He's a faster and better overall skater than he was in Omaha, and that improvement has made him a much more dangerous player. Peterson always had scoring ability and was always a smart player who had good intensity. His skating is a big difference in his game now.

(The lesson, young players, is to always work hard on your skating. It's one facet of your game that can make the biggest difference as you move your way up the ladder. Not all elite skaters have the talent to be great players, but a guy like Peterson has all the other skills, and now is seeing the results of his work to become a better skater.)

I've seen jokes on Twitter about UMD's midseason free-agent acquisitions. I'd prefer to refer to Peterson as a trade deadline addition. Either way, Tufte and Peterson have made UMD deeper than it was, and what it was before break was one of the deepest teams in the country.


UMD has taken back the No. 1 spot in the latest PairWise rankings, which mimic the NCAA Tournament selection process. As of this writing, the meaningless human polls aren't out, but UMD should be atop both.

More importantly, UMD took a huge step forward this weekend. The Bulldogs played a team they are -- right now -- better than, and business was properly handled with few shenanigans along the way. 

(North Dakota has high-end talent, but Tyson Jost missed Saturday's game with injury, Brock Boeser still isn't right, and UND just isn't as deep as it has been in the past. That lack of depth really shows when the top line isn't producing, which it wasn't outside of Gersich's goal Friday, a goal that shouldn't have counted because of offsides. Defensively, the Poolman brothers are good, and captain Gage Ausmus is a really solid player, but again, there just isn't a ton of depth right now. Ausmus not being able to finish the game Saturday was a huge issue for them.)

This weekend, UMD steps out of the NCHC for the final time this season, as it partakes in the final North Star College Cup.

(Both Matt Wellens and I have eluded to this multiple times. I don't think it's been confirmed by anyone at Minnesota, but the clearest indicator the tournament is disappearing came when UMD announced it will play home-and-home series against Minnesota over a four-year stretch that starts after the teams open next season in the Ice Breaker at Amsoil Arena. The tournament hasn't drawn well since its first year, and I'm not sure any of the participants -- except maybe Minnesota -- were happy with the way things were going.)

Friday, the Bulldogs and Gophers resume their long rivalry with the nightcap game at 7, following Bemidji State-St. Cloud State at 4. Minnesota is 14-6-2 overall, and the Gophers lead the Big Ten by two points over Penn State after splitting last week with Wisconsin. Sophomore Tyler Sheehy is having another strong season with 15 goals and 32 points (30 points as a freshman). But Minnesota might be vulnerable in the back. The Gophers enter the weekend with a team save percentage of .892, which compares to .922 for the Bulldogs.

Surely, Don Lucia will have his team ready, being that Minnesota has lost six straight in this rivalry for the first time ever. Yes, ever. It's a great chance for UMD to strengthen its chances at a No. 1 regional seed in the NCAA Tournament.


By the way, since I'm all about self-promotion, I'll be on the Sit Down And Cheer podcast from the University of North Dakota this week. We taped on Friday after the game, and it was a fun, free-flowing discussion with UND sports information director Jayson Hajdu and longtime UND radio voice Tim Hennessy. I'll tweet the link when it drops, so follow me on Twitter @BruceCiskie.

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