Thursday, March 23, 2017

Steve Rohlik Faces Old Assistant, Team

FARGO, N.D. -- One of the first things Ohio State coach Steve Rohlik mentioned when asked about his ties to Duluth this week was the fact his three kids were born there, while he worked for UMD as an assistant to head coach Scott Sandelin.

"It's a huge part of my life," Rohlik said this week. "I enjoyed my ten years there. I'll have it forever."

Unquestionably, it's a place Rohlik is still fond of, but he hopes to be on the right side of the scoreboard Friday, when his Buckeyes face UMD in the first round of the NCAA West Regional at Scheels Arena.

Asked if the college hockey world has ever felt smaller to him, Rohlik laughed and pointed out "hockey is a small world.

"Certainly, this is a little different. I wouldn't be sitting up here without the opportunity Scott gave me. To help me grow and develop as a coach, a tremendous opportunity."

Rohlik took over for good friend Mark Osiecki, who had recruited Rohlik to join him at Ohio State when he got the head job after the 2009-2010 season. When he got the head job, he needed to fill his old job as associate coach, and in came Brett Larson. The then-former UMD assistant had been working with Sioux City of the USHL, cutting his teeth as a head coach and general manager in juniors.

"First and foremost, he's a guy that cares," Rohlik said of Larson. "He's a soldier in the room. I think every guy in our room that he's coached or recruited can tell you that. When you have a guy on your staff like that, players believe. It's contagious."

Larson, at the minimum, had a hand in recruiting much of Ohio State's current roster, while coaching all the upperclassmen for a couple years. He told KBJR this week there might be "butterflies and the strange feelings," but once the puck drops, it's "just another hockey game."

The fact it's a playoff game of the "Win or go home" variety, that probably helps shake some of the feels away.

(Another UMD tie: Rohlik needed to replace Larson when the latter left to return to UMD, and in came Mark Strobel, who was with Rohlik on Sandelin's first coaching staff at UMD in 2000 and left the program in 2002.)

"I'm excited for them," Sandelin said of Rohlik and Strobel. "They're good coaches and doing a great job."

In his fourth season with Ohio State, Rohlik has seen a breakthrough. The Buckeyes are plus-seven in wins this year, going from 14 to 21, improving from eight to 11 wins in Big Ten play. A big reason for the Buckeyes' presence in the national tournament for the first time since 2009? A 10-2-5 non-conference record in the regular season that included losses only to Robert Morris and Miami. Ohio State opened the season by beating Denver at the Ice Breaker in Denver, then tied NCAA-bound Air Force in the championship (lost in a shootout, but the game counted as a tie). Going 4-3-1 combined against the other Big Ten teams -- Minnesota and Ohio State -- that made the tournament doesn't hurt much.

"It's a surreal moment, very humbling," Rohlik said of getting into the tournament for the first time as a head coach.

Saturday, Ohio State needed Penn State to win the Big Ten title in order to get in.

"When we lost the game (in the semifinals to Wisconsin), we didn't know if our season was over or not," Rohlik said. "When that goal (Penn State won in double overtime), what a feeling. We earned the spot. We won 21 games. We deserve to be here."

(UMD went through the same thing a year ago, only a little different way it played out. The Bulldogs were behind 2-1 to St. Cloud State in the NCHC title game when Michigan closed out a Big Ten tournament title win over Minnesota. That Wolverines win officially clinched UMD's NCAA bid, and thankfully so, since the Huskies ended up beating the Bulldogs that night 3-1. And no one on the UMD side was about to apologize for how it got in the national tournament, nor should they have been. Same for Ohio State. The Buckeyes needn't apologize to anyone for getting in.)

And what a way to get back in for Rohlik. His first tournament game will be against a head coach who helped get his career in college hockey going, and an assistant who was a big part of the build that's paying off for Ohio State now.

UMD's Focus Strong as NCAA Tournament Begins

FARGO, N.D. -- Over the course of a 38-game journey to this point, UMD has not faced what it faces this weekend.

Even in the NCHC Tournament the last two weekends, the Bulldogs knew they would be playing two games on a weekend, no matter how the first one went.

Not the case now.

The only way you play again is if you win.

The Bulldogs' resiliency (© Dan Myers of the Wild) and veteran presence -- along with the steady play of freshman goalie Hunter Miska -- has propelled this team to a No. 2 overall seed in the NCAA Tournament. The Bulldogs are a No. 1 regional seed for the first time ever, and will play Ohio State Friday evening in Fargo in the first round. The winner plays either Boston University or North Dakota for the regional championship Saturday.

"Our seniors that came up a game short the last two years of getting to the next step," head coach Scott Sandelin said this week, "I think it's been in their minds. I think they came back for a reason. Absolutely, it's been a goal (to get back)."

If you're looking for a reason this team is so vastly improved from even a year ago, when it had to scratch and claw its way to the national tournament, look no further than that experience.

"You rely on your experience, you rely on your leaders," Sandelin said. "These guys have played in a lot of games, been in a lot of situations. They want more, they came back to try to get it, and they're in a position to do that."

The Bulldogs boast a seven-man senior class that's certainly been a big part of this, but don't forget UMD also has two juniors -- Karson Kuhlman and Jared Thomas -- that sit over 100 games in a UMD uniform. And all these juniors and seniors -- save for Avery Peterson, who didn't join the team until January 2016 -- have been around for a couple great runs that fell one goal short of the Frozen Four.

Add to it this: Every UMD player, outside of Miska and the rest of the freshmen, has been around for an NCAA Tournament run. Peterson was part of the Omaha Mavericks' first-ever trip to the Frozen Four in 2015.

There will be plenty of time to look back and appreciate what's happened here, but there's no question the 2016-17 senior class has helped shape a new culture for Bulldog hockey.

"To come here and find success with a group of guys, be a part of it, is a great accomplishment," senior defenseman Willie Raskob said. "Something I'll take great pride in when we leave here."

"It's been awesome," senior captain Dominic Toninato said. "Our senior class has been tremendous. Being able to grow with them has been awesome. The team as a whole has been great. It's good for the whole program, and the whole city of Duluth."

This has been a mentally tough UMD team all season, too. UMD has conceded the first goal 17 times in 38 games, including in Saturday's crazy NCHC championship game against West Regional host North Dakota. UMD is 10-4-3 when allowing the first goal. To add some perspective, Ohio State is 2-7-4 when the adversary scores first, and even ever-dangerous North Dakota is 9-10-1.

Look at some of the games UMD has won or tied when trailing. Tied UMass-Lowell when down three goals at one point, trailed St. Cloud State 3-1 in both games in St. Cloud and won them both 5-3, fell behind to Minnesota and SCSU at the North Star College Cup and managed to win both games. Oh, and who can forget the Friday game at North Dakota? Gave up the first goal in a hostile building, had two goals disallowed in the first period, had a UND goal count that shouldn't have, and still won convincingly.

Throw in Saturday's game that's hard to describe with actual words, and you have a tough squad that isn't easily phased.

******

Standing in the Bulldogs' way Friday will be a hungry Ohio State team that lacks that experience. Well, at least among the players.

"We tried to prepare them the same way this week," fourth-year head coach Steve Rohlik said this week. "Part of the experience is enjoying it for the first time. We have a lot of guys who are excited and anxious. Our group's going to be ready."

Rohlik and assistant Mark Strobel were both successful players at Wisconsin, with Rohlik a two-year captain and national champion. Strobel played in the NCAA Tournament each year of his Badgers career. This is old hat for them.

Players can't gain NCAA experience -- duh -- without playing in the tournament first. But these guys are adults. The idea of Ohio State being victimized by "wide eyes in the bright lights" is patently ridiculous. The Buckeyes earned their way here, and this is a dangerous offensive team.

Ohio State has a top line that can go, keyed by sophomore Mason Jobst (55 points) -- who lived a mile from the Indianapolis Motor Speedway growing up and still became a really good hockey player (he says growing up there "had a huge impact on my life, kind of formed who I am" -- and seniors Nick Schilkey and David Gust (41 points each, Schilkey has 27 goals). The Buckeyes rode a 32-plus percent power play to an average of nearly four goals per game this season.

"It's huge for our team now, the alumni who have worked hard to get this program where it is," Schilkey said of Ohio State getting back in the tournament. "Getting rewarded with being able to come here is awesome. We're really excited to be here, we feel like we deserve it. It means a lot."

"They play a pace game, score goals, and we like to play the same way," Sandelin said. "Hopefully it's an up and down game."

"We got to be ready to go from the start," Toninato said.

Rohlik conceded there aren't a lot of weaknesses with his adversary Friday, but wasn't about to concede the game.

"They still have to win the game," he said. "We'll be focused and ready to empty the tank (Friday)."

******

For UMD, senior defenseman Carson Soucy (lower body) practiced here Thursday. He didn't take part in team drills, but did plenty of work on his own, including some time at one end of the ice with Sandelin, working on skating, transitions, passing, and puck-handling. Sandelin said "probably not" when asked if Soucy would play this weekend, and went on to repeat the "week to week" timeline we've heard since the week after he was injured in Kalamazoo.

But the Bulldogs are otherwise healthy, with everyone available to play.

The same can't be said for Ohio State.

The Buckeyes will play Friday's game without two top defensemen, seniors Josh Healey and Drew Brevig. Healey picked up a two-game suspension from the Big Ten Conference after his third game misconduct of the season, a contact to the head major he took late in Friday's Big Ten semifinal loss to Wisconsin. Brevig has an injury suffered in the win over Michigan State the day before and did not play against the Badgers.

Rohlik talked up his depth players, noting how hard they've worked and practiced throughout the season, but Healey is the leading scorer among OSU defensemen and Brevig one of the top players in terms of ice time. These aren't insignificant losses, and we'll see if UMD can exploit some things back there Friday. If not, it will be a long evening for the regional top seeds.

