Showing posts with label nebraska omaha. Show all posts
Showing posts with label nebraska omaha. Show all posts

Thursday, September 18, 2014

NCHC Preseason Prognostications

Welcome to the annual post where I feebly try to predict the order of finish in a college hockey conference, based almost solely on the reputations of the programs involved and the returnees on each team.

Before we begin, let's look at last year's results. Here's what I predicted:

1. Miami
2. North Dakota
3. Western Michigan
4. UMD
5. Denver
6. St. Cloud State
7. Colorado College
8. Nebraska Omaha

Here's how they finished:

1. St. Cloud State
2. North Dakota
3. Nebraska Omaha
4. UMD
4 (tie). Western Michigan
6. Denver
7. Colorado College
8. Miami

Three teams in the correct position, based on tournament seeds (UND, UMD, CC). One other team (Denver) within one spot of correct. But I was so glaringly wrong on St. Cloud State, Miami, and Omaha that I probably should just hand in my credential and let Chris Dilks write this post.

Let's see how I'll be off my rocker this year. After all, the definition of insanity is "doing the same thing over and over again, expecting a different result." And I'm nothing if not insane.

8. Colorado College Tigers

There is some intrigue on this team. Defenseman Jaccob Slavin is in a position to play 30-plus minutes at least some nights, and I really like some of the guys up front, most notably Alex Roos, who could take a huge step this season.

But depth is a question for first-year coach Mike Haviland, and so is goaltending. Josh Thorimbert was inconsistent at best on a bad team last year, and he's gone, leaving the job (in all likelihood) for Tyler Marble, who sat out injured last year.

Haviland takes over for longtime coach Scott Owens, and how the highly-respected veteran NHL coach fits in college hockey will be a storyline this season. And since I'm picking them last, the Tigers will probably win the league or something.

7. Western Michigan Broncos

This is where it starts getting really difficult, and I'm probably going to end up looking like an idiot. There's a lot to like about this Broncos team, most notably big forwards Josh Pitt and Colton Hargrove, along with smooth defenseman Kenney Morrison. However, Andy Murray loses Chase Balisy and Shane Berschbach up front, and their speed, skill, and leadership will be difficult to replace. Murray deployed both players in all situations last year, and they were effective.

Kyle Novak needs to take a big step at forward, and Morrison will be counted on for a lot of minutes with trusted veterans Dennis Brown and Jordan Oesterle both gone.

Lukas Hafner and Frank Slubowski compete for time in goal, where WMU should continue to be rock-solid. I'm just not sure Murray can find enough goals to get this team in the top four.

6. Denver Pioneers

There might not be a more important player in the league than DU defenseman Joey LaLeggia. He moves the puck, he protects his own zone, and he's a huge key to everything the Pioneers want to do in 2014-15. His presence is of added significance with the loss of David Makowski on the blue line. Yeah, Jim Montgomery can also send sophomore Will Butcher over the boards, but LaLeggia is the straw that stirs this drink.

The Pioneers have talent up front with guys like Ty Loney and Quentin Shore, but it's in goal where the big question mark lies. Who takes over for the departed Sam Brittain? That player will have huge shoes to fill come October.

5. Nebraska Omaha Mavericks

Yes, UNO loses Josh Archibald, Ryan Walters, and Brock Montpetit. Yeah, Nick Seeler is a late-summer departure Dean Blais can't recruit a replacement for. No, the goaltending situation doesn't really look like it's that much better.

Just look at those freshmen. Luc Snuggerud joins from Eden Prairie and will play a lot on the blue line. Blais added Duluth's Jake Randolph and Grand Rapids Mr. Hockey winner Avery Peterson up front, along with Tyler Vesel. Lots of high-end skill there, and no reason this team can't score goals.

Don't forget: Jake Guentzel and Dominic Zombo are both back, too. If Ryan Massa can grab the starting job and hold on to it, UNO is one of the most interesting teams in the nation.

4. UMD Bulldogs

No one wants to put all the pressure on a freshman, but UMD's fortunes this year will almost certainly be tied to freshman goalie Kasimir Kaskisuo. The former Minnesota Wilderness (NAHL) star is the likely starter at a position UMD has seen two years of struggles at. After five straight years of team save percentage of .900 or higher (as high as .920), the Bulldogs have slipped to .896 each of the last two winters. Last year, UMD would have allowed 15 fewer goals if that team save percentage would have matched the Bulldogs' opponents (.911). Considering UMD scored and allowed 104 goals last year, cutting 15 from the goals allowed total would have made a huge difference.

Can Kaskisuo do that? We don't know. But UMD should score more, as almost every key offensive contributor returns sans Caleb Herbert, who left early to sign with Washington. Joe Basaraba has gone pro after an 18-point senior season.

3. North Dakota

Yes, UND loses the criminally underrated Rocco Grimaldi, who left early to turn pro. Yes, North Dakota no longer has Dillon Simpson, one of the top defensemen in the country.

It doesn't matter.

Defensemen Jordan Schmaltz and Paul LaDue return. Forwards Mark MacMillan and Michael Parks are back, and so is goalie Zane McIntyre (formerly Gothberg), a 20-game winner if you're a Neanderthal and think "wins" matter when it comes to judging the quality of a goalie.

Oh, and the recruiting class includes stud forwards Nick Schmaltz and Austin Poganski.

North Dakota's going to be good. Probably really good.

