Saturday, January 07, 2017

Saturday Hockey Notes and Thoughts: Bulldogs Get Late Pionk Goal for Tie

When the chips were down Friday night, UMD did what it's done for most of the 2016-17 season.

It found a way.

Friday's game was far from pretty, certainly leaving much to be desired on the Bulldogs' side, but UMD was able to grind out a 2-2 tie against last-place Colorado College at Amsoil Arena.

Sophomore defenseman Neal Pionk's rocket of a one-timer beat CC goalie Alex Leclerc with 41.7 seconds left in the third period to tie the game. After a scoreless overtime, the teams went to three-on-three overtime for an extra point in the NCHC standings. It was actually four-on-three, as a UMD power play carried over, and Pionk buried another blast from up high to end the game and get the Bulldogs that valuable point.

Lots to talk about here, and I'm going to try to be somewhat brief while covering as much as possible.

First, the Friday game. Not nearly good enough from UMD overall on this night, especially in the second period. The Bulldogs looked good at the start of the game, playing with some energy, but struggling to get a lot of quality scoring chances. The Tigers have played much better defensive hockey over a stretch that is now seven games, and they showed why in this game, frustrating the Bulldogs and limiting those grade-A opportunities.

Avery Peterson got his first in a Bulldog uniform with 6:04 left in the first, banking a shot in off a CC defenseman. Things were looking good less than 90 seconds later, when UMD was set to start its second power play of the game. That's where things started to turn the wrong direction. Luc Gerdes set up Sam Rothstein for a pretty short-handed goal to tie the game, and the Bulldogs fell a little flat for the better part of 20 minutes after that happened.

The second period might have been the worst of 57 20-minute periods UMD has played this season to this point. Just not much went right, from Peterson getting ejected for a hit from behind -- the first major called on UMD this season -- to Colorado College taking the lead 30 seconds into the power play, to the Bulldogs failing to execute much of anything in the offensive zone for a good chunk of the stanza.

Things did start to change in the third period. UMD looked sharper and started getting some pucks on Leclerc, who made a couple really good stops on in-close shots to keep it 2-1. Out of a UMD timeout with 48 seconds left, Dominic Toninato won a key faceoff, and Adam Johnson put the puck on a tee for Pionk on the left side. Tic-tac-toe-blast-twine-tie.

It appeared CC coach Mike Haviland wanted a pick called on the faceoff, but his efforts were in vain. It might be something to watch for in Saturday's rematch, as UMD didn't get the benefit of a couple potential faceoff interference calls, either.

Pionk's three-on-three goal was a missile from the high slot that Leclerc didn't really have a chance on.

Shot attempts in the third period and overtime were 38-6 in UMD's favor, and shots on goal were 24-3 for UMD. To get that kind of rebound performance after a rough second period -- again -- shows the kind of resolve in the group right now.


UMD chose to sit freshman forward Joey Anderson for Friday's game. Anderson is optimistic about returning Saturday, but it isn't a guarantee. I do think he'll play, as long as he is able to get some rest. When I spoke to Anderson before Friday night's game, he said he hadn't slept since the USA-Canada World Junior game the night before.

Assuming Anderson plays, Sandelin will have to scratch two forwards for the first time this season. Nothing about this will be easy, and even tougher than figuring out who has to sit will be drawing up the lines.

So IF Anderson plays, here's a primer on what to watch for.

First off, I don't see any way the top line in this scenario isn't Toninato with Alex Iafallo and Anderson. Why mess with a line that was so good before Christmas?

That's where it gets complicated. Adam Johnson played well after being moved back to center Friday when Peterson got ejected. Kraig Karakas was right to recommend Johnson stay at center, and it makes sense to have him on the second line. That leaves three centers -- Peterson, Jared Thomas, and Sammy Spurrell -- to center two lines. I believe all five play, and I think Peterson is the most likely candidate to move to wing.

Spurrell and Billy Exell aren't coming out of the lineup when they're as good as they are at killing penalties. Riley Tufte continues to play well. He isn't going to eat popcorn during the games. Guys like Karson Kuhlman, Parker Mackay, Kyle Osterberg, etc., aren't getting scratched.

I believe Jade Miller -- who started well and has not really had any cover-your-eyes games -- is going to be the odd man out.

Taking a total stab at the potential lines:

Iafallo - Toninato - Anderson
Osterberg - Johnson - Kuhlman
Tufte - Thomas - Mackay
Peterson - Spurrell - Exell

This looks a lot like lines from earlier in the season, only with Peterson instead of Miller on the fourth line. If Tufte warrants more of a look, maybe swap him with Osterberg and give that third line a bit more speed.

Either way, UMD has plenty of options, and this is a nice problem to have.

That's all for now. Check Twitter @BruceCiskie for more. Chat with the actual lines before Saturday's game.

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