Monday, March 20, 2017

Monday Musings: High-Intensity NCHC Title Game Goes UMD's Way; Bulldogs Book Trip to Fargo

You've undoubtedly heard it.

"Hard to beat a team (insert a number) times in a row during a season."

It's true. Just look at Saturday night, where UMD tried to beat North Dakota for a fifth time in five meetings this season (sixth time overall). It was anything but easy.

In an intense, emotional, penalty-filled game, the Bulldogs used a late five-on-three goal from Joey Anderson to beat UND 4-3 and claim their first conference tournament championship since 2009. It's the second conference title for UMD under Scott Sandelin, and now the Bulldogs head to the NCAA Tournament for the fifth time in seven years. It's the first time ever that any UMD team in any sport has made the national tournament five out of seven years.

Actually, calling it "intense", "emotional", and "penalty-filled" is probably understating it. This was as crazy a game as I've seen in a long time. There were more combined penalty minutes in the Colorado College game Feb. 18, but this game had a level of intensity that one never got to. Saturday was an example of two rivals fighting for something valuable, and it was the kind of night that would be difficult to duplicate.

Unless the teams play again ... with a spot in the Frozen Four on the line. In Fargo. But I digress.

The fact UMD found a way to win this game Saturday night is an unrelenting positive in a season full of them. It was far from a perfect performance, with North Dakota doing a fantastic job of putting the Bulldogs on their heels early, with the help of some sketchy penalty calls. But UMD was frustrated, as evidenced by sophomore defenseman Neal Pionk taking a five-minute major for charging UND goalie Cam Johnson during a short-handed rush.

(Frankly, wouldn't have been mad if Pionk had been tossed for it, but right before the hit, it looks like he loses his balance a bit, as if he were trying to stop and couldn't. Weird sequence looking at the clip, and it was probably enough to keep him in the game.)

After UMD killed the major (had already gone down 1-0 on a Brock Boeser power play goal, so that was a gigantic kill) and the first period ended, Pionk appeared to be speared by UND's Cole Smith. No call came, but UMD captain Dominic Toninato was irate after the period ended (justifiably so), and UMD carried that emotion into the start of the second period.

Toninato, Riley Tufte, and Adam Johnson scored goals 58 seconds apart in the second, and just like that UMD had a 3-1 lead. It took two more long five-on-three UND power plays -- one in the second and one late in the third -- for the Fighting Hawks to level the score on goals by Tyson Jost and Trevor Olson. That set up Anderson's goal, which came after back to back UND penalties gave the Bulldogs their first five-on-three of the game.

******

Deep down, I can't imagine either coach was pleased with the penalty minutes his team took in this game. But a deeper dive into the numbers shows that there may have been some mitigating factors involved.

First off, we need to throw out the coincidental penalties and operate under the assumption all those minutes were earned. That will take away 20 of the game's 57 minutes. Of the 37 remaining minutes that were assessed, I don't think any reasonable argument can be made against the following calls:

Pionk's major for charging (5)
Olson's roughing penalty in the second (2)
Jared Thomas' minor for tripping in the second (2)
Rhett Gardner slashing minor in the second (2)
Riley Tufte's penalty for interference late in the second (2)
Johnny Simonson high sticking penalty in the third (2)

That leaves 22 of 37 minutes that were either questionable or not-very-good calls, including the last two on UMD that gave UND the late five-on-three it tied the game with, and the last two on UND that gave UMD the five-on-three it won the game with.

This isn't to completely absolve the players of responsibility for their role in Saturday's various fiascoes. There is no excuse for Pionk blasting Cam Johnson like he did. Similarly, no excuse for Smith spearing Pionk. Gardner and Simonson for UND took silly, unnecessary penalties. This stuff happens, especially when a game is played at the level and intensity this one was. Emotions are bound to run high.

But referees Todd Anderson and Geno Binda have to be considered culpable. More than once, they rewarded both teams for clear embellishment and set a bad tone for the game. I don't know the last time I saw a college hockey game -- especially in the postseason -- where there were four five-on-three power plays. And three of the four were more than a minute in scheduled length. It was too much, and I stand by what I said on the air and on Twitter during the game: It took away from the game. That's unfortunate.

However, it's worth noting that they weren't working the conference championship game by accident. They earned that throughout the season, and that fact shouldn't be forgotten in everyone's consternation over how this game played out.

******

Many UMD players should be applauded for their efforts on Saturday. Toninato was a leader in every sense, getting the first goal and on multiple occasions trying to stand up for his teammates. Alex Iafallo not only has points in 11 straight games, but he has ten points in the last five. Anderson has re-emerged after his production slipped after returning from the World Juniors. He has six points in his last five games after being held off the board for five straight.

Osterberg blocked five of the 26 shots UMD got a piece of in Saturday's game. Brenden Kotyk blocked shots and was physical. Hunter Miska made a few brilliant saves in goal and had a fantastic weekend, erasing any questions about his ability to step up and play well in big games as a freshman.

(There were legit questions about Miska in a big-game environment, something CBS Sports Network analyst and brilliant mind Dave Starman referenced on Beyond The Pond Saturday. He answered those questions Saturday night, and did so emphatically.)

Tufte made a few plays, including getting by Christian Wolanin and steaming down the right wing before sniping a shot home to give UMD the lead in the second period. He was a beast at times in Friday's game, too, and it's just fun to watch him show more and more signs of his development.

More than anything, these guys stuck up for one another when necessary and stuck with the game. There were a lot of opportunities to be discouraged and wonder if this was UMD's night. Instead of that, they stayed with what they wanted to do, and as Toninato said Sunday after the selection show, "controlled what we could control."

"Lot of emotions in those games," Sandelin said. "We've played North Dakota a lot. I thought the kill (late in the first after the Pionk major) was outstanding. To get out of that period the way it was going being down one, I was pretty excited for our guys. We finally had a good second period.

"It was an interesting game for sure. Lots of ups and downs."

Plenty to be excited about, as UMD won a couple games playoff-style. By any means necessary.

******

Now, it's back to North Dakota. UMD is the No. 1 seed in the NCAA West Regional, and will play Ohio State Friday at 5:30.

The Buckeyes can fill the net, led by sophomore Mason Jobst (19 goals, 55 points) and senior Nick Schilkey (27 goals, 41 points). Ohio State averages 3.97 goals per game, but also concedes 2.98 per game.  The power play hits at 32.5 percent, including over 38 percent in Big Ten play.

tOSU is coached by former UMD assistant Steve Rohlik, who was with the Bulldogs from 2000-2010 and recruited many of the players UMD won a national championship with in 2011. Brett Larson was a part of the Ohio State staff before returning to UMD two years ago when Derek Plante stepped down.

"I've seen them a little bit," Sandelin said. "I know they have the ability to score goals and play a real pace game. We've got to keep doing the things we're good at."

Lots of talk about UMD and North Dakota meeting again in the regional final, which could certainly happen, but Ohio State and Boston University will have something to say about that first.

We'll be traveling to Fargo on Thursday morning. Expect content from the team press conferences that day at Scheels Arena. Full game preview coming as well.

Saturday, March 18, 2017

Game 38: North Dakota vs UMD (NCHC Championship)

MINNEAPOLIS -- Here we go with the 2017 NCHC Frozen Faceoff Championship.

UMD will face longtime rival North Dakota for a fifth time this season, trying to extend its program-record five-game winning streak over UND.

On Beyond The Pond (KFAN/92.1 The Fan) Saturday, head coach Scott Sandelin acknowledged UND "probably has this one circled, we've had success against them."

And that's probably an understatement.

"We've got a lot of respect for them," North Dakota coach Brad Berry said after Friday's 1-0 semifinal win over Denver. "We play similarly, we play hard, and we're looking forward to (Saturday). They've had our number all year, and the year before was the other way around."

Should be a great game. North Dakota has won five straight, and used a smothering defensive effort to get by Denver. The Fighting Hawks have outshot their adversaries in each game of this run, and oddly enough actually outshot UMD in two of the four meetings this season -- got shut out in both those games.

Denver beat Western Michigan 3-1 in a gripping third place game. Denver won without its top four scorers, as Troy Terry, Henrik Borgstrom, Dylan Gambrell, and Will Butcher all sat, and also starting goalie Tanner Jaillet. WMU played freshman Ben Blacker in goal, but was still without Sheldon Dries and Wade Allison up front. DU clinched the No. 1 overall seed in the NCAA Tournament, so UMD is playing for the No. 2 spot in this game. The Bulldogs could fall to third with a loss to UND, depending on other results.

Lines?

Lines.

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

Pionk - Kotyk
Raskob - Hilderman
Wolff - Molenaar

Miska - Shepard - Deery

UND
Gersich - Jost - Poganski
Janatuinen - Gardner - Boeser
Smith - Simonson - Olson
Yon - Bowen - Gornall

Poolman (Colton) - Poolman (Tucker)
Ausmus - Peski
Wolanin - Shaw

Johnson - Hrynkiw

PairWise Notes and Thoughts: The Final Day is Upon Us

MINNEAPOLIS -- Greetings from downtown Minneapolis, where the sirens are loud and the buildings are tall.

This is the final day of the season in college hockey. There are six conference championship games that will decide automatic bids to the NCAA Tournament. Most of the teams involved don't need those automatic bids to get in, but there are still a few teams' seasons on the line.

Before we get to that, the schedule for Sunday's selection announcements was sent out Friday by ESPN PR.

10am - The four No. 1 regional seeds are announced on Twitter @NCAAIceHockey.
10am hour - ESPN host and Frozen Four VOX John Buccigross will tweet which regionals the No. 1 seeds are assigned to @buccigross.
11am - NCAA Selection Show airs on ESPNU to show all four regionals in full; game times and TV will be announced for each regional (we don't know any of them yet).