2. St. Cloud State Huskies

After winning the league last season, Bob Motzko's Huskies will be a favorite again in 2014-15. They should be, too. SCSU needs to replace goalie Ryan Faragher, but the Huskies return forwards like Jonny Brodzinski and Kalle Kossila, along with star defenseman Andrew Prochno, who is one of the best in the country at his position.

Charlie Lindgren is favored to get the bulk of the work in goal. He made a handful of appearances last year and acquitted himself very well.

(The freshman class includes former Duluth Marshall Hilltopper Judd Peterson, by the way.)

SCSU has depth, snarl, and a lot of skill. This team will be a force again this season.

1. Miami Redhawks

Yeah, that whole "definition of insanity" bit. I know.

Rico Blasi's crew had a Murphy's Law type of season. Between injuries and surprisingly leaky goaltending, just about everything that could go wrong did for MU last year.

Don't bank on it happening again. Miami's run to the NCHC Frozen Faceoff championship game is just the start for this program. Nearly everyone is back, led by the dynamic Austin Czarnik and thumping forward Blake Coleman. The same suspects are back in goal, so MU is relying on improvement from Jay Williams and Ryan McKay. But if Miami stays healthy, Blasi has a much deeper and better-skilled team than last year.

I know "worst to first" seems like a stretch in such a strong league, but the Redhawks are going to be a contender this winter.

Preseason All-NCHC Team
Forwards
Jonny Brodzinski, St. Cloud State
Tony Cameranesi, UMD
Jake Guentzel, Nebraska Omaha
Defensemen
Joey LaLeggia, Denver
Andrew Prochno, St. Cloud State
Goalie
Zane McIntyre, North Dakota

All-Rookie Team
Forwards
Karson Kuhlman, UMD
Avery Peterson, Nebraska Omaha
Nick Schmaltz, North Dakota
Defensemen
Louie Belpedio, Miami
Luc Snuggerud, Nebraska Omaha
Goalie
Kasimir Kaskisuo, UMD

Preseason Player of the Year: Jonny Brodzinski, St. Cloud State
Preseason Rookie of the Year: Nick Schmaltz, North Dakota

Saturday, March 08, 2014

Game 34: Omaha at UMD

I expect this to be interesting. UNO has little to play for, outside of third place in the league and maybe being a spoiler to UMD's home-ice hopes.

Lines?

Lines.

UMD
Osterberg - Cameranesi - Crandall (Justin)
Decowski - Herbert - Basaraba
Iafallo - Toninato - Krause
Farley - Tardy - Spurrell

Soucy - Welinski
Johnson - Raskob
Corrin - Molenaar

Crandall (Aaron) - McNeely - Fons

UNO
Guentzel - Zombo - Archibald
Walters - Montpetit - Ortega
Searfoss - Lane - Polk
Youso - Pearce - Simonson

Megna - Seeler
Cooper - O'Rourke
Young - Brady

Massa - Thompson

Saturday Hockey Notes and Thoughts: Bulldogs Build a Snowman in Rout of Mavericks

Had no idea what to expect this weekend at Amsoil Arena.

Never would have guessed "UMD by six" in the series opener, but that's exactly what we got.

The Bulldogs won going away 8-2, scoring the most goals in a game since November of 2009, when some guy named Justin Fontaine scored four in an 8-1 win over Michigan Tech.

11 UMD players had at least one point, while six had at least two. Kyle Osterberg and Justin Crandall each had three. Tony Cameranesi scored the first two goals inside of the game's first ten minutes. So, yeah, that line was going.

Meanwhile, UNO's stud line of Dominic Zombo, Josh Archibald, and Jake Guentzel were held to a fat goose-egg at even strength. Archibald's only contribution to the scoresheet was a cheap elbow to Cal Decowski's head that got him ejected from the game in the third period.

(To be fair, it looked like goalie Aaron Crandall was cheating toward Archibald, who was at the bottom of the left faceoff circle, when Michael Young snuck a shot by his glove for a second period PPG.)

Zombo scored a power play goal, and Guentzel assisted on both UNO goals, which were both on power plays. The guys responsible, primarily, were Dominic Toninato, Alex Iafallo, and Adam Krause. Toninato won draws all night, and they hounded the puck when they didn't have it, keeping scoring chances to a minimum for the befuddled Mavericks. Safe to say we'll see that matchup again Saturday, with the Zombo line challenged to play better and get Archibald open for some scoring chances.

UMD jumped UNO early, outshooting the visitors 18-5 in the first period. Only having a 2-1 lead could have been discouraging on a different night, but not this one. The Bulldogs kept putting on pressure, and goalie Ryan Massa was simply overwhelmed. Coach Dean Blais pulled Massa after the fifth UMD goal, a laser of a one-timer by Osterberg. Freshman Reed Peters offered little resistance, stopping six of eight shots, and UMD threw in an empty-netter when Blais went without a goalie during a chunk of four-on-four hockey midway through the third.

Osterberg, Cameranesi, and Justin Crandall combined for 14 shots on goal and five goals, with Cameranesi and Crandall getting two apiece.

UNO won't just go away. This team didn't score five or more five times over an 11-game span by accident. The Bulldogs sapped their will on Friday, thanks to physical play, a relentless forecheck, and great puck possession. It won't be this easy again on Saturday. Expect the Mavericks to push back, and the Bulldogs will have to play another smart game, take care of the puck, and hound it when they don't have it.

