Saturday, January 21, 2017

Saturday Hockey Notes and Thoughts: Bulldogs Shake Off More Adversity, Beat North Dakota

GRAND FORKS, N.D. -- As if there hadn't been enough tests of UMD's resolve this season, here come two disallowed goals, including a literal buzzer-beater, in the first period. UMD sports information poobah Bob Nygaard couldn't think of the last time UMD had two goals disallowed in the same game, and he was certain it had never happened in the same period before.

So instead of being up 3-1 in Grand Forks after one period Friday night, UMD went to the room in a 1-1 game. A lesser team is rattled by this type of thing, wonders what it has to do to get a bounce.

Not this group.

Adam Johnson went coast to coast as a UMD power play came to an end early in the second to give the Bulldogs the lead for good at 2-1, UMD added two more in the second and went on to a 5-3 win over North Dakota in front of a packed Ralph Engelstad Arena.

Lots to digest from this game, and we'll get to Johnson's incredible goal and the second period surge it jump-started for UMD in a bit, along with the newly-formed UMD line that appears to be a beast for opponents to deal with, but first let's address the disallowed goals and get that out of the way.

On the first, with 4:41 left in the first period, Billy Exell appeared to score on a rebound. Jade Miller fired a puck to the front, across the UND goal crease. Sammy Spurrell collected and tried to jam it home, but UND goalie Cam Johnson came out and challenged. That caused Spurrell -- who was in the crease -- to roll over the top of the goalie. As that happened, Exell threw the puck home, a classic case of goalie interference, by the way it's written in the college hockey rulebook.

Argue it all you want, but Johnson has the first right to that space in the crease. If UND scores on Miska in similar fashion, you're all blowing up my Twitter and probably that of the league. You know this is true. It was a good call.

On the second, the puck legally crossed the goal line without a doubt, and it did so before the clock hit zeroes, except North Dakota challenged the Willie Raskob goal, saying UMD was offside on the zone entry. And UMD was offside. By a lot. Pretty easy call for the officials.


That second disallowed goal came on a UMD power play that carried into the second period. At the tail end of it, Johnson took control of the puck deep in the UMD zone, went around the back of the net, and started up the rink. He didn't stop until he scored, giving UMD the advantage.

That play seemed to add even more jump to a UMD team that already had plenty of it. If there was any residual effect to the disallowed goals, it was gone. UMD had the lead it probably deserved at that point, and the Bulldogs didn't just try to defend it. They kept attacking.

Sammy Spurrell caught Cam Johnson napping at 5:58 and scored from the left corner to make it 3-1. That ended Johnson's night, as Matt Hrynkiw finished the game for UND. In seven previous appearances against UMD, Johnson had a 1.88 goals against and .943 save percentage. UMD touched him up for three goals on 15 shots in this game.

A Karson Kuhlman dump in bounced to the front of the net, where Avery Peterson beat Hrynkiw for a 4-1 lead late in the second. Hrynkiw had been sharp, but the puck bouncing back to the front appeared to make him freeze, instead of making an aggressive move that he seemed to have time to make.

UND got two in the third, but UMD was able to get a second Riley Tufte goal for big insurance.

The third period wasn't perfect from UMD, but the Bulldogs did enough to get their tenth NCHC win this season and move six points up on Denver for the top spot in the league (more on that in a bit). I wasn't a huge fan of how the Bulldogs finished this game, but the closer score was aided a bit by a Shane Gersich goal that shouldn't have counted. UND was offsides on the play, unquestionably, but UMD was unable to challenge the call because it had used its timeout in the second period.

All in all, UMD did a lot of things that have been difficult to do, most notably chase Cam Johnson from a game. Outside of some not-stellar moments in a pretty meaningless third period, it was as thorough a performance as I've ever seen from the Bulldogs in this building.


It feels like UMD got two huge trade deadline acquisitions coming out of break. Peterson and Tufte have both been going, and the performance of that line with Kuhlman in this game was nothing short of prolific.

On this night: Three goals (two by Tufte), three assists (two by Kuhlman), six points (two from each player), 15 shots on goal (Kuhlman had six, Tufte five, and Peterson four), and each player was plus-three if you're into that sort of thing.

It's funny when people ask how this team has evolved. I don't think UMD has gotten worse or anything like that, but it's hard to point to many individual players who are a lot better now than they were, say, before Thanksgiving. But a huge, huge difference in this team now versus November is the play of Tufte and the addition of Peterson. As Dave Starman of CBS Sports Network noted in our chat Friday, there's no question Peterson is having fun again. Whatever happened in Omaha, he wasn't having fun at the rink. From the moment he arrived in Duluth, there's been a different chemistry with the team and staff that has brought out a different Avery Peterson. This version is much more dangerous, and it's a huge get for a team that didn't necessarily need to add a player of his caliber to win.

It also shows the character of everyone involved. Peterson has said it many times. He grew up playing against the other 218 kids on this team, and they would sometimes play together on select teams in the summer and fall. He knew a lot of them. But this team went into break at 12-3-3. They didn't necessarily need to add a piece. If Peterson wasn't such a great fit, maybe it screws with the chemistry and things that were already working. Instead, Peterson couldn't be a better fit, and he's enhanced this team in just the six games he's been able to play in. He's only going to get more comfortable, and look out, NCHC.

The Bulldogs are a sum-of-the-parts group, and while they strive for balance out of all four lines, they'll take what they're getting at the moment. With Parker Mackay out (upper body) for probably a month or more, this line is going to have plenty more chances to show what it can do.


Elsewhere in the NCHC, St. Cloud State did UMD a huge solid. The Huskies got a tying goal in the second period from Jack Poehling, then younger brother Ryan scored the winner in overtime as SCSU topped Denver 3-2. Denver starting goalie Tanner Jaillet was pulled after allowing two goals on 30 shots over 40 minutes. Evan Cowley finished the game. As of this writing, there is no word on if Jaillet is healthy or was injured and had to come out of the game. According to reporters on site, Jaillet stayed on the DU bench, but that doesn't necessarily mean he wasn't injured enough to come out.

Duluth East grad Jake Randolph scored on a power play with 6:16 left in the third period as Omaha tied Miami 3-3 in Omaha. The RedHawks got the extra standings point on a three-on-three goal by Scott Dornbrock.

In Kalamazoo, Colt Conrad scored early in the third and Aaron Hadley added insurance late as Western Michigan recovered from kicking away a 2-0 lead and beat Colorado College 4-2.

In the NCHC standings, UMD leads Denver by six points, while third-place North Dakota and Western Michigan are 12 points out. Omaha and St. Cloud State are tied for fifth, with Miami one point behind in seventh. Everyone in the league except SCSU has two games in hand on the Bulldogs.

Saturday is a gigantic opportunity for the Bulldogs to effectively eliminate the defending regular season champs from the race. A win over North Dakota opens up a 15-point gap that is going to be exceptionally tough for UND to make up, even with two games in hand. And, again, UMD is out of league two of the next three weekends (the North Star Cup, then Omaha, then a bye), so points are essential right now.

It'll be interesting to see what happens to the UND lineup. Freshman Tyson Jost was injured at some point in the game and wasn't on the bench in the third period (good eye, Bruce). Defenseman Christian Wolanin was ejected for a check to the head on Peterson, and probably should face a suspension. I'd think Brad Berry comes back with Johnson in goal, but he's been pulled in his last two Friday starts and Hrynkiw was pretty good in relief.

No matter what, boy does UMD have a chance to do something I didn't think it would be able to do this weekend. Hopefully the Bulldogs seize the moment.

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