The two Friday/Saturday regionals next weekend are Fargo and Providence. Saturday/Sunday regionals are Cincinnati and Manchester. Of the four, only Fargo is sold out, which means very limited tickets available for UMD fans (UMD will have an allotment to sell, but it isn't much, and priority season ticket holders will get first shot).

Of course, Fargo is also the only one within reasonable driving distance. Take the good with the bad, I suppose.

Anyway, here are the games for Saturday.

Atlantic Hockey: Air Force vs Robert Morris (winner in, loser out)
WCHA: Bowling Green at Michigan Tech (winner in, loser out)
Hockey East: Boston College vs UMass-Lowell (BC out with a loss, UML in either way)
Big Ten: Wisconsin vs Penn State (Wisconsin out with a loss, Penn State in either way)
ECAC: Harvard vs Cornell (both teams in)
NCHC: UMD vs North Dakota (both teams in)

College Hockey News' Probability Matrix is a good resource when it comes to who will get in. Between that and the predictor tools readily available on the internet box, the following is clear:

The following teams are in the tournament, no matter what happens Saturday: Denver, UMD, Harvard, Western Michigan, Minnesota, Boston University, UMass-Lowell, Union, North Dakota, Cornell, Penn State, Notre Dame.

As explained above, Atlantic Hockey and the WCHA will each be one-bid leagues. Further, the Bowling Green-Tech winner will be the No. 16 overall seed. If Robert Morris beats Air Force, it will be the No. 15 overall seed. If the Fighting Serratores win, they quite possibly will be above the No. 15 spot (looks like No. 12 is the most likely landing spot if Air Force wins).

Right now, Providence and Ohio State are the last two at-large teams in. If we have straight chalk in the Big Ten and Hockey East, those two teams will get in, knocking Boston College and Wisconsin out. If either Boston College or Wisconsin win (but not both), Ohio State is sent packing. If both BC and UW win, Providence is out, too.

A Western Michigan non-loss in the NCHC third place game likely means the NCHC will have three of the top four overall seeds. UMD and Denver are locked into the top three, no matter what happens. Western joins them if it doesn't lose to Denver. That's it. A win or tie will do just fine. And if last year -- when Denver played its backup goalie and a handful of guys who weren't lineup regulars -- is any indication, Western has a real shot. Even if WMU rests guys, it's a 50/50 game at worst.

How does UMD get to a No. 1 seed? It more than likely must beat North Dakota and definitely have Denver not beat Western Michigan. Again, even a tie in the third-place game will be fine for UMD, but the Bulldogs must win the NCHC title to have a chance at the No. 1 overall seed. There is at least one scenario where UMD is No. 1 overall with a loss Saturday night.

Where will UMD go? Great question. Friday night, before the B1G semifinals were finished up (Penn State beat Minnesota in double overtime, on a power play goal, on an extremely lame call, but I digress), I ran a bunch of scenarios and was able to get UMD into each of the four regionals.

Right now, I have no idea what will happen. Here's the big issue: attendance.

The selection committee has shown the willingness in past years to bend the bracket -- i.e. sending Providence as a No. 4 seed to the Providence regional two years ago, even though Providence by rule didn't have to go there -- to drive attendance and try to create a championship atmosphere.

So, for example, if the Friars get in, they're almost certainly heading to Providence. Depending on how the final field looks, it might take some work.

I believe the No. 1 overall seed -- whether it's Denver or UMD -- will go to Fargo. I know it sounds silly, since UND will be there and that team is rolling right now. But UND can't be a No. 4 seed, which would create the need for a non-NCHC team to go to Fargo (conference rivals can't meet in the opening round unless there are at least five teams from that league that get in, and the NCHC can't get more than four this year).

I believe the committee will send Western Michigan to Cincinnati, especially if it is a No. 1 seed. So, if this happens for example, I think UMD goes to Manchester. But, again, it depends on how the committee wants to try to drive attendance. UMD will not help attendance at any regional (sorry, Bulldog fans, but the only regional you guys will want to go to is sold out).

But Harvard, UMass-Lowell, Boston University, and Boston College can help in Manchester and maybe Providence. This becomes especially important if Providence doesn't get in.

So the easy answer: It's way too early to tell. Lots of options on the table right now.

But no matter what, UMD will be a No. 1 seed wherever it goes. And UMD vs North Dakota at Target Center should be fantastic. Can't wait.

Friday, March 17, 2017

Saturday Hockey Notes and Thoughts: UMD Rides Defensive Improvement, Opportunism to Second Straight NCHC Title Game

MINNEAPOLIS -- Not going to lie. UMD giving Western Michigan a five-on-three at the 2:24 mark of the first period seemed like a bad omen. Instead, it was a bit of a tone-setter.

The UMD penalty kill was spot-on Friday, and a stellar third period effort helped carry UMD to a 5-2 win over Western Michigan in the NCHC Frozen Faceoff semifinals at Target Center. UMD will play North Dakota, a 1-0 winner over Denver, in Saturday's 7:30pm championship game.

Western had a goal disallowed in the second period, but ended up getting one that counted 1:09 later to tie the game 2-2. The Broncos earned that tying goal, as they had been able to bottle up UMD on a couple of occasions and generate scoring chances with numbers down low. UMD didn't do a great job covering guys, and Colt Conrad buried a rebound by Hunter Miska to draw the game even on one of those occasions.

But the Bulldogs tightened up after that, as did Miska. Alex Iafallo scored a beauty of a goal late in the second period that eventually gave UMD the lead for good. After Parker Mackay capitalized on a great play by Adam Johnson to make it 4-2 in the third, Miska held his ground against a hard-charging Broncos team, which got a four-on-three power play in the final three minutes of regulation and turned it into a five-on-three by pulling goalie Ben Blacker. Miska stopped Western goal-scoring specialist Matheson Iacopelli twice, including once on a really well set up one timer.

"It wasn't probably the prettiest game for either team," UMD coach Scott Sandelin said. "We stayed with it. Hard-fought game, which was what we expected.

"I think their second goal work our bench up for sure. Thought we played better towards the end of the period. Gotta get better in second periods. Didn't think our start was very good."

(Give Western credit, by the way. Andy Murray held three-year captain Sheldon Dries and stud freshman Wade Allison out with injuries. I'm not sure how badly Allison was injured crashing into the end boards in Game 3 against Omaha Sunday, but he was stretchered off and briefly hospitalized before returning to the arena. Either way, the Broncos were short-handed Friday and gave UMD everything it could handle for two periods and then some. This is a really good team that is fixing to do some damage in the NCAA Tournament, possibly as a one-seed if it can win the third-place game Saturday afternoon against Denver.)

Sandelin compared this game to the Saturday game in Kalamazoo on March 4. In that game, UMD kicked away a 2-0 second-period lead, only to get a goal from Johnson with 4.4 seconds left off a mad scramble in front of the WMU net. The momentum carried over into the third, and UMD ended up winning convincingly.

In this game, Iafallo got his goal with 3:49 left in the second, but there's no question there was some residual into the third period.

I thought UMD's defensive effort in the third was as good as we've seen in a while. Miska, yes, had to make some saves, but he was sharper and there weren't any glaringly blown coverages in front of him. The Broncos were coming after UMD, but couldn't get any super chances. The Mackay goal and a Jared Thomas length-of-the-ice empty netter iced the win for the Bulldogs.

The third period was what Sandelin has been looking for. A composed, defense-first effort. UMD didn't generate many chances, but capitalized on the Mackay goal, which was a thing of beauty by Johnson to set up. He waited out a sliding defender, walked back toward the front, bided his time, and sent a cross-crease pass to Mackay for a tap in after Blacker committed to Johnson. Brilliant play and a great goal.

"Didn't really have much," Johnson said of the play. "Just tried to wait, and Parker got to the net."

******

It's cliche, but coaches talk about a team's best players being its best players in crunch time.

Let there be no doubt that UMD's top line -- Dominic Toninato, Iafallo, and Joey Anderson -- were good again, and Johnson, centering the second line, was brilliant with three assists, including the dazzler to Mackay.

Again, the six-man defensive corps managed without Carson Soucy, who will not play this weekend (week to week, so we don't know what the plan is beyond this week). Jarod Hilderman's blocked shot set up Kyle Osterberg's goal late in the first, Hilderman's first point in these colors. Neal Pionk was a freaking beast, with an assist, three blocked shots, and a plus-three.

Iafallo has points in ten straight (6-10-16), goals in four straight. Toninato has goals in three straight and is 8-5-13 in the last 11 games. Johnson now is 6-7-13 in the last ten games. Mackay had his first two-point game since the season opener and now has six points in the last six games.

Osterberg's goal snapped a ten-game drought, but he now has four points in the last two games.

Production is coming from all over the place, and there couldn't be a better time than this for it to happen. UMD's last five games: 5, 5, 5, 6, and 4 goals. Not going to lose a lot this time of year when you average five goals per game.

******

UMD will face North Dakota for a fifth time this season in Saturday's championship game. The Bulldogs dominated the regular season series, going 4-0 with two shutouts and outscoring North Dakota 17-5.

I will guaran-damn-tee you Saturday won't be nearly as easy as an average score of 4.25-1.25 might suggest. UND is grinding teams down right now, impressively shutting down a potent Denver team Friday night at Target Center. Cam Johnson is playing well in goal, though Denver had a hard time really getting to him on Friday. Remember, as good as UND looked defensively in the semifinal, this game gave up five to St. Cloud State just this past Saturday. It is not an impenetrable defensive group. No one is, for that matter.