One negative: I thought UMD's defensive zone play got a little soft for a stretch of the third when it was 5-2. It didn't lead to anything, really, but it's the kind of thing that can burn the Bulldogs against a dangerous offensive team if they keep it up. Just a few lazy passes leading to turnovers. When you win by six, it can be glossed over, but Saturday will not be a six-goal game.

******

Plus/minus is dumb when taken in the context of a single game. But this is supposed to be fun, right? So let's have some fun with Friday's numbers.

Carson Soucy and Andy Welinski were each plus-four. Osterberg, Cameranesi, and Justin Crandall were all plus-three. UMD had only three skaters who weren't pluses. UNO had four skaters who weren't minuses. Nick Seeler was minus-five, while Tanner Lane was minus-four.

Among skaters, Soucy now has the team lead at plus-ten, while Osterberg is plus-eight and Crandall plus-seven for the season.

******

Elsewhere in the NCHC, results have rendered Saturday a meaningless game for UNO. The Mavericks are 28th in the Pairwise, and one win isn't going to lift them to even bubble team status. North Dakota's 2-0 win over Western Michigan clinched home ice for the Mavericks next weekend. Only question is whether they're seeded third or fourth.

In Grand Forks, Stephane Pattyn and Luke Johnson scored 18 seconds apart late in the second period to lift UND. Zane Gothberg was perfect on 18 shots for his second collegiate shutout and first at The Ralph. With a regulation win, North Dakota is in the driver's seat for the No. 1 seed in the NCHC playoffs and the right to host Miami in a best-of-three next weekend. UND needs to match what SCSU does in Saturday's season finale to hold on to the top seed. Western can no longer get home ice, no matter what happens Saturday.

St. Cloud State's top six forwards were unbelievable in a 7-4 win at Colorado College that kept the Huskies in line to potentially share the Penrose Cup. Joey Benik had two goals and three assists, Jonny Brodzinski picked up a hat trick, Kalle Kossila had four assists, and Jimmy Murray one goal and two assists. T'was more than enough for Ryan Faragher, who stopped 30 of 34.

At Magness Arena, Denver stayed alive for home ice by beating Miami 5-2. Emil Romig, Zac Larraza, Joey LaLeggia, and Nolan Zajac all had one goal and one assist each for Denver. Goalie Sam Brittain made 36 saves. Want a microcosm of Miami's season? Matt Marcinew was ejected for a hit from behind, and Miami had a long power play going into the third period with the score 3-2. The power play lasted all of two minutes before the RedHawks took a bench minor for too many men to negate the power play for two minutes. It's been that kind of year.

******

Now, what you all have probably been waiting for.

What has to happen Saturday for UMD to get home ice?

The Bulldogs clinch it themselves with a win in regulation or overtime. That actually would put UMD in third.

UMD also clinches home ice with a shootout win, which would lock the Bulldogs in fourth.

If Omaha wins a shootout, UMD would need Denver to go to a shootout with Miami, at the minimum. If UMD loses a shootout and Denver wins in regulation or overtime, the Bulldogs would finish fifth and hop a bird to Denver next weekend.

If UMD does not gain any points Saturday, it needs Denver to lose -- regulation, overtime, or shootout would work just fine.

Potential opponents are whittled to Western Michigan and Denver. UMD will not travel to Kalamazoo under any circumstances. If the teams meet, it will happen in Duluth. Denver is the only team UMD could play on the road. The Pioneers could also end up in Duluth.

Either way, a lot on the line Saturday night.

Friday, March 07, 2014

Game 33: Nebraska Omaha at UMD

Lines?

Lines.

UMD
Osterberg - Cameranesi - Crandall (Justin)
Decowski - Herbert - Basaraba
Iafallo - Toninato - Krause
Farley - Tardy - Spurrell

Soucy - Welinski
Johnson - Raskob
Corrin - Molenaar

Crandall (Aaron) - McNeely - Fons

UNO
Guentzel - Zombo - Archibald
Walters - Montpetit - Ortega
Searfoss - Lane - Polk
Youso - Pearce - Simonson

Megna - Seeler
Cooper - O'Rourke
Young - Brady

Massa - Peters

Thursday, March 06, 2014

UMD's Mission: Stop Archibald, Gain Home Ice

UMD has swept three NCHC road series in January. The first of those came Jan. 10-11 in Omaha, where senior goalie Aaron Crandall almost single-handedly backstopped UMD to six points.

By now, you're well aware that Crandall made 90 saves on the weekend, with one-sixth of them -- 15 total -- coming from shots by Josh Archibald, UNO's star sniper.

"He had chances," junior co-captain Adam Krause said. "Thankfully, Aaron played the way he did that weekend. Out of his mind."

Stakes are high this weekend for both teams, but especially UMD. The Bulldogs could finish anywhere from third to sixth in the NCHC, so work is done to secure the right to play at home next weekend. And make no mistake. 4-7-3 home record be damned. This team wants to play at home next weekend.

"It would mean a lot," head coach Scott Sandelin said this week.

"I think it'd be huge to get the first series here," Krause said.

Let's be honest. A road series would likely, based on the scenarios in play, be played in either Denver or Kalamazoo. It's no fun to book a flight on short notice, and it adds travel headaches that don't necessarily exist in the regular season.

