Hopefully, the nation's No. 1 team enjoyed its rest.
The Bulldogs return to action Friday night, starting a two-game NCHC series against Colorado College. Between then and March 4, UMD will play seven NCHC weekend sets and its final non-conference games at the (possibly final?) North Star College Cup in St. Paul. 16 games with one weekend off before the playoffs begin -- hopefully at home -- on March 10.
If all goes well for the Bulldogs -- and you all know where this team intends to end its season -- the Bulldogs will play 24 games and take just two weekends off before finishing up.
And, no, the schedule doesn't get any easier for UMD.
Colorado College might be in last place in the NCHC, but the Tigers won the Florida College Classic last week, beating Merrimack 3-0 and then Cornell 2-1 in overtime in the championship game. Goalie Alex Leclerc stopped 49 of 50 shots in the two games, picking up just his second and third wins of the season.
The Tigers are in a similar position to when they visited Duluth for Hockey Day Minnesota weekend last year. They're playing better hockey than they might have been earlier in the year, and while last year's team had picked up nice NCHC wins over St. Cloud State and Omaha, this one just won a holiday tournament and conceded just one goal in two games. 5-12-1 doesn't look like much, but CC is playing a more structured defensive game than it was. The Tigers are down about a half a goal allowed per game from last season, even though the team save percentage is down slightly (.880 compared to last year's .886). Leclerc's efforts in Florida lifted him to .884 on the season.
Along with a return trip to Colorado Springs next month, UMD also hosts St. Cloud State, Omaha, and Miami, while traveling to North Dakota and Western Michigan, along with the North Star Cup trip. There will not be much -- if any -- damage done to UMD's schedule strength ratings down the stretch.
Much was made before the Bemidji State series about how good a defensive team the Beavers are. There's no question that is true. BSU isn't at 1.62 goals allowed per game by some sort of freak accident.
Goals against alone is a sketchy way to measure a team's defensive prowess, but run with me on this for a second. UMD is eighth nationally in goals against, and the Bulldogs so far this season have played ten games against five teams that are also in the top ten. UMD is 7-2-1 in those ten games (2-0 against both Michigan Tech and North Dakota, 1-0-1 against Bemidji State, 1-1 each against Denver and Notre Dame), outscoring opponents 32-18 with two shutouts.
What does this mean? It means UMD can play good hockey against strong defensive teams. This is a veteran group capable of adapting when a team wants to try to put the clamp down on them.
It's also a team that's taken advantage of its scoring chances, even when they've been scarce.
We talked before the Denver series about UMD's need to improve its puck possession game. That need hasn't changed much in the four games since that first double-bye. UMD did a very good job keeping Bemidji State from generating much in the Saturday road win, especially in the third period. Bemidji State spent most of the last 3:30 on the power play without generating a shot on goal.
However, UMD is still struggling mightily on faceoffs (55th of 60 teams nationally), and the Bulldogs have been outshot at even strength six times in 18 games, already more times than it happened all of last season.
It's one of very few warts in UMD's game at this point in the season, but something the coaching staff will keep working to correct through the second half.
Many of you are aware of changes in the Duluth radio scene. I am now at Midwest Communications, plying my craft on the KQ Morning Show and doing whatever else is asked of me. However, I will continue to call UMD games as 92.1 The Fan remains a Red Rock-owned station.
Confused? I get it.
So what does this mean for UMD hockey fans? A couple things you need to know:
For starters, men's hockey games starting Friday will no longer be heard on KBAJ (105.5 FM - Deer River/Grand Rapids) or KAOD (106.7 FM - Babbitt/Ely), and instead will only be heard on 92.1 The Fan (WWAX-FM) in the Duluth area.
Also, our streaming will change. Starting Friday, you can find the games here. Simply click or tap -- the site works on mobile devices -- on the game you want to stream and follow the on-screen instructions. I know it's not the most user-friendly interface on Earth, but it is free.
If you have questions or problems, please contact play by play voice Bruce Ciskie (firstname.lastname@example.org) or Red Rock internet director Rich Cannata (email@example.com). Thanks in advance for your support.