This will be a meat-grinder of a game, though. Mark my words. UMD will need to bring the proverbial lunch pails, because North Dakota is going to make the Bulldogs earn every inch of ice throughout the rink if Friday is any indication. The Fighting Hawks -- yes, it's still weird, sorry -- have won five straight games to put themselves back in the NCAA Tournament. Now they're coming for their first NCHC playoff title. And so are the Bulldogs. Someone's hoisting that thing for the first time Saturday, and I know who I want to see do it.

******

The dream of an All-NCHC Frozen Four may have died Friday night. North Dakota's win makes it difficult (I couldn't do it) to get UND to a No. 4 regional seed, which I figured was the only way to guarantee the possibility of the four NCHC teams in the tourney being assigned different regionals.

Maybe the committee ends up making that happen, but I don't see it as likely. I believe an NCHC team -- either UMD or Denver -- will join North Dakota in Fargo.

I'll likely jump back on Saturday morning and update PairWise scenarios, but I'm too tired right now to wrap my head around any of that.

We hit the air Saturday at 7pm on 92.1 The Fan. Join us for what should be a fun championship game. Looking forward to it.

Game 37: Western Michigan vs UMD (NCHC Frozen Faceoff Semifinal)

MINNEAPOLIS -- Greetings from Target Center and their giant new "Eat Your Heart Out, Craig Leipold" scoreboard.

Gotta be quick on this post, as technical terrorism reigns supreme. Need to get the in-house internet working.

Lines?

Lines.

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

Pionk - Kotyk
Raskob - Hilderman
Wolff - Molenaar

Miska - Shepard - Deery

WMU
Courtnall - Rebry - Hadley
Molino - Tiffels - Iacopelli
McGing - Conrad - McMullen
McKee - Zehnal - Stoykewich

Goff - Bafia
Schueneman - Fleming
Lee - Moldenhauer

Olson - Blacker - Gorsuch

(You know the drill with the goalies. Also, Aidan Muir is listed as an extra skater for warmup. Twitter if he's in blah blah.)

Thursday, March 16, 2017

UMD Football, Men's Hockey Moving to Midwest Communications for 2017-18, Beyond

UMD has announced a three-year deal with Midwest Communications for radio rights to football and men's hockey. Press release is below. Very excited to get the word out on this, looking forward to what we'll be able to put together for the fall of 2017. 

This changes nothing for the remainder of men's hockey season, with all games on 92.1 The Fan and streamed here. More to come on plans for the new home, including the coaches' show format, player segments, and the possibility of other sports -- i.e. volleyball, women's hockey, basketball, etc. -- being on the air. We'll dive into all of that once the weather gets nice and stays that way. 😁
Midwest Communications and University of Minnesota Duluth Athletics have agreed on a three-year partnership for the radio rights to UMD men's hockey and football beginning with the 2017-18 season. Those sports will air on KDAL 610 AM and 103.9 FM as part of the Bulldog Radio Network. KDAL has a long and rich history with UMD Athletics, having been the radio home of Bulldog men's hockey for 49 seasons (1960-2009). 
"We're very excited that we were able to come to terms with UMD for a new multi-year sports agreement here at Midwest Communications. It will be great to have UMD returning to KDAL," said Midwest Communications director of sales Scott Christensen. "We've had a very good working relationship with the University and are delighted to be able to broadcast UMD Athletics action across the Northland."
Besides carrying all Bulldog men's hockey and football home and away games, Midwest Communications plans to air a number of UMD coaches shows and weekly segments with Bulldog student-athletes. Midwest Communications may also broadcast other UMD sports events at various times of the year.
"UMD Athletics is very pleased to enter a partnership with the Midwest family of radio stations to bring the Bulldog men's hockey and football broadcasts back to their long-time home," said UMD Athletic Director Josh Berlo. "In addition, we are excited about all of the ways Midwest Communications will be able to tell the great stories of our impressive 400-plus student-athletes from 16 teams achieving excellence in the classroom, competition and community through the broad reach of this strong partnership."

Bulldogs Guaranteed Two-Game Weekend for Final Time This Season, Facing Western Michigan at NCHC Frozen Faceoff

Last year, this weekend brought a lot of pressure for the UMD men's hockey team. The Bulldogs knew they had to win at least once at last year's NCHC Frozen Faceoff to be in good position for an NCAA bid.

This year, UMD could win the NCHC Frozen Faceoff and not help its place in the PairWise. The Bulldogs, as I wrote Wednesday, will finish first, second, or third in the final rankings, and will be a No. 1 regional seed next weekend.

(Officially rooting for three NCHC teams to finish in the top four, with North Dakota as a No. 4 regional seed, setting up the possibility of an all-NCHC Frozen Four that the NCAA committee can't stop from happening even if it wanted to.)

First things first, UMD gets another rematch against a recent opponent Friday at Target Center, with a semifinal game against Western Michigan. Fifth meeting of the season between these two top-five PWR teams, and the Broncos have to be seething a bit after UMD ruined Senior Night in Kalamazoo with a 6-3 win March 4.

It'll be the final weekend where teams are guaranteed two games. Starting with regionals next weekend, it's one and done until you either lose a game or hoist the big trophy in Chicago.

Broncos coach Andy Murray, who is in his second Frozen Faceoff but first since the league's inaugural year of 2013-14, knows what his group is up against. He said the preparation doesn't change at all when facing a very familiar opponent.

"We prepare for every league opponent the same way," Murray said this week. "It's all based on what we want to get done in a game, not necessarily adjusting to what the other team does."

The Broncos won eight games last year, including a 1-15-2 finish to the season. Murray has lauded his older players and all the returnees for helping change the culture in the room and improve the commitment level of everyone.

"This is a real special group of seniors we've got," he said. "The group of upperclassmen, first and foremost they're quality people, great students, and they do things right. They were not happy with what happened here last year. They had a taste of what it was like to be in the NCHC Frozen Faceoff their freshman year, and they're glad to be back."

"Last year was definitely a learning lesson," three-year captain Sheldon Dries said. "It was really the mentality of every guy on the team, coming here with a new attitude. Proving something not only to ourselves, but Western Michigan as a whole and the community of Kalamazoo."

On getting back to Minneapolis, Dries said it "means a lot, not just to the seniors but to the whole team."

In recent years, Western Michigan had a reputation of being a team that could clog up the middle of the ice and play strong in its own zone, but didn't have the offensive firepower to back that up.

Now, that's changed. Remarkably.

Not only can Western play strong in the defensive zone, but it's as good a transition team as any out there. Look at the Broncos against UMD in Kalamazoo, where they scored eight goals (five Friday, three Saturday) with a goalie in the net. Of the eight, six of them came off the rush, three in each game.

"In the last series we had, there were a lot of goals scored," UMD coach Scott Sandelin said. "They're a team that plays with a lot of pace. They present some challenges defensively for us. I think we've been a pretty good team (defensively) all year, just need to tighten up a few things. The Saturday game there I think we did a much better job. You don't want to get in a lot of 5-4 games, if it happens it happens, as long as you come out on top."

******

I wrote about Nick Wolff in my Monday blog, discussing his continually-improving play that culminated in his first collegiate goal in Saturday's win over Miami.

Sandelin: "I think him and Danny (Molenaar) have been a really good pair together. I think for him, he's grown through the year. He's gained confidence. He's a little more comfortable with the puck. I think he's had a pretty consistent year for a freshman. He's been one of our pleasant surprises from the start of the year until now. He brings an element that's nice. He brings an edge, he's physical, he competes hard every shift. But he has good hands, he's made a lot of little plays coming out of the zone that maybe go unnoticed, but we notice them."

Call me a jinx all you want, but I noted that he has not taken a major penalty this season. For a bigger, physical defenseman to come in as a freshman and avoid even getting slapped with a head contact major for a big hit that looks worse live than it probably is on replay says a lot about how smart he is and how he plays the game. Wolff has played 31 games. It's not an accident anymore. He knows what he's doing.

"The penalty he took (last weekend), I wouldn't change that," Sandelin said. "He's an imposing guy, he's hard to play against. There's guys in our league who've played against him in high school hockey and junior hockey and they know that. It's been fun to watch him grow through the year, a big part of our D-corps."

With Carson Soucy (lower body) ruled out for the weekend, Wolff, Molenaar, and company will again be asked to carry a bigger share of the workload. They've shown they're capable, and managing those minutes should be at least a little easier in games like this, where UMD is the designated home team and has choice of matchups.

Of course, UMD also possesses some matchup nightmares up front. Adam Johnson was really good in the series in Kalamazoo. After getting knocked around to the tune of a minus-12 aggregate, the line of Dominic Toninato, Alex Iafallo, and Joey Anderson were very sharp in the Saturday game out there. When the teams met in Duluth back in November, Sandelin didn't shy away from matching Toninato's line with Dries' line for the Broncos. Murray really didn't in Kalamazoo, either. I anticipate we'll see a lot of that on Friday as well. Strength vs strength. Whoever's strength plays better has the upper hand.

******

The winner of this semifinal game moves into Saturday's championship and will be facing a team on a winning streak. The question is how long will that winning streak be?

The second semifinal pits North Dakota -- winner of four in a row -- against top-ranked and top-seeded Denver, which enters on a 13-game winning streak. UND's 2016-17 season has some parallels to UMD's 2015-16 campaign, where a seven-game streak late got the Bulldogs in the NCAA Tournament. UND needs a win to cement a bid in the tournament, and could actually get as high as seventh overall with a two-win weekend.

Denver is a top three overall team, no matter what, but the Pioneers are chasing a second NCHC playoff title as the NCAAs approach. Good luck dealing with this team, which has high-end skill up front, depth, and a top defenseman in Will Butcher (only NCHC player to make the Hobey Baker top ten finalists) who can play big minutes.

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

PairWise Implications Abound for NCHC Frozen Faceoff

After last year's PairWise drama, it's kind of nice to see UMD sitting in the position it's in.