This will be a challenging weekend. UNO has cranked up the offense since UMD's visit. The Mavericks have scored five or more goals in a game five times over the last 11 they have played. Archibald, Brock Montpetit, and freshman Jake Guentzel have formed a very strong line over the last few weeks, with all three benefiting from one another.

Sandelin and Krause agreed that last weekend's series against Miami -- especially the Saturday game -- had a playoff type of intensity to it.

"I really liked how our guys played," Sandelin said. "Both goalies were good, and I was happy to see Aaron get the shutout (Saturday)."

"Having Aaron kind of stand on his head, and us playing committed to the team defense after we got the lead, I think that's playoff hockey right there," Krause said.

The Mavericks are winless in their last four games against UMD, dating back one year to last season's home finale. Crandall has started the last three of those head-to-head meetings. In those games, he has stopped 122 of 125 shots for a .976 save percentage, with one shutout.

Odds are the Bulldogs won't be able to hold Archibald down again this weekend. He doesn't have 28 goals in 32 games by accident. But it's going to be fun to watch them try. I'd guess Sandelin will try to match Montpetit's line against Dominic Toninato, Alex Iafallo, and Krause whenever he can this weekend. I'd also assume Dean Blais is thinking the same thing, so don't be surprised if Blais mixes up his lines and tries to sneak Archibald out there at different times to exploit other -- potentially more favorable -- matchups.

The Mavericks are dangerous on the attack, but the Bulldogs might be able to expose some things in the back end if they can generate the puck possession necessary to do it. I thought the Bulldogs did a good job defensively last weekend at Miami, especially on Saturday, and hopefully that will carry over to this weekend.

As for scenarios, I'll update this if the NCHC sends along anything more official than my horrific math skills, but here is what I believe lies ahead for UMD.

If UMD sweeps UNO, it will finish third.
If UMD takes five points and Western does not sweep North Dakota, UMD will finish fourth.
If UMD takes four points, Western does not sweep, and Denver does not sweep Miami, UMD will finish fourth.

If Western Michigan sweeps North Dakota, I will impale myself with a broken stick UMD needs to sweep UNO to secure home ice.

If Denver sweeps Miami, UMD needs to take at least four points to secure home ice.

This list is completely incomplete, and I will update it, like I said, if the league provides any sort of more comprehensive information.

******

Crandall is one of four UMD seniors who will be honored during the first intermission of Saturday's game at Amsoil Arena. Oddly, the four come from three different years.

Crandall joined the team in 2009-2010, but did not play on a redshirt. Forwards Joe Basaraba and Max Tardy came on board and won rings as part of the 2010-11 Bulldogs. Defenseman Tim Smith joined the next fall, as a transfer from Providence.

All four have played big roles on this team. Crandall has emerged as the clear-cut No. 1 goalie, thrice winning NCHC Goalie of the Week honors. Basaraba has developed into a hard-nosed forward who does a lot of the little things right. Tardy had a rough junior season, but while he hasn't gotten on the scoresheet much, he's worked hard and played well in his role this season. Smith is a very good defensive defenseman who brings snarl and attitude.

In addition, junior defenseman Luke McManus is retiring after this season because of injury. He will be part of the group honored on Senior Night. McManus has been snakebit by various injuries throughout his UMD career. Luke's a good egg -- and a very smart kid -- whose presence in the room and on the road will be missed by this guy, among others.

For those wondering, McManus' decision means that UMD will be adding another defenseman in the 2014 recruiting class. There are options, including bringing in a committed player early and pursuing a defenseman currently playing in juniors. UMD has done well in the past with late-blooming recruits (Brady Lamb comes to mind as a blue-liner who committed late and turned into a pretty damn good player). I've been given no real reason to expect to lose any guys early, so this could end up being the most interesting story we have to cover regarding the UMD offseason. I wouldn't complain if that happened.

Monday, March 03, 2014

Monday Musings: Bulldogs Crank Up Intensity, Sweep Miami

Before Saturday's tilt with Miami, UMD head coach Scott Sandelin -- who has danced a few dances in his day -- used the word "feisty" to describe what was to come.

"I expect them to be very physical," he told me pregame. "I expect the game to get a little feisty. Be ready to compete."

Couldn't have been more correct.

In a game that saw some serious playoff-type intensity on the ice, UMD held off the RedHawks 1-0 for a series sweep. As the horn sounded, and Aaron Crandall made the last of his 30 saves on a 170-foot shot by Austin Czarnik, UMD defenseman Derik Johnson was run over by Miami's Blake Coleman. It wasn't the first dirty hit by Coleman on the weekend, but it was the most glaring.

And it started the closest thing we've seen to a brawl involving UMD in a long time. Players paired off in a couple different spots on the ice, and officials worked to separate them and eventually put a bunch of guys in each team's respective penalty box.

Johnson and Coleman got matching roughing minors and ten-minute misconducts. The game officials chose not to call anything else, which was somewhat surprising. However, it's nothing but a stat pad to call anything but misconducts in that situation. A bunch of matching minors would have made the scoresheet look interesting, but accomplished little else. The postgame handshake went by the wayside, and that was probably a good idea in that moment.

(That said, the NCHC wouldn't be out of line to place a phone call to both teams and just make sure they know what they probably already know: Postgame fracases -- or fracasi? -- that lead to the handshake line not happening are frowned upon. Even if it's with a wink and nod.)

