Monday, January 09, 2017

Monday Musings: Lethargic, Lackluster Bulldogs Get What They Have Coming in Saturday Loss

A long, long time ago, UMD coach Scott Sandelin responded to a blowout loss by saying something along these lines (I'm paraphrasing, but the general point is accurate):

"They got what they deserved, and we got what we deserved."

Whenever those were spoken, it was indeed after a blowout loss by UMD. But they are often true when a game is played, no matter the final margin. They were true again on Saturday, when Colorado College got what it deserved, and UMD got what it deserved.

The final result was a 2-1 Tiger win, and while there are a lot of things I want to discuss in this here blog entry, the first thing that has to be done -- because it's 1) true, and 2) the right thing to do -- is to give credit where it's due.

Colorado College played very well defensively. The Tigers blocked 29 shots on the weekend (20 Friday), disrupted UMD's passing lanes, and got strong goaltending from freshman Alex Leclerc (.939 save percentage in six starts before the weekend, .958 save percentage in two games against UMD).

CC got timely goals from Mason Bergh (Saturday) and Sam Rothstein (short-handed on Friday) to shift momentum, and a five-on-three goal from Teemu Kivihalme Saturday provided the game's final margin. That stung for UMD because it came after a long five-on-three kill had started very well for the home team.

Sometimes, it's not necessarily about how many goals a team scores, but more when those goals happen. Rothstein's goal sparked one of the worst stretches of hockey UMD has played all season, and Bergh's Saturday marker seemed to take some life out of the UMD bench, as it was CC's first real scoring chance of the night.

Leclerc didn't really make any mind-blowing, "How did he do that?" saves. But he was a rock when his team needed him. The numbers over eight games tell you that he's playing well, and his team is defending well in front of him.


What happened? Well, it wasn't just the Tigers playing well. UMD wasn't sharp. Passes weren't crisp, guys weren't catching the accurate ones. Movements weren't those of a confident, sure-of-themselves group. Everything just looked a little off. And when you're even five percent off in the NCHC, you're probably not going to win. It was a good, hard reminder of the required level of play each night in this difficult league.

In another reminder of how not-sharp UMD was this past weekend, the Bulldogs took their first two major penalties of the 2016-17 season in the series. Avery Peterson was ejected for a check from behind Friday, and Willie Raskob got a game misconduct -- and likely a one-game suspension from the NCHC to be announced early this week -- for contact to the head on Saturday.

(A segment of UMD fans bristle when I argue a Bulldog should be suspended. If a CC player had delivered that hit to a UMD player, there'd be Bulldog fans advocating that player be removed from the league. So please understand we are trying to operate with a modicum of fairness, even though you all know we want UMD to win. I thought Raskob's hit was over the line and unnecessary, and it certainly warrants a suspension. He's not a dirty player. He made a mistake. It happens, but the fact he's not a dirty player doesn't excuse him from the rules.)

Heard a lot of fans complaining about the long break between games. One person even told me the break was a week longer than it was, because it felt like it was that long. Before the weekend series even started, I had two players privately tell me how tough it has been to get back in the groove after the holiday break, largely because the team had just finished up a two-week break before the Denver series.

None of these things were meant to be excuses. I mean, the player conversations I had came days before the CC series even began on Friday. They didn't know how it was going to play out, even if the words became a bit of a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Heck, I had conversations with people before the holiday break about how different it would be coming out of that one versus preparing for Denver. First off, that was a No. 1 vs No. 2 series and there was plenty of hype. Also, keep in mind the players were in a normal routine of school and practice during the week.

The other team is on break, too, however, so the logic can only take you so far. The Bulldogs needed to play better than they did, and surely they'll be reminded of that throughout the week as St. Cloud State approaches on Friday.


I've tried to exercise more and more patience with the officials. I've defended them in arguments with people, to the point where I'm sure some longtime followers wonder if there's something wrong with me. 😁

When I wrote about the re-emphasis of "standard of play" by the NCAA in September, it came with the obvious caution that not all officials are going to call the game the same way. That said, the hope was players and coaches would adjust and we'd see a quick improvement in the way the game was going to be played.

Apparently, that standard of play expired at the end of 2016.

And if you don't believe me, ask Matt Wellens, who saw the same game I did (I think):
This weekend — tonight especially — the rules emphasis appeared nonexistent, as if we were transported back to the 2015-16 season.
Holding along the boards? No call.
Chipping players or impeding them as they came into the offensive zone? No call.
Hooking? Some got called, but too many “red flag” moments when the stick got parallel with the skater and made contact went uncalled.
It made this series tough to watch, and the fans who had come to expect one thing got frustrated they were back to getting what they were told was now dead.
I'm all for letting the kids play. We don't need to see 20 power plays in a game. However, when there are constant restraining fouls being let go (both ways, yes, but it went more one direction than the other), it makes the game almost impossible. This was the most-like-2004ish hockey game I've seen since, well, 2004. That, friends, isn't a good thing.

The signature moment came while UMD was killing off Raskob's major on Saturday. Dominic Toninato decided to drive into the offensive zone, basically by himself, while UMD changed behind him. He was impeded trying to drive the net, lost the puck, and then took an illegal check while not in possession of the puck near the end boards.

I know players have been known to embellish contact while killing a penalty in hopes of getting a call to nullify the power play, but the second hit was interference and probably roughing as well. Nothing was called. Very frustrating for everyone in attendance, to say the least.

The NCHC has been better than this (I actually think, in whole, the league has done a great job enforcing standard of play while not taking too much away from the games), and I'm fully confident it will be again. But Saturday was difficult to watch, and might not have been with a little more love given to the standard of play emphasis.

(Long-view, UMD needed to do a better job fighting through some of the stickwork and body restraint that was going on. Goes back to the Bulldogs just not being totally in tune with the details of the game, something they've been quite good at most of the season.)


Moving on now, thankfully. UMD won't be No. 1 entering this weekend against St. Cloud State. Games are 7pm Friday and Saturday at Amsoil Arena.

The Huskies will be pretty much as ticked off as the Bulldogs entering the weekend. St. Cloud State lost a 2-0 lead in a 3-2 overtime loss to Miami on Friday, then never led in a 4-1 loss on Saturday.

The turning point of Friday was when SCSU forward Jacob Benson was given a five-minute major for contact to the head and a game misconduct when he backed into a Miami player in the neutral zone. The contact appeared to be with the RedHawk player's head, but it was a weird play that was similar to some big hits by Detroit Red Wings defenseman Niklas Kronwall over the years. I know a lot of SCSU fans were irritated with the call, but honestly looking at the replay I don't have a huge issue with it. Good chance it wasn't a correct call, but remember the officials don't get multi-angle replay views before deciding on a major penalty call. And I can't argue the idea that hit looked really bad live action.

(Potential major penalties can be reviewed, but only in the postseason.)

St. Cloud's goaltending has been a bit suspect this year, as the Huskies have struggled to replace departed star Charlie Lindgren. Sophomore Mikey Eyssimont has ten goals, Duluth native Judd Peterson nine, and World Juniors gold medalist Jack Ahcan has 13 points in 16 games. SCSU's depth isn't what it was last year, but this is still a dangerous team that has a solid power play and just doesn't take a lot of penalties.

Looking forward to a good series. UMD wasn't at its best last weekend, but there's no reason to be worried unless it happens again right away. With this group, I'm betting strong that it won't.

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