For probably around a month -- maybe longer -- the Bulldogs have been able to lose all remaining games and still comfortably get in the NCAA Tournament. Even last week, UMD would have remained on the No. 1 seed line (the top four PairWise teams get No. 1 regional seeds) even if swept by Miami in the first round of the NCHC playoffs.

As we get ready for the NCHC Frozen Faceoff, which starts Friday at Target Center in Minneapolis, the Bulldogs appear locked into a top three overall spot in the tournament when selections are announced Sunday (11am, ESPNU). The College Hockey News Probability Matrix and Jim Dahl both believe this to be true, and I'm not smart enough to do anything but parrot what the numbers say, so we'll go with it.

It shouldn't change how UMD plays this weekend, but how can it not be different than it was last year, when everyone knew UMD needed to win one and possibly two games to get in the NCAA Tournament?

(UMD ended up beating No. 1 North Dakota 4-2 in the semifinals before falling 3-1 to St. Cloud State in the championship. Had Minnesota beaten Michigan in the Big Ten title game, the Bulldogs would have missed the NCAA Tournament.)

To a man, players and staff have admitted this. Head coach Scott Sandelin talked a couple weeks ago about the "desperation" his team had no choice but to play with down the stretch last season, and it worked to the tune of a seven-game winning streak that ultimately made the difference between an NCAA trip and early tee times.

So with Denver and UMD locked into the top three overall, what is on the line this weekend?

Western Michigan is in the tournament. The Broncos are likely to finish fourth (39 percent per CHN), fifth (30), or sixth (22). If WMU ends up fourth, look for it to head to Cincinnati as the top seed in the Midwest Regional. That probably punches UMD's plane tickets out east, as Denver is 90 percent (again, per CHN) to finish No. 1 and most of us are under the assumption they'd go to Fargo in that scenario.

Unless ...

What if North Dakota ends up 13th or 14th? CHN lists it as a 27 percent possibility (13 percent 13th, 14 percent 14th). If that happens and WMU takes the fourth No. 1 seed, it'll send Harvard to Fargo, the Broncos to the land of Skyline Chili, and both UMD and Denver would have to go east.]

A straight-chalk (every high seed wins) bracket would get UND in as a 13th seed, however it bumps Western out of the top four. However, if Minnesota doesn't get the Big Ten autobid and Boston College gets hot in the Hockey East tourney, it could lead us to this final PairWise, which would introduce Harvard to lovely Fargo and a world where no one is picking the Crimson -- who would have a 14-game winning streak if this plays out -- to win their first-round game.

North Dakota is not in the tournament, but fans can breathe at least a little. Even if UND loses both games this weekend, Dahl has it at 89 percent for the Fighting Hawks to get in. If UND wins a game, either day, it is in. Two wins can get North Dakota as high as seventh overall (3 percent), a two-seed in its regional in Fargo.

If UND doesn't win a game, fans need to root for the likes of Boston College, Wisconsin, and Ohio State to not get hot. High seeds winning in other leagues would be good for North Dakota's chances if it can't give itself enough help.

Per CHN, there are nine teams still alive for the NCAAs that can only get in via their respective league's automatic bid. Those are Wisconsin, Michigan, and Michigan State (B1G), Canisius, Army, and Robert Morris (Atlantic Hockey), both combatants in the WCHA title game (Michigan Tech and Bowling Green), and Quinnipiac (ECAC). Everyone else playing this weekend is either a lock for the tournament or is like North Dakota -- not 100 percent in but capable of getting in either via an automatic or at-large bid.

I'll update scenarios on the blog Saturday for sure, maybe Friday if the Big Ten first round Thursday changes anything significantly (Penn State losing to Michigan, for example, could make things very interesting). Will also be back with a NCHC semifinal preview, probably Thursday night, and obviously plenty of content from Target Center.

Monday, March 13, 2017

Monday Musings: UMD Rallies Late, Sweeps Miami, Advances to NCHC Frozen Faceoff

UMD started strong in Saturday's Game 2 against Miami, and appeared poised to blow the RedHawks out of the building in the first period. Shots were 10-0 about halfway through the first, 16-4 for the period, but UMD only led 1-0 on an early Brenden Kotyk goal.

We've seen this script play out a few times through the season. UMD couldn't find another goal, and Miami was very much in the game heading into the second period.

Freshman Nick Wolff's first collegiate goal gave UMD a 2-0 lead in the second, but the inability to find another goal during the first-period surge came back to haunt the home team. Miami got a power play goal to cut the lead in half. Then early in the third, the RedHawks scored goals 1:52 apart for a 3-2 lead that seemed to stun those in attendance.

But like it has all season, the Bulldogs found a way back. Jared Thomas scored for the second time in three games, a sharp-angle shot that seemed to trickle in off the pad of Miami goalie Chase Munroe to tie the game 3-3 with 6:35 to play. Barely two minutes later, Alex Iafallo put a world-class inside-out move on Miami defenseman Grant Hutton before wiring a wrist shot by Munroe for the eventual game-winning goal. Captain Dominic Toninato added a late empty-netter to seal the deal in a 5-3 win that sends UMD back to Target Center for the NCHC Frozen Faceoff.

(Iafallo, by the way, takes his second nine-game point streak of the season into the NCHC Frozen Faceoff this coming weekend. He's over 40 points on the season now, and when UMD needed them most, both he and Toninato were stellar this past weekend. If that continues, this team will be very hard for anyone to handle.)

You don't get to 23-6-7 and the second spot in the national rankings (PairWise at least) without figuring a way around a few bumps along the way. Nothing is smooth, not even for what almost appears to be a juggernaut in Denver. UMD has overcome slow starts, big deficits, and now an injury to top defenseman Carson Soucy to keep winning.

Soucy, by the way, got cornered by Matt Wellens during Saturday's game.



Good news, for sure. UMD used Adam Johnson on defense Friday, and even though Scott Sandelin wouldn't rule out that look in the future, he was playing forward by the third period and played it the whole game Saturday. His line with Kyle Osterberg and Parker Mackay combined for three assists and a plus-five in the game. Jarod Hilderman played on defense, but appeared to be a bit limited in terms of minutes and situations.

Basically playing five defensemen and spotting Hilderman is something UMD can manage at this point, maybe on a game-by-game basis depending on the opponent. I thought Hilderman was quite good in the Saturday game at Western Michigan, so maybe he plays in Friday's semifinal against the Broncos and we'll see what happens on Saturday? Early speculation, as we have the whole week to look at that.

******

Perhaps one of the reasons for Johnson being shifted back up front: The play of Wolff. As I said on the air Saturday, one of the joys of seeing every game UMD plays is you can see the young guys make incremental progress each weekend.

And Wolff is absolutely progressing. He's earning more ice time, which makes it tough to justify trying to assimilate Johnson to what's a new position for him at this level.

If you hadn't watched much of UMD in February, you might have missed the jump Wolff has taken in terms of his level of play. He scored his first goal on Saturday as part of a three-point night, but Wolff was also active with team-high six shots on goal and had a plus-four rating. For a guy who's been pretty steadily improving in the defensive zone, Saturday's game was an offensive breakout.

Wolff has shown his physical side more than a few times this season, and for a freshman, he's done a really good job making big hits without taking penalties for being too aggressive. That he hasn't taken a major this season -- while being unafraid to play a physical game -- is saying something, especially when you consider current UMD defensemen Soucy, Willie Raskob, and Neal Pionk all took at least one major penalty as a freshman.

Speaking of Raskob and Pionk, Wolff's emergence also takes more pressure off them, and it indirectly takes some heat off Soucy, who doesn't have to feel the need to rush back in the lineup before he's ready to do so.

******

Western Michigan is next up for the Bulldogs, Friday at 4pm in the NCHC Frozen Faceoff semifinals. The Broncos needed overtime of a third game to take down Omaha 2-1 on a Michael Rebry game-winning goal.

(The NCHC has set a precedent of letting the top seed express its preference for which semifinal it plays in, and commissioner Josh Fenton said Monday Denver wanted to play in the late game. There's certainly something to be said for keeping the players' routines, and most DU Friday games started at 7:30pm local time. But there's a benefit to being in the early game, because wonky game times are fairly commonplace in the NCAAs, and it's a chance to get the body clocks tuned for the odd 4pm game start that isn't so odd in the national tournament.)

Freshman Ben Blacker was outstanding all weekend for Western, allowing just five goals on 98 shots, including one on 37 in Sunday's series-deciding game.

The teams split four games in the regular season, with Western Michigan winning the Friday games (4-3 in Duluth, then 7-4 in Kalamazoo) before the Bulldogs rallied to take Saturday affairs (2-0 and 6-3).

UMD struggled against Western Michigan's top players, most notably Colt Conrad, Sheldon Dries, and Griffen Molino, and especially in Kalamazoo. This time around, UMD will be the designated home team and able to exercise some control over matchups. Barring injuries or a Soucy return, I would anticipate the same lineup Friday against Western as we saw Saturday against Miami.

In terms of PairWise, UMD remains second, and if you use the predictor tool of your choice for the upcoming weekend, you'll probably find any final seeding between 1-3 is realistic. Lots of different ways to get UMD to any of those spots, not really any ways to get UMD to any spot below the third overall seed.

******

A final note of thanks and congratulations to the UMD women's hockey team on a great season. It came to end Saturday with a 1-0 loss to Minnesota in the NCAA quarterfinals. For five seniors -- forwards Ashleigh Brykaliuk, Demi Crossman, Katie McGovern, and Lara Stalder, along with defenseman Sidney Morin -- and junior Maria Lindh (graduating), it was the final game in a UMD jersey.

They laid everything on the line and have nothing to hang their heads about from a superb effort that fell just a goal short.