(Best moment of the night? As much as I don't want to encourage such shenanigans, after it all settled down and the teams left the ice, a few UMD players encouraged the home fans to boo. And they booed. UMD was a bigger heel in that moment than Batista was in Green Bay last Monday. Maybe we should be main-eventing WrestleMania, eh?)

Crandall was razor-sharp on Saturday. He saw a lot of the shots fired his way because of a strong defensive effort in front of him. Kyle Osterberg buried the best scoring chance he had all weekend. Emotions were high on both benches.

Sounds like playoff hockey to me.

Fitting, because we've got one more weekend to go, and then it will be playoff hockey for everyone. The stakes get raised, and then everyone gets a bit edgier.

Games like Saturday aren't designed to duplicate playoff intensity. Instead, it just happens. The UMD side was somewhat irritated at a few plays by Coleman in Friday's game, and surely the Miami people felt the same way about someone for UMD. That's how these things percolate.

Factor in UMD's bubbling frustration after a four-game losing streak, and Miami coming to grips with a season that saw it picked to win the NCHC yet ended up in last place. It's a cocktail for truculence.

For both teams, it was good on a number of levels. Incidents like that aren't proud moments for college hockey, but the fans get into them (largely because of the scarcity), and while people might not want to outwardly admit it, they can be galvanizing moments for teams.

It's one thing to see a little post-whistle skirmish where a couple guys on the ice stick up for one another. This was different. Everyone was on the ice. Each team had its purpose, and the players can sense a togetherness that comes out of such things.

Hey, it isn't much. But with the playoffs quickly approaching, coaches wisely will use any little nugget to drive/motivate/tick off their players. If what happened Saturday can help bring the UMD room even closer together than it already was, then we'll take it.

******

The Bulldogs have a good shot at home ice in the NCHC quarterfinals. At this point, no further help is needed for UMD to finish in the top four.

Actually, if UMD sweeps UNO at home Friday and Saturday, the Bulldogs will finish third. UMD could end as low as sixth, but we aren't going to talk about that.

If the series is not a UMD sweep, here are the ways UMD can still attain home ice, as the Bulldogs enter the weekend tied for fourth in the league:

1. Finish with no less than one fewer point than Denver (vs Miami) this weekend
2. Finish with the same number of points or more points than Western Michigan (at North Dakota)

If either Denver or Western Michigan (but not both) pass UMD, the Bulldogs will finish fifth and travel to play whichever team passed them. In this scenario, UMD doesn't do well this weekend, which means UNO won't get passed for third place.

If both Denver and Western Michigan pass UMD, the Bulldogs will finish sixth, and would likely play next weekend at Omaha, the No. 3 seed.

(UNO could still pass St. Cloud State and/or North Dakota, but those scenarios aren't as likely, especially with SCSU playing Colorado College and UND at home for Western Michigan.)

******

Nebraska Omaha indeed visits this weekend. The Mavericks have ripped off a 6-3 record over nine games, including wins over St. Cloud State, North Dakota, and Denver. UNO's Josh Archibald is the centerpiece of what might be the most dangerous line in college hockey, at least west of the Mason/Dixon Line. Currently playing with Dominic Zombo (14 goals, 16 assists, 30 points) and Jake Guentzel (six goals, 22 assists, 28 points), Archibald is a shoo-in for NCHC Player of the Year. If Johnny Gaudreau gets caught with a gun in his bag at the airport in the next couple weeks, Archibald has a real shot at the Hobey Baker Award.

In 32 games, Archibald has 28 goals.

I'm not making that up.

And, no, UNO hasn't played Huntsville this season.

You might remember January in Omaha, when Crandall kept Archibald off the board with a dizzying array of great saves. Archibald had nine shots on goal Friday, six more Saturday, and didn't get a single one by Crandall.

If that happens again this weekend, one can imagine that we'll be checking in between Archibald's ears to see if Crandall has taken up residency. It just isn't likely. Archibald is so good that Sandelin and/or Crandall might be able to write a book about holding him off the board for four games.

In other words, don't bet on it.

Though I think I'd love to read that book.

Saturday, January 11, 2014

Game 18: UMD at Nebraska Omaha

OMAHA, Neb. -- Here we go from Omaha, where UMD seeks its first series sweep since the last time it played Omaha, and its first road series sweep since taking two in Anchorage last season.

Friday was a nice step, but the Bulldogs know six points are within reach here. Time to get them.

Lines?

Lines.

UMD
Crandall (Justin) - Cameranesi - Osterberg
Farley - Herbert - Basaraba
Iafallo - Toninato - Krause
Sampair - Decowski - Spurrell

Soucy - Welinski
Smith - Raskob
Johnson - Corrin

Crandall (Aaron) - McNeely

UNO
Walters - Zombo - Archibald
Searfoss - Montpetit - Raubenheimer
Guentzel - Lane - Parizek
Polk - Pearce - Simonson

Megna - Brady
Cooper - Seeler
Young - O'Rourke

Thompson - Peters - Massa

Saturday Hockey Notes and Thoughts: UMD Holds On, Hits .500; Aaron Crandall Stands Tall in Net

OMAHA, Neb. -- I try to avoid hyperbole. I really hate when people throw out superlatives in describing every-day events.

UMD won a one-game game here Friday night, beating Nebraska Omaha 3-2. In doing so, the Bulldogs got outstanding and timely goaltending from senior Aaron Crandall, who made 38 saves.

