Saturday, February 04, 2017

Game 28: Omaha at UMD

Might as well empty the proverbial gas tank in this one. After closing out this two-game series against the Omaha Mavericks, UMD will take its final break of the season before embarking on what it hopes is a long run that ends at the Madhouse on Madison.

The top-ranked Bulldogs had to settle for a 2-2 tie in Friday's series opener after Ian Brady found a puck in the left circle and beat Hunter Miska -- who had been in a collision with teammate Dan Molenaar and lost his stick seconds earlier -- five-hole. Alex Iafallo got UMD a second point in the NCHC standings with a shootout goal. But as discussed on the previous blog, UMD really can ill afford to miss out on more points in this weekend set. Denver is idle and returns against Colorado College next weekend, the last place team in the league and one DU has beaten in ten straight meetings.

To get the full three, a few things to look for improvement on in this game:

  • Starts. UMD was sloppy to begin the first and third periods. Omaha was equally sloppy in the first, so that didn't burn the Bulldogs, but Brady's goal came 92 seconds into the third and on a play where UMD was all sorts of out of sorts defensively.
  • Better execution in front. The Bulldogs missed on a number of glorious chances Friday, including a partial two-on-zero in overtime where they didn't even get a shot on goal. Even if you're like me and you think this team is one of the best in the country, scoring chances are going to diminish the deeper into the season we go. Games will become tighter, and the ability to take advantage of those more-limited chances will be a gigantic key.
  • Tighten up in the defensive zone. Miska made some great saves on Friday, including a how-did-he-do-that number on Teemu Pulkkinen in the final seconds of the second period. That came after Pulkkinen made a move from the left to the middle and got around his defender. Too much of that going on right now. 
That said, we're nitpicking. We're looking at a team that is 17-5-5, No. 1 in the meaningless human polls, No. 1 in the (admittedly meaningless until mid-March) PairWise, No. 1 in other computer rankings (RPI and KRACH), and first place in the NCHC. Let's be on the level here. This team is going to the NCAA Tournament and will be four wins away from a national championship once the tourney gets started March 24 or 25. That'll be the case no matter what happens in the next seven regular-season games or in the NCHC playoffs.

And UMD has earned this place in the college hockey world. The Bulldogs have gotten significant contributions from everyone along the way. They play the game with pace and intensity and have a ton of experience across all four forward lines and three defensive pairings.

I don't mean to try to render upcoming games meaningless, because UMD has areas to improve and still needs to refine its game before March 24 arrives. Just trying to be honest about the big picture. This isn't last season, where the Bulldogs had to scratch and claw to get home ice in the NCHC playoffs and make the NCAA Tournament as the last at-large team in. It's a different kind of year, one that presents different challenges along the way. Now, instead of trying to figure out why a veteran team with good skill and leadership can't score, we're trying to find way to tweak what's being done to make the team even better.

One lineup change for UMD, as junior Blake Young plays for freshman Jade Miller on the fourth line. For Young, it's his first game since Dec. 16 against Bemidji and his 11th of the season.



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

Soucy - Raskob
Pionk - Kotyk
Wolff - Molenaar

Miska - Deery - Shepard

Morelli - Vesel - Ortega
Oloffson - Pulkkinen - Parizek
Keck - Spinner - Galt
Randolph - Alferd - Grannary

Snuggerud - Messner
Jones - Brady
Klehr - Stewart

Weninger - Oldham

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