Brykaliuk and Stalder, per assistant coach Laura Bellamy, deserve kudos as well for facing the media after the game. NCAA-mandated press conferences are a killer to watch when the losing team participates after having their heart ripped out, no matter the sport. Bellamy noted that Brykaliuk and Stalder were given the option to skip out and let other players take the questions of assembled media. Instead, they composed themselves as best they could and did what great leaders do.

Coaches talk all the time about culture. When you have a new staff take over, it's about building a culture the way they want to build it. A big reason Maura Crowell's second season ended in the NCAA Tournament is the culture created in the room, starting with the graduating class. Brykaliuk and Morin were great captains, and all the seniors were fantastic leaders. Thanks to the work they've done, UMD is quickly on the verge of a changed culture, one that expects greatness. For the young players, it was their first taste of big-time, high-level hockey. They'll come back in the fall craving more, and that's exactly what Crowell and her staff want. It's what's worked for so many great programs -- men's and women's, all sports -- over the years.

It's also how Minnesota has remained as good as it's been for so long. Lee Stecklein didn't arrive at Minnesota with national championship rings. She learned how to win from players who won, and now she's passing those lessons down as she wraps up her Minnesota career seeking an unprecedented fourth national title. Someday, that will be how it works at UMD, and it started -- at least in this go-round -- with players like Brykaliuk, Morin, and Stalder. We salute them on their way out, and wish them nothing but the best going forward.

Saturday, March 11, 2017

Game 36: Miami at UMD (NCHC Playoffs Game 2)

First, a quick salute to the UMD women, who fell 1-0 to Minnesota in the NCAA quarterfinals. Absolute pleasure to work with this group of players and coaches, and I hope the departing seniors leave with their heads held high. Unquestionably, this program is in better shape than when you arrived on campus, and all of us who support Bulldog athletics are in your debt for your role in that.

Now, on to matters at hand, as the UMD men try to get back to Target Center and the NCHC Frozen Faceoff. It took overtime on Friday, but Dominic Toninato's first career overtime winner gave UMD a 1-0 lead in the best-of-three series.

No Ryan Larkin in this game. The Miami freshman goalie was injured after UMD's Jared Thomas was checked into him in the second period. Chase Munroe, who played his junior hockey for the Minnesota Wilderness of the NAHL, will start in his place. Friday was Munroe's first game action since Dec. 10, and this game will be his first start since that date.

UMD will move Adam Johnson back to forward, and freshman Jarod Hilderman plays on defense. Sammy Spurrell is scratched. Not sure I'd label it a failed experiment, but UMD definitely was a better defensive team with the six that played last Saturday against Western Michigan than it was with the six that played Friday night. Let's see how it goes in this game before jumping to conclusions about the lineup going forward.

Lines?

Lines.

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

Pionk - Kotyk
Raskob - Hilderman
Wolff - Molenaar

Miska - Shepard - Deery

Miami
Lemirande - Johnson - Knierim
Bachman - Greenberg - Siroky
LaValle - Sherwood - Green
Louis - Melnick - Meyer

Switzer - Hutton
Dornbrock - Sullivan
Brandt - Frederic

Munroe - Masters

Women's Hockey: Minnesota at UMD (NCAA Quarterfinal)

Should be a good one, as these longtime rivals meet for the second time in the NCAA Tournament. It's UMD first tourney appearance since 2011, first time hosting since 2010.

For UMD, the only injury concern coming in was junior defenseman Catherine Daoust. She's good to go after leaving last Saturday's WCHA semifinal against Minnesota and missing the championship game against Wisconsin.

Winner off to the Women's Frozen Four. Here we go.

Lines?

Lines.

UMD
Stalder - McGovern - Brykaliuk
Brodt - Mrazova - Lindh
Lowenhielm - Crossman - Astrup
Schugel - Morse - Yanko

Elmes - Morin
Healey - Daoust
Hedin - Brossart

Rooney - Johnson

UMN
Potomak - Pannek - Cameranesi
Reilly - Piazza - Schipper
Schammel - Agnew - Skarzynski
Williamson - Haley - Keller

Stecklein - Wolfe
Baldwin - Marshall
Cline - Robinson

Peters - May - D'Angelo

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.

Friday, March 10, 2017

Game 35: Miami at UMD (NCHC Playoffs Game 1)

The second season begins with a first-round home series for UMD. The second-seeded Bulldogs face Miami in the first round for the second straight year, and hope for the same result as last year, when the Bulldogs managed a two-game sweep.

No Carson Soucy on the blue line, and perhaps signaling an absence longer than one week, sophomore forward Adam Johnson has been shifted to the blue line. Johnson is not a newbie at the position, having played it extensively in high school at Hibbing/Chisholm, but this will be his first twirl on a Division I blue line, discounting his spot on UMD's power play, which usually comes on a point. He'll work with sophomore Neal Pionk, who is second team All-NCHC for good reason. His steadiness and experience will help Johnson, but if Johnson is comfortable on the blue line, that pairing becomes one of the more dynamic in the country, especially from a skating standpoint.

Up front, Jade Miller is the only scratch. Sammy Spurrell is back on the fourth line, playing for just the second time since Feb. 4.

Lines?

Lines.

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

Johnson - Pionk
Raskob - Kotyk
Wolff - Molenaar

Miska - Shepard - Deery

Miami
Lemirande - Johnson - Alger
Bachman - Greenberg - Siroky
LaValle - Sherwood - Green
Louis - Melnick - Meyer

Switzer - Hutton
Brandt - Frederic
Dornbrock - Sullivan

Larkin - Munroe - Masters

UMD Women Return to NCAA Tournament

From 2000 until 2010, UMD was the pre-eminent program in women's NCAA hockey. The Bulldogs won five national championships (2001-2003, 2008, 2010), while playing for the 2007 championship and making the 2009 Frozen Four.

But 2011 was the last time UMD qualified for the NCAA Tournament. We all know the Shannon Miller saga that followed, and we all know that Maura Crowell was named the second head coach in program history in April 2015.

Now, in just her second season at the helm, Crowell has led the Bulldogs back into the national tournament. And Saturday afternoon, UMD will host an NCAA playoff game for the first time since its last national title in 2010. The Bulldogs welcome their longtime rival Minnesota Gophers, with the winner moving on to the NCAA Women's Frozen Four next week in St. Charles, Mo.

"To be one of eight teams left is a huge honor," UMD senior defenseman and assistant captain Sidney Morin said this week. "What an opportunity we have this weekend. I think we're all going to embrace it and have as much fun as we can."

"We knew we were going to have to play the Gophers at some point to get to the national championship, so why not do it here?," Crowell said. She talked about the familiarity between the two, with Saturday being the sixth meeting this season -- UMD is 3-2 -- and with their meeting last weekend at the WCHA Final Faceoff going into a second overtime before Lara Stalder's dramatic game-winning goal.

"Say we had an eastern team come out here we hadn't seen all year," she noted. "We'd have to made adjustments and break down a lot of video. We're quite familiar with the Gophers. We're able to focus on ourselves a lot more, make sure we're healthy and locked in for the game."

Minnesota coach Brad Frost, whose team has won four of the last five NCAA titles, really liked how the Gophers played in Saturday's game at Ridder Arena in Minneapolis. Minnesota outshot UMD 63-41 and probably could have ended the game much earlier were it not for Bulldog goalie Maddie Rooney, who made 62 saves and was spectacular throughout the weekend.

"I was really proud and impressed with our team, and thought they played extremely well," Frost said this week. "Last Saturday here was Duluth's night, and they earned it. We're looking forward to getting another crack at them (this Saturday)."

The return of senior forward Dani Cameranesi -- whose brother, Tony, wrapped up a four-year run at UMD last season -- certainly boosted the Gophers a bit. She had been out since January with a lower-body injury, but put 14 shots on goal in Saturday's game against UMD. She'll likely be on the top line with Kelly Pannek, the nation's leading scorer, and sophomore Sarah Potomak, who has seen six of her 19 goals this year go for game-winners, and has shown a knack for scoring some big goals in her two short years at Minnesota.

UMD, of course, counters with some of the best seniors in the country. Stalder is a Patty Kazmaier Award finalist with 23 goals and 56 points in just 34 games. 14 of those goals and 27 of those points have come over the last 13 games. Captain Ashleigh Brykaliuk had a 19-game point streak snapped in the first round of the playoffs against St. Cloud State, but she still has 17 goals and 45 points. Katie McGovern earned her way to the top line with Brykaliuk and Stalder, and she's responded with by far her best season, scoring 17 goals and heading into Saturday with 34 points. Morin is the WCHA Defensive Player of the Year, with eight goals, 24 points, and a plus-35 rating.

Don't discount UMD's depth. Freshman forward Sydney Brodt has 21 points and has shown real progress throughout the season. Senior forward Demi Crossman is a tremendous skater and two-way player who has potted some big goals. Forwards Kateřina Mrázová and Maria Lindh aren't big names, but they've given this team some quality minutes throughout the season. On the blue line, junior Jessica Healey and freshman Jalyn Elmes are both solid players who might not have big numbers, but can play quality minutes against top players.

While UMD lacks NCAA Tournament experience (something every non-freshman on the Minnesota roster sports), Crowell is quick to note that not only do all three coaches -- Duluth natives Laura Bellamy and Chris Connolly are the assistant coaches -- have NCAA Tournament experience (Connolly won an NCAA title at Boston University in 2009), but many of UMD's players (led by Stalder, a Swiss Olympian) have international experience. Brodt was part of a USA U-18 team that won gold last spring.

And UMD is playing at home. The Bulldog women might not draw the crowds the men do, but the players love being at Amsoil Arena. They've lost just once there this season, and the seniors have talked about making it a real advantage to play there.

"It's an unreal facility," Stalder said. "We love to be in our locker room, sleep at home, to have all those little things. We've shown we're pretty unstoppable at home, and we hope we can do that again Saturday."