During the postgame show, I said it might very well have been the best I've ever seen Crandall play. And while sometimes I end up having to take back stupid things I say on the air, this won't be one of those instances.

Meant. Every. Word. Of. It.

The Bulldogs didn't start badly in this game, but it was clear that they weren't as sharp as the opposition. UMD played with good energy and jump, I thought, but just didn't look crisp. Passes would miss and guys seemed a little unsure of themselves at times.

An early five-on-three came up empty, and not surprisingly. That early in the first real game off break, nothing was really working. I thought UMD looked a bit stagnant during the two-man advantage, which UNO killed off without a real scoring threat coming UMD's way. UMD's power play looked much better in the second period, however, and the game's first goal came seven seconds after it ended.

Alex Iafallo and Dominic Toninato combined for the first two goals, with Toninato tipping a long Iafallo shot for the first, then the pair setting up Adam Krause in the high slot for the second late in the middle stanza.

The second period featured some strong up-and-down action, but was more in line with how I feel UMD should play. UNO played with pace, but the Bulldogs blocked shots and were smart in their own zone. They weren't as good in the third period. UNO had chances, and the Mavericks were allowed to use too much speed. Josh Archibald was key here. The Mavs' leading scorer was held off the board Friday, but it wasn't from a lack of trying or a lack of opportunity. Archibald led the team with nine shots on goal and had at least three tremendous opportunities that Crandall stopped. He's an incredible high-end talent, and it's hard to imagine UMD keeping him quiet again.

The onus is on the Bulldogs to get more traffic in front of whichever goalie UNO starts Saturday and find a way to play more on their toes in the third period if they have a lead. Ryan Massa was solid on Saturday, but he had a clear path to too many shots. UNO blocked 16 shots, many of them early in the game.

UMD got back to blocking shots, too (21 in the game). That was a point of emphasis and will remain so. The Mavericks will shoot from anywhere, so it isn't surprising they got 40 on goal when UMD blocked over 20 as well. Expect more of that on Saturday. UNO's coaches can't be too upset with how their team played. There were plenty of big-time scoring chances, but Crandall was in good position and tracked the puck through traffic very well.

UMD needs a little more out of its top line. Tony Cameranesi, Justin Crandall, and Kyle Osterberg didn't create a ton of good chances Friday. That said, Osterberg had five shots on goal, the line combined for eight, and Cameranesi won the faceoff that set up Andy Welinski's one-time shot for the eventual game-winning goal (Welinski's first career GWG, by the way). That I believe they can get to another level is a testament to their skill and chemistry.

Cal Decowski's line with Charlie Sampair and Sammy Spurrell turned in some outstanding shifts again. A good example of their smarts came during the third period, when Spurrell got trapped on the ice for a long shift. UMD iced the puck and he couldn't get off. Instead of panicking, he kept things simple, blocked a shot, and was able to get off the ice. That's a good example for young players, who tend to lose their head when trapped on the ice for a long time. When you're tired, it's time to play a simpler game and not try to do too much. Instead, players tend to overextend themselves, and that's how critical mistakes are made.

During Saturday's broadcast, by the way, you'll be able to hear Decowski (who talks faster than he plays) chat about his line and their chemistry. It's as good a "fourth line" as you'll find anywhere.

By the way, I'm betting Crandall starts again in goal. Just a hunch.

******

Congratulations to former UMD goalie and national champion Kenny Reiter, who signed his first NHL contract Friday. He inked a two-way deal with the New York Islanders for the rest of the 2013-14 season. The contract doesn't guarantee Reiter will play in the NHL. Instead, the Islanders -- ravaged by injury between the pipes -- pick up another option for the NHL roster should it be necessary.

When Reiter came here, he wasn't guaranteed a dadgum thing. Through hard work and a ton of heart, he earned the starting job here over a more highly-touted goalie. That goalie chose to transfer and try to get a fresh start elsewhere, and Reiter ended up holding on to the job for about a season and a half, winning 52 games, including 23 in his senior season. He was the man during the 2011 NCAA Tournament, too, leading UMD to the title.

There aren't many better people in this sport than Kenny Reiter. He's a class act, and I hope to see a press release about him getting called up before this season is over.

As far as "good dudes" go who have left UMD and made it to the NHL, the only comparison I can think of is Jason Garrison. His story is similar, too, so it's cool to see Kenny get this opportunity.

******

The other NCHC action on Friday ...

Western Michigan scored three in the third period. Two of them were short-handed, including the winner from Nolan Laporte with eight seconds left, as the Broncos beat Miami 5-4 in Kalamazoo. The loss drops the consensus preseason favorite RedHawks to eighth place in the eight-team NCHC.

North Dakota got two Michael Parks goals in a 5-3 home win over Colorado College. The Tigers are 2-14-3 overall, but still a point ahead of Miami, thanks to an extra game played and a shootout win.

St. Cloud State continued its strong play with a 6-3 win at Denver. Jonny Brodzinski scored twice, and David Morley had three points.

Friday, January 10, 2014

Game 17: UMD at Nebraska Omaha

OMAHA, Neb. -- The second half of the season kicks off here at CenturyLink Center, where UMD takes on Nebraska Omaha. The Bulldogs are aiming to get back to the .500 mark, as are the Mavericks. Assuming no shootout, the Friday winner will, at least for one night, be break-even on the season.

Lines?

Lines.

