Friday, February 24, 2017

Saturday Hockey Notes and Thoughts on a Friday: Power Play Comes Through as UMD Wins Late

The rare Thursday night game worked out for UMD, as the Bulldogs got a late power play goal from Avery Peterson for a 4-3 victory over Miami.

The win runs UMD's unbeaten streak to ten games (8-0-2), the Bulldogs' longest since a school-record 17-game streak in the 2011-12 season. It was also UMD's 20th win of the season, marking the school's 18th 20-win season all-time. Scott Sandelin and Mike Sertich each led the way for eight of them.

It furthers the argument that UMD is a mortal lock for the NCAA Tournament for a third straight season, something that has only happened one other time (1983-85) in school history.

Ahead of Senior Night Friday, a few thoughts first on the series opener, and a quick look at the NCHC weekend ahead.

For starters, UMD lost 2-0 and 3-2 leads in this game, but recovered thanks to a key penalty kill in the final seven minutes, followed by Peterson's gigantic goal. Riley Tufte took an outlet pass from Neal Pionk and skated up the left wing. He got into the offensive zone and occupied two defenders before leaving the puck in the left circle for Peterson, who wired a shot by Miami goalie Ryan Larkin for his third game-winning goal out of six scored this season (14 games).

Pionk added a power-play goal earlier in the third off a great setup by Adam Johnson, who scored in the first period by banking a shot off the back of Larkin from behind the goal line. It's at least the third time Johnson has scored a goal in a similar situation this season.

Senior captain Dominic Toninato also scored for UMD, running his point streak to five games (4-3-7). In 21 NCHC games, Toninato has 17 points (nine goals, eight assists), second on team to Alex Iafallo (10-16-26 in league play).

The UMD power play has now scored in five straight games (7-for-23, 30.4 percent) after going 5-for-34 (14.7 percent) over eight games in January. Overall, the Bulldogs are scoring on 20 percent of man advantage opportunities after that number dipped to 17 percent and change in January.

The kill was solid again, only allowing a goal during a five-on-three Miami chance in the second period, where Grant Hutton's blast got by Hunter Miska with traffic in front. There were some key penalty kills, including late in the first period after Johnson had given UMD a 1-0 lead (no Miami shots), and two in the third (one shot on each) with the game still very much in doubt.

Ten power plays combined, but there was much more five on five flow for big stretches of the game, especially in the first and second periods. Miami's two even strength goals came off rushes, and UMD's coverage was especially poor on the third goal, as RedHawks forward Carson Meyer was left alone skating down the slot and deposited a loose puck by Miska.


Unfortunately, one of the stories of the game was officiating for a second straight game. The UMD bench was visibly frustrated with a couple calls that weren't made on Miami, most notably a potential boarding call involving a hit on Toninato during a UMD power play. That drew frustration because of a pretty soft boarding call on UMD's Brenden Kotyk that gave Miami the five-on-three it scored on in the second period.

There were also pretty blatant misses on a slash to Kyle Osterberg and a trip/interference play involving Willie Raskob in the third period.

On the bright side, 1) UMD won the game; and 2) the missed calls and obvious frustration woke up the crowd, even when some strong play by UMD earlier in the game really couldn't do that.

The situation was pretty similar to Saturday in Colorado Springs, where calls made against UMD were all legit, but similar plays by the adversary didn't lead to penalties the other way.

It's, frankly, frustrating to watch. I like a lot of the folks responsible for what we see every week. The NCHC does very good work with its officials. It's great to see Derek Shepherd, always a strong presence on the ice, still very much involved in the evaluation of the on-ice officials during and after games. Mike Schmidt, who works as a supervisor, cares an unbelievable amount about the product and is a great listener. Don Adam runs the show, so to speak, for the conference and also cares a great deal about what happens on the ice.

The league is fully committed to giving the officials as many tools as possible to improve, along with constant feedback from qualified supervisors.

But what we've seen these last two games isn't good enough for me. Maybe the influx of penalty minutes in the second half has changed UMD's rep a little bit, but the Bulldogs struggled to get calls in the first half of the year, when they weren't at all a big-PIM team. So I'm not sure I buy the idea that UMD's penalty minutes have ticked up in the second half and now officials are looking for its players to do something wrong.

Whatever the issue is, it's happened in two straight games now, and I don't remember the last time I thought UMD had some legit gripes about the officials for two straight games. They'll happen here and there, and everyone has calls they don't agree with. But it's amazing how many times slow-motion replay backs up what the official thought he saw live action.

Hopefully, it's just some bad luck for UMD and not the start of a trend. I still believe in what this conference stands for and all the work put into its officiating.


Thursday's win lifted UMD back into the top spot of the PairWise and the NCHC standings, the latter by one point over Denver. With only one game left this weekend compared to Denver's two, UMD still needs help to claim a Penrose Cup championship. Denver hosts St. Cloud State this weekend. A UMD win Friday and Denver split or worse against SCSU would guarantee the Bulldogs will carry the league lead into the final weekend of the regular season.

Elsewhere, Omaha visits North Dakota, with both teams trying desperately to stay alive for home ice. Also, Western Michigan tries to seal home ice with two games at Colorado College.

Finally, the UMD women beat St. Cloud State 5-0 Thursday in Game 1 of their best-of-three series. Lara Stalder -- hours after being named a top ten finalist for the Patty Kazmaier Award -- scored twice and added an assist, while fellow senior Demi Crossman scored two goals. Game 2 is Friday at 3pm. UMD advances to the WCHA Final Faceoff and virtually seals an NCAA bid with a win.

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