"I love the scattered gold seats," Morin noted. "We practice here every day. We're comfortable here. I love it here."

No matter what happens Saturday, it will be the last home game for this stellar UMD senior class. They are hoping to make it a special one, and get UMD to its first Women's Frozen Four in seven years.

Thursday, March 09, 2017

Playoffs Begin For UMD With Familiar Opponent

Last year, UMD hosted Miami for the regular season finale. After taking a sweep at the hands of a desperate Bulldog team, the RedHawks took a charter plane back home, only to hop on a bus and make the long journey to Duluth four days later for a playoff series.

This year, Miami was just in Duluth two weeks ago. Now, we get to find out what lessons the Bulldogs learned from that Thursday-Friday series.

"I thought against them, especially the Friday game, we didn't manage the puck very well," UMD coach Scott Sandelin said this week of a 4-3 win and 3-3 tie (three-on-three loss) Feb. 23-24. "Just going back, when we got up, we couldn't find a way to score the third goal. Got to be tighter (defensively). They're a hard team to defend. They move laterally a lot. We've got to defend a lot better."

"This is a new time, so whatever you saw two weeks ago will be thrown out the window," Miami coach Enrico Blasi said. "When you play this time of year, everything will be a little more intense, more magnified."

It's playoff hockey now.

"You have to compete, make sure you're winning your battles," Blasi said before his team made the trek to Duluth. "This is a team (UMD) that's going to work hard, their second effort's really good. You have to pay attention to details."

His team did a good job in those areas two weeks ago. Not so much last week. After a 5-2 loss to North Dakota Saturday in which his team was outshot 27-11 in front of a sellout crowd on Senior Night, Blasi simply said the RedHawks "weren't good enough."

"North Dakota took it to us right from the beginning," he noted.

These are certainly familiar adversaries at this point. This weekend will mark their ninth, tenth, and maybe eleventh meetings in the last 14 months and change. If they don't know each other well by now, they never will.

UMD got four points in that sole regular season meeting two weeks ago, but the prevailing thought was the Bulldogs left two points on the table. Now, to be fully realistic, no one was beating out Denver for the league title, but UMD didn't do a good enough job over six games against the seventh- and eighth-place teams (the Bulldogs went 2-1-3 against Miami and Colorado College) to stay alive in the race for the Penrose Cup.

What has to change? For starters, the Bulldogs need to bear down when they have a chance to put a team away.

Look at Saturday against Western Michigan. The Broncos aren't going to quit on any game at this point, but UMD was up 2-0 late in the first and on a power play. Score, and it's a 3-0 game after one with all three goals coming in the final five minutes. The game might not be over, but it's as close as it can be at the end of the first period. Instead, UMD takes a late penalty, a Western power play starts in the second period, and the Broncos score on a great shot by Matheson Iacopelli to get back in the game.

Later, in a 2-2 game, UMD gets a crazy goal off a scramble in front of the Western Michigan net with four seconds left in the second. Then Avery Peterson and Joey Anderson in the first seven minutes of the third to turn 3-2 into 5-2, and for the most part, the game is over at that point.

That next goal can make a big difference. In both games against Miami two weeks ago, the Bulldogs failed to get that next goal, whether it be for a one- or two-goal lead. The RedHawks made UMD pay both nights, in the Thursday game making UMD get that late power-play goal from Peterson to secure the win, then Friday getting two points with a late tally in regulation and a three-on-three goal.

Miami scored two goals off rushes in the Thursday game, then three off shots from up high Friday, plays where defenders didn't do a good job tracking guys or blocking shots before Hunter Miska had to deal with them. That's another area Sandelin wants his team to clean up, and plenty of time in practice was devoted to it this week.

Miami won't lay down. Blasi is one of the top coaches in the country, and he knows his young team has shown significant progress over the course of the season. With captain Louie Belpedio out (knee injury suffered Feb. 18 against Denver), the RedHawks are thinner on defense, but that was the case in the earlier visit. UMD needs to contain guys like Anthony Louis and Kiefer Sherwood better than they did two weeks ago. Do that, be better about consistently attacking the RedHawks blue line, and take care of the defensive zone, and the Bulldogs will be well on their way to Target Center next weekend.

******

Sandelin and the staff were pleased as punch with Saturday's game. No, it wasn't a perfect performance, but they really liked how the players responded to some real adversity.

As if losing 7-4 Friday wasn't bad enough, senior defenseman Carson Soucy was lost to a lower-body injury late in the third period. He didn't play Saturday and will not play this weekend. In addition, UMD lost forward Kyle Osterberg to an upper-body injury in the first period (he didn't return but is good to go this weekend), and it was already missing freshman Riley Tufte (virus, good to go this weekend).

Instead, a number of other guys stepped to the forefront. Jared Thomas scored his first goal since October 2015. Jarod Hilderman was solid in his third game since Oct. 15. Willie Raskob and Neal Pionk were dynamic at times. Brenden Kotyk, I thought, had a really good game. Avery Peterson was strong. Joey Anderson scored two goals (just his second and third in the last 15 games).

We don't how long Soucy will be absent, but what was witnessed on Saturday was a huge positive sign. Once again, this veteran team responded well to roadblocks being thrown out in front of them.

"The win to me was a huge one for a number of reasons," Sandelin said. "It was one of those times where you find out a little bit about your team. I thought our guys pulled together and played a strong game. It shows our depth, our resiliency, and the character of our team."

******

In addition to the NCHC awards that came out Wednesday (if you didn't read, Alex Iafallo first team All-NCHC, Neal Pionk and Hunter Miska second team), Miska Thursday morning was named a semi-finalist for the Mike Richter Award, given to the top goalie in Division I. Miska is 20-5-4 with a 2.14 goals against and .921 save percentage entering the playoffs.

The rest of the group of ten is: Michael Bitzer, Bemidji State; Parker Gahagen, Army; Kyle Hayton, St. Lawrence; Tanner Jaillet, Denver; Merrick Madsen, Harvard; Jake Oettinger, Boston University; Cal Petersen, Notre Dame; Shane Starrett, Air Force; Charles Williams, Canisius.

Five finalists will be named March 23, with the winner announced at the Frozen Four April 7.

NCHC Award Winners Include Three Bulldogs

After announcing the National Collegiate Hockey Conference (NCHC) All-Rookie Team on Tuesday, the NCHC has announced its all-conference teams for the 2016-17 season, as voted on by coaches and student-athletes. Denver led the way with two representatives on both the First and Second All-NCHC teams, while Minnesota Duluth placed three on the all-conference teams and Omaha had one player land on each All-NCHC squad. Miami and North Dakota each had one player earn First-Team All-Conference as five teams are represented, while Western Michigan had a Bronco land on the Second Team.

Garnering First-Team All-NCHC is UMD senior forward Alex Iafallo, Miami senior forward Anthony Louis, Omaha senior forward Austin Ortega, Denver senior defenseman Will Butcher, North Dakota senior defenseman Tucker Poolman and DU junior netminder Tanner Jaillet. A pair of Pioneers took two forward spots on the All-Conference Second Team in freshman Henrik Borgström and sophomore Dylan Gambrell, while Western Michigan senior Sheldon Dries nabbed the third forward spot. On the Second Team blue line is UMD sophomore Neal Pionk and Omaha junior Luc Snuggerud, while another Bulldog takes the goaltender spot in freshman Hunter Miska.

Butcher, the only repeat selection on the All-NCHC First Team, led all voting with 35 points, including 11 (of a possible 14) first-place votes. Iafallo, who was on the inaugural NCHC All-Rookie Team, also received 11 first-place votes and 34 points as the top forward vote-getter. Louis totaled 30 points and nine first-place votes while Ortega had 23 points and six first-place votes. Poolman took the other blue line spot with 26 points and seven first-place votes, while Jaillet nabbed 10 first-place votes for 32 points.

Iafallo captured the NCHC scoring title with 30 points (his 1.25 ppg was also tops in the NCHC) while playing in all 24 conference games, scoring 11 goals and adding 19 assists, which ranked second in NCHC play. He also logged a plus-13 rating in those 24 games, while scoring two game-winners, leading the NCHC with two short-handed goals and tallying a hat trick. Ortega was second in NCHC scoring with 28 points on 10 goals and 18 assists in 23 games, with his 1.22 ppg also second. Louis, a Chicago Blackhawks draft pick, took third in NCHC scoring with 27 points in 24 conference games, tying Iafallo for second with 19 assists while chipping in eight goals.

On the back end, Butcher finished fifth in NCHC scoring and led all blue liners with 25 points in 24 games, including an NCHC-best 22 assists in conference play. The Colorado Avalanche draft pick also led the NCHC with a plus-18 rating while blocking 46 shots, which tied for fourth in conference play. Poolman tied for third among defenseman scoring in NCHC play with 18 points while appearing in all 24 conference games. The Winnipeg Jets prospect scored four goals and added 14 assists, while logging a plus-6 rating and blocking 28 shots. In goal, Jaillet led the NCHC with 16 wins and an .833 win percentage, posting a 16-2-3 mark in his 22 conference starts. He also led NCHC netminders with a 1.65 goals-against average and a .936 save percentage.

Among Second-Team selections, the blue liners were the top vote-getters with six first-place votes each as Pionk earned 25 points and Snuggerud 21, while Borgström, who was also named to the NCHC All-Rookie Team this year, also received six first-place votes and had 20 points. Gambrell, an NCHC All-Rookie Team pick last year, picked up 19 points and five first-place votes, while Dries and Miska each garnered three first-place votes with 14 and 16 points, respectively.

Gambrell, a San Jose Sharks prospect, tied for fifth in NCHC scoring with 25 points in 24 games, scoring 10 goals and adding 15 assists with a plus-15 rating. His teammate, Borgström, a pick of the Florida Panthers, totaled 19 points and a plus-9 rating in only 20 NCHC games with his 12 goals tying for third in conference play. Dries also tallied 12 goals in NCHC play, compiling 22 points in 24 games, scoring two game-winning goals and adding a hat trick, while also blocking 46 shots.

On the blue line, Snuggerud was second among defensemen with 22 points in 24 games, notching nine goals and 13 assists, including an NCHC-best six power play goals. The Chicago Blackhawks prospect also blocked 20 shots in NCHC play. Pionk tallied 18 points in 24 games, including 14 assists and four goals, while compiling a plus-12 rating and blocking 38 shots. In net, Miska led the NCHC with four shutouts in conference play as he was the lone goalie to start all 24 NCHC games, posting a 15-4-4 record (.739). His .919 save percentage was second in the NCHC, as was his 2.24 goals-against average in conference play.

Six players also earned Honorable Mention All-NCHC, which is made up of the next three highest point totals at forward, next two at defensemen and the third overall point finisher at goaltender. Receiving Honorable Mention are Denver sophomore forward Troy Terry, UND sophomore forward Shane Gersich, SCSU sophomore forward Mikey Eyssimont, Miami junior defenseman Louie Belpedio, SCSU sophomore defenseman Jimmy Schuldt and WMU freshman netminder Ben Blacker, who also earned NCHC All-Rookie Team honors on Tuesday. Along with Blacker, Belpedio and Schuldt were named NCHC All-Rookie in previous seasons.

Voting was conducted by the head coaches and one student-athlete at each institution. Coaches and student-athletes voted for six forwards, four defensemen and two goaltenders, awarding first-place votes for six players (three forwards, two defensemen and one goaltender) and second-place votes for the other six selections. Three points were awarded for a first-place vote while one point was awarded for a second-place vote. Coaches and players were not allowed to vote for themselves or their players/teammates.

The NCHC will announce its individual award finalists on Thursday. Individual award winners will be announced at the NCHC Awards Celebration in Minneapolis, Minn. on Thursday, March 16.

All-Conference First Team
F: *Alex Iafallo, Sr., UMD – 34 points (11 first-place votes)
F: Anthony Louis, Sr., Miami – 30 (9)
F: $Austin Ortega, Sr., Omaha – 23 (6)
D: #Will Butcher, Sr., Denver – 35 (11)
D: Tucker Poolman, Jr., UND – 26 (7)
G: Tanner Jaillet, Jr., Denver – 32 (10)

All-Conference Second Team
F: %Henrik Borgstr̦m, Fr., Denver Р20 (6)
F: @Dylan Gambrell, So., Denver – 19 (5)
F: Sheldon Dries, Sr., WMU – 14 (3)
D: Neal Pionk, So., UMD – 25 (6)
D: ^Luc Snuggerud, Jr., Omaha – 21 (6)
G: Hunter Miska, Fr., UMD – 16 (3)

Honorable Mention All-Conference
F: Troy Terry, So., Denver – 10 (3)
F: Shane Gersich, So., UND – 9 (1)
F: Mikey Eyssimont, So., SCSU – 8 (0)
D: ^+Louie Belpedio, Jr., Miami – 14 (2)
D: @Jimmy Schuldt, So., SCSU – 4 (0)
G: %Ben Blacker, Fr., WMU – 15 (3)

# 2015-16 NCHC First-Team All-Conference
+ 2015-16 NCHC Honorable Mention All-Conference
$ 2014-15 NCHC Honorable Mention All-Conference
% 2016-17 NCHC All-Rookie Team
@2015-16 NCHC All-Rookie Team
^ 2014-15 NCHC All-Rookie Team
* 2013-14 NCHC All-Rookie Team

Wednesday, March 08, 2017

NCHC Awards: How I Would Have Voted

The annual tradition that is NCHC postseason awards started Tuesday, when the league released its All-Rookie Team.

All-NCHC honors are due soon, but before that happens, here's a quick look at how your humble correspondent would have voted were he permitted to do so. These are always difficult choices, and surely some of you will be offended.

Leave your thoughts in the comments, or hit me up on Twitter @BruceCiskie. I'll be back with the official announcement once it's out.

ALL-NCHC TEAMS
FIRST TEAM
Forwards
Alex Iafallo, UMD
Anthony Louis, Miami
Austin Ortega, Omaha

Defensemen
Will Butcher, Denver
Carson Soucy, UMD

Goalie
Tanner Jaillet, Denver

SECOND TEAM
Forwards
Dylan Gambrell, Denver
Shane Gersich, North Dakota
Matheon Iacopelli, Western Michigan

Defensemen
Neal Pionk, UMD
Luc Snuggerud, Omaha

Goalie
Hunter Miska, UMD

APOLOGIES TO
Forwards: Sheldon Dries, Western Michigan; Mikey Eyssimont, St. Cloud State; Adam Johnson, UMD; Griffen Molino, Western Michigan; Kiefer Sherwood, Miami
Defensemen: Jack Ahcan, St. Cloud State; Tucker Poolman, North Dakota

NCHC ALL-ROOKIE TEAM
Forwards
Joey Anderson, UMD
Henrik Borgstrom, Denver
Tyson Jost, North Dakota

Defensemen
Jack Ahcan, St. Cloud State
Colton Poolman, North Dakota

Goalie
Hunter Miska, UMD

NCHC Player of the Year: Alex Iafallo, UMD
NCHC Defenseman of the Year: Will Butcher, Denver
NCHC Goaltender of the Year: Tanner Jaillet, Denver
NCHC Rookie of the Year: Henrik Borgstrom, Denver

Monday, March 06, 2017

Monday Musings: Split With Western Michigan Sets UMD Up For Postseason

Much better, more composed performance from UMD in Saturday's 6-3 win over Western Michigan in Kalamazoo. That they did it without big-minute defenseman Carson Soucy is a gigantic bonus, in my view.

There wasn't a long list of players who played well in Friday's game. UMD was guilty of missed coverages and not doing enough to get to the net front and disrupt WMU goalie Ben Blacker. Saturday's tone was set in the first period, when the Bulldogs were getting outshot in the early going but not letting anyone get second chances in Hunter Miska's kitchen. Then, the first Western Michigan penalty of the game ended up in the back of the Broncos' net when a shooting mentality and net drive led to Jared Thomas' first goal in 70 games, going back to Oct. 17, 2015.

A couple minutes later, Western captain Sheldon Dries took an undisciplined penalty and ended up in the box for six seconds. Why six seconds? Because Adam Johnson walked the blue line, found a lane, and scored off a Joey Anderson tip (yes, we know Johnson got official credit, but both he and Anderson said after the game it was tipped). It was a perfect example of a player up high finding a way to get a puck through to give UMD a scoring chance.

This time of year, you have to score that way.

You also have to, at this time of the season, deal with pushback from the team that trails. Down 2-0, Western Michigan didn't lay down. The Broncos leveled by the midway point of the second, and kept pushing to take the lead before UMD got a break late in the period. Blacker came out to play a dump-in and turned it over to Karson Kuhlman on the right wing. Kuhlman whipped the puck toward the net as Blacker hustled back to the crease. He stopped Kuhlman's shot, but Adam Johnson poked it by him as he kept sliding back out of the crease, and the puck crossed the line before the mass of bodies took the net off.

UMD seized the momentum, getting an Avery Peterson goal early in the third before Anderson made a great individual effort off the wall and ripped a shot by Blacker to chase him from the game.

The win is UMD's 21st of the season and it keeps the Bulldogs safely in the second spot of the PairWise rankings. UMD finishes NCHC play in second place after Denver swept Omaha over the weekend.

(Like I said last week, UMD didn't lose this conference title. Denver won it, going on a tear here down the stretch and looking every bit the national championship contender we believe them to be.)

******

UMD had to shake some adversity. Soucy was injured late in Friday's loss when he got tangled with Western forward Griffen Molino. Nothing malicious in any way, but Soucy fell awkwardly after Molino collided low trying to get in front of a shot. He hobbled off the ice and didn't return, and didn't dress Saturday. As for prognosis and the like, we should know more in the early part of the week. Keep the fingers crossed for good news.

Without him, UMD went with freshman Jarod Hilderman and mixed up pairings. We saw a lot of Neal Pionk with Willie Raskob, and they were very good. It was one of Raskob's best games in a while, and Pionk was his usual self. If Soucy is gone for any length of time, these are the two I expect the Bulldogs to ride. Both are capable of handling big minutes and can be dynamic players moving the puck. Pionk's shot is a game-changer.

Dan Molenaar and Brenden Kotyk also saw a lot of minutes Saturday and did quite well. Kotyk had an assist and blocked shots like normal. Molenaar played in his 33rd straight game -- a great accomplishment for a guy who had been so snakebit by injury and illness in his UMD career -- and continued his stretch of very consistent work on the blue line.

UMD also played without forward Riley Tufte (illness), who was sick on and off during the day and ruled out after the team got the rink pregame Saturday. Tufte told me at the airport Sunday he was already feeling better, so hopefully he's a full go this week for Miami. Same for forward Kyle Osterberg, who left late in the first with an upper-body injury after a check to the head. He did not return, but hopefully recovers in time to go this week.

******

Next up for UMD is the only weekend of playoffs that can't end its season. The Bulldogs will host Miami in a first-round NCHC playoff series starting Friday at 7. Same Miami team that gave UMD fits two weeks ago, but one swept last week at home by North Dakota.

The RedHawks need to win the league tournament to move on, and UMD wants to build off what it accomplished in a strong effort on Saturday.

Also, the UMD women and WCHA Tournament MVP Maddie Rooney host Minnesota Saturday afternoon. We'll have all the hockey this weekend on the radio, and preview stuff coming on the blog so watch for that.