UMD
Crandall (Justin) - Cameranesi - Osterberg
Farley - Herbert - Basaraba
Iafallo - Toninato - Krause
Sampair - Decowski - Spurrell

Soucy - Welinski
Smith - Raskob
Johnson - Corrin

Crandall (Aaron) - McNeely

UNO
Lane - Zombo - Archibald
Walters - Montpetit - Davis
Searfoss - Guentzel - Ortega
Polk - Pearce - Parizek

Seeler - O'Rourke
Young - Brady
Youso - Cooper

Massa - Peters - Thompson

Goaltending a Likely Story in Omaha

OMAHA, Neb. -- This is too easy.

Through 16 games this season, UMD has a team save percentage of .884. The Bulldogs are 7-8-1.

Through 18 games this season, Nebraska Omaha has a team save percentage of .880. The Mavericks are 8-9-1.

That tends to make sense when you think about it. Teams that struggle defensively and in goal aren't going to win more than they lose over the long haul.

While it's likely that this will be a storyline this weekend when these two teams meet here in Omaha, it seems like it's almost too easy.

Something else will creep up.

Maybe it's a UMD defense that's become increasingly leaky. Maybe it's a UNO team that played like it missed Jaycob Megna last weekend and will miss him again Friday, along with head coach Dean Blais, who is allowed in the arena but can't coach or communicate with his staff during the game. Perhaps we'll see UNO's penalty kill struggles (71.2 percent this season) rear their ugly (not for UMD) head. But can UMD's inconsistent power play take advantage?

What's striking when you study Omaha is the fact that it's almost a different team in conference play. In special teams play, UNO has been outscored by a way-too-wide 34-20 margin. Opponents have 30 power play goals and four short-handed markers, while UNO has 18 power play goals and a pair of shorties.

However, UNO has nine power play goals and a short-handed marker in eight league games, compared to eight PPGs and a single shorty for opponents. That means that the Mavs have been outscored 25-10 in special teams during non-conference games.

By comparison, UMD's strong penalty kill (87.5 percent) has kept the Bulldogs going in special teams. UMD has outscored opponents 16-12 in special teams situations, thanks to only allowing 11 power play goals. The power play is only hitting at around 19 percent, which is below normal for UMD, but the kill is sixth nationally and has kept UMD from being blown away when penalties are called.

Watching UNO's loss to New Hampshire last Friday, the defensive issues were glaring. They also might be a bit overblown. UNO got caught with the long change in the second period a couple times, trapping tired players on the ice. Those players made mistakes, UNO got outnumbered, and UNH buried some chances.

Both PPG allowed in that game came from point shots, which crystallizes the need for UMD to get pucks to the net while on the man advantage. It isn't always a strength for the Bulldogs, but when they've kept things simple and just driven the net, good things have happened.

UNO is probably thinking the same things heading into this weekend. Stay out of the box, play five-on-five (UNO is plus-nine even strength over 18 games), make a couple saves, and attack the opponent's shaky goaltender.

Simply put, the team that does the best job attacking the net is going to be in position to win. Reality suggests that it'll probably be more complicated than that.

Don't ever expect a 6-5 game. Usually, when you expect to see that, a 2-1 game shows up.

Either way, UMD needs the points to start the second half on the right foot. The Bulldogs had games in hand on the rest of the league entering December, but now only Colorado College and North Dakota have played more league games. Only getting three points out of SCSU and Western Michigan at home hurt big-time. UMD can't let more chances slip away.

Only one non-league weekend remains, so it'll be a grind to the finish. It's a grind UMD needs to start off well here. Get more than half the six points, and let's roll.

Saturday, March 09, 2013

Game 36: Omaha at UMD

Alex Stalock is playing for the Sharks right now (NHL Network). So pardon the brevity. I need to go watch TV.

Lines?

Lines.

UMD
Seidel - Herbert - Crandall (Justin)
Farley - Cameranesi - Basaraba
Danberg - Hendrickson - Flaherty
DeLisle - Decowski - Krause

Olson - Welinski
Smith - Casto
Corrin - Bergman

Crandall (Aaron) - McNeely - Fons

UNO
Walters - Montpetit - White
Searfoss - Zombo - Archibald
Gwidt - Lane - Raubenheimer
Polk - O'Rourke - Simonson

Young - Sustr
Cooper - Aneloski
Seeler - Megna

Massa - Faulkner

Saturday Hockey Notes and Thoughts: Great Comeback Win Before Attention Turns to Seniors

Friday night was the kind of game UMD fans have been waiting for all season. In fact, it marked just the second time all year the Bulldogs won a home game after trailing at any point. Omaha started well, scoring twice in 40 seconds to take a 2-0 lead, then scoring a power-play goal less than a minute after UMD closed to within 2-1. A less-than-capacity crowd at Amsoil Arena was left to do a lot of hand-wringing and neck stretching (trying to find TVs around the building showing the Duluth East game).

In the second period, UMD brought the building to life with one of its most captivating 20 minutes of the season.

It didn't start all that great, as sophomore Justin Crandall -- a minus-2 after being on the ice for both UNO even-strength goals in the first period -- got the boot 32 seconds into the frame for a hit from behind on Maverick Josh Archibald. Without one of its best penalty killers, UMD did a magnificent job for five minutes, holding UNO to just two shots on goal and without a grade-A scoring chance during the entire power play.

Just 19 seconds after Austin Farley (served the major) got out of the box, UMD started to chip away. A Caleb Herbert right-wing shot was stopped by UNO goalie Ryan Massa, but big senior Dan DeLisle got to the net and banged home the rebound to make it 3-2. 90 seconds later, Tony Cameranesi found Joe Basaraba streaking down the slot and hit him with a perfect pass for what basically amounted to a tap-in goal to tie it up.

UMD's first power play came up empty, but its second and third did not. On the second, Herbert's blast from the center point was deflected in by Mike Seidel to give UMD the lead. Shortly after, UMD got another power play and converted just seven seconds into it on a Seidel backhander that beat John Faulkner, who relieved Massa after the fourth goal.

Omaha got one back in the third, but the Bulldogs ended up winning 5-4 after playing a very strong all-zone third period. The Mavericks struggled with zone entry down the stretch, and never seriously threatened to get a puck past UMD goalie Matt McNeely, who got his tenth win of the season.

UMD improved to 3-1-2 over the last six, and the Bulldogs continue to hold the appearance of a team that no one in the top six will want to play next weekend.

I think I've mentioned this on the air before, but the shot at home ice is long gone for UMD. Ship left sail, train left the station, so on and so forth. The best thing UMD fans can hope for now is that next weekend, we go somewhere and at least scare the (expletive) out of someone, if not beat someone and get this train back to St. Paul.

On Friday, UMD showed the kind of fire that had been lacking at times in January and early February. The Bulldogs showed they can climb out of a hole, even if the hole is dug with bad mistakes or bad shifts and not the great play of the opponent. They showed they can fill the net and make plays in the offensive zone. They showed they can get to the net, create traffic, and make the goalie's life difficult.

These are all the things necessary for playoff success, and the things Scott Sandelin has to hope his team builds on heading into Saturday's home finale.

******

Saturday's first intermission will be the formal farewell for seven UMD seniors. Wade Bergman, Cody Danberg, DeLisle, Keegan Flaherty, Jake Hendrickson, Drew Olson, and Mike Seidel will all pull on the white home jersey one last time. As of this writing, all seven are expected to play.

Amid all the chatter about this being a disappointing (or worse, depending on the terminology you prefer) season, it's really easy to forget that these seven players have all been a part of multiple NCAA Tournament teams, multiple Final Five runs, and the kind of winning this program hasn't typically experienced.

Oh, and that whole national championship thing, too.

This might not be the insanely successful senior class UMD waved goodbye to last year, but it's still been a good one.

At the risk of preaching, I'll say the same thing I've said in the past. The concession stands are nice, and the bathrooms are clean, but they aren't going anywhere. Plant your butt in your seat for the first intermission ceremony, and stand and cheer for this group when they are introduced. The popcorn can wait, and the players will appreciate the show of respect for them and the program.

******

Where is UMD headed next weekend? I have no earthly idea. And we won't know until Denver's game with Anchorage concludes Sunday afternoon.

A UMD win and Colorado College loss will move UMD to eighth. Most other scenarios involve UMD finishing in ninth. The Bulldogs will not move down from ninth.

But there are too many potential scenarios to count for seeds four through seven. Just hang out and watch what happens Saturday and Sunday, and we'll figure things out from there, I guess.

Friday, March 08, 2013

Game 35: Omaha at UMD

There's a lot going on. State tournament. Winter weather coming. I now have my All-WCHA ballot. Maybe I'll let Hunter help me.

Oh, and it's late in the season, so it must be time for Dean Blais to dress eight defensemen.

(Looks like four full forward lines, but Tony Turgeon and Brian O'Rourke are defensemen by trade.)

Lines?

Lines.

UMD
Seidel - Herbert - Crandall (Justin)
Farley - Cameranesi - Basaraba
Sampair - Hendrickson - Danberg
DeLisle - Decowski - Krause

Olson - Welinski
Smith - Casto
Corrin - Bergman

McNeely - Crandall (Aaron) - Fons

UNO
Turgeon - White - Searfoss
Walters - Zombo - Archibald
Gwidt - Montpetit - Raubenheimer
Krause - O'Rourke - Simonson

Young - Sustr
Cooper - Aneloski
Seeler - Megna

Massa - Faulkner

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Game 8: UMD at Nebraska Omaha

OMAHA, Neb. -- Things to watch for in this game are plentiful. They include UMD's discipline, five-on-five scoring, physical play (which goes back to the discipline issue, because you can't be afraid to take penalties and not hit as a result), and defensive zone coverage, which can -- and must -- continue to improve.

Also, watch the first couple shifts. See which team -- if either -- gets a big hit or a big play to get some energy going. I'm not expecting a big crowd, so the energy will probably have to come from within. Coaches and players call it "creating your own atmosphere."

You can also watch Charlie Sampair, who makes his UMD debut in this game. 

Lines?

Lines.

UMD
Crandall (Justin) - Herbert - Basaraba
Farley - Cameranesi - Seidel
Danberg - Hendrickson - Flaherty
DeLisle - Decowski - Krause

Olson - Welinski
Bergman - Corrin
Smith - Sampair

McNeely - Crandall (Aaron)

UNO
Searfoss - Montpetit - Raubenheimer
Walters - Zombo - Archibald
Gwidt - Pearce - White
Polk - Lane - Schmit

Megna - Sustr
Seeler - Aneloski
Young - O'Rourke

Faulkner - