Saturday, March 11, 2017

Saturday Hockey Notes and Thoughts: Resilient Bulldogs Battle Way to Overtime Win Over Miami

Just watched Grand Rapids pull off another epic upset, this time of AA No. 1 seed Eden Prairie 3-2, setting up an all-northern final against Moorhead Saturday night. This state tournament has been nothing short of incredible, such a treat to watch. Hats off to #218Hockey.

Strange bit of hockey played at Amsoil Arena Friday night. The opener of this best-of-three series had a little bit of everything. Weird goals, bad turnovers leading to goals, goofy bounces, plenty of shots ringing iron, and in the end, UMD did what it's done most of the 2016-17 season: It found a way to win.

Dominic Toninato scored his first career overtime winner off a rebound after Alex Iafallo's wraparound attempt was stopped, and UMD beat Miami 5-4 to take a 1-0 series lead. The Bulldogs can close it out at 7:30 Saturday night.

That Toninato scored was absolutely fitting. He hit the crossbar on a shorthanded breakaway, had another possible break stopped when Miami goalie Chase Munroe left his crease and barely beat him to a loose puck, and was generally a beast throughout this game. As we keep saying, Toninato is seemingly cursed in so many situations, but the fact he's constantly in position to score goals tells you something about how he's playing. Players aren't snakebit in these situations unless they're in a spot to score to start with, and no one seems to be in the right place on the ice more often than Dominic Toninato.

His linemates, Iafallo and Anderson, both had good nights. Iafallo had a goal before assisting on Toninato's winner, and he ran his point streak to eight in a row (4-8-12). Anderson was active and had four shots on the night. The line combined for 15 shots (Iafallo had six) and two goals.

After a bit of a struggle for a few weeks, freshman Riley Tufte had his best game in a while, scoring twice off great work in front of the net and finishing with five shots. Tufte scored his first collegiate goal Jan. 13, touching off a six-game run where he had five goals, seven points, and 21 shots on goal. But Tufte had gone goalless for eight games since Jan. 27, and in seven games since Jan. 28, he had just 15 shots on goal. Tufte broke back out Friday, though. He was a beast in the offensive zone and flat-out earned those two goals and a couple other good scoring chances.

Through two periods, UMD had just 14 shots and Miami 12 in a somewhat sleepy affair. UMD had 39 shot attempts (14 blocked) through two periods, then nearly doubled that number in the third, attempting 32 shots (12 off target, 18 on goal). After letting in a bit of a weird goal from Ryan Siroky that gave Miami a 4-3 lead, freshman Hunter Miska was strong, making two big saves in overtime before Toninato's winner.

UMD took 16 shots and got nine on goal in just over seven minutes of overtime hockey, giving the Bulldogs 48 shot attempts over the game's final 27 minutes and change.

There were some foibles in defensive coverage over the first two periods, but UMD really was able to do a better job later in the game. It really looked like Miami started to wear down, as UMD kept generating puck possession and getting waves of bodies to the net.


UMD made a move in its Friday lineup, shifting sophomore forward Adam Johnson to the blue line in place of the injured Carson Soucy (lower body). We don't know how long Soucy will be out, so I can't tell you if his Bulldog career is over. Certainly, the hope is that Soucy -- whose value to this team is unquestioned -- can return, but that's up to people a lot smarter than I am, and I don't know the prognosis. Asked on Twitter if he could be deemed week to week, I said that's probably accurate. He was ruled out for this weekend, but beyond that I have no idea.

Coach Scott Sandelin cited a couple reasons for the move. For starters, he's hoping Johnson's skating and puck skill can give UMD another dimension on the blue line. Honestly, I thought he looked a bit tentative Friday, but that's to be expected. Outside of some shifts at the ends of power plays, he hasn't played the position since high school.

Also, Soucy and freshman Nick Wolff are the only left-handed blue liners who were playing regular minutes. Johnson gives them another left-shot defenseman, and unless the tape shows him looking a lot worse than I thought he did, one has to assume he'll return to the blue line Saturday (he took shifts at forward late in regulation and in overtime).

UMD has some depth back there, even with Nick McCormack still unavailable (lower body). Jarod Hilderman hasn't played much, but he seems to have gotten better every game, and I thought last Saturday at Western Michigan was his best game yet. He doesn't give UMD a left-shot option, but he could be a possibility for playing time if Sandelin wants to keep Johnson up front.


Couple more notes on the game:

Miami lost goalie Ryan Larkin to an apparent lower-body injury in the second period. UMD's Jared Thomas was taken off his feet and slid into Larkin. It didn't appear to be much contact, but it appeared to be awkward, and Larkin had to be helped off the ice. Freshman Chase Munroe, who played junior hockey for the Minnesota Wilderness, took over in goal and made 29 saves in his first action since Dec. 10.

UMD's power play goal streak was snapped at eight games. UMD had gone 11-for-39 over that stretch before coming up empty in four chances Friday. The power play looked somewhat stagnant, with a lot of work on the perimeter, but there were also a couple chances missed on plays that were there. Most notably, Anderson was handcuffed near the left post on a great lateral feed by Iafallo.

Miska had no chance on the first three Miami goals, the second of which came on a flubbed shot that went right to Carson Meyer in scoring position. He probably wants Siroky's back, but of more concern are the breakdowns that led to the other three RedHawk markers. UMD needs a more consistent and composed performance in its own zone going forward, with or without Carson Soucy.


Please don't forget about the UMD women, who play Minnesota in an NCAA quarterfinal Saturday afternoon at 2:30. Join us and make a doubleheader of the day. It should be a fantastic game.

Elsewhere in the NCHC, Omaha got a Justin Parizek goal to win 2-1 in overtime at Western Michigan. Outside of that, NCHC series openers went to home teams. Denver beat Colorado College 4-1 on a three-point night from Troy Terry, and North Dakota got by St. Cloud State 5-2.

In the PairWise, Denver and UMD remain one-two, with Western Michigan down to fifth, UND now in 11th, Omaha 19th, and St. Cloud State 20th. North Dakota probably still needs a series win over SCSU to keep its season alive, and obviously St. Cloud and Omaha need to get to Target Center, minimum. A UNO win Saturday, for example, gets the Mavs into range for an at-large bid, depending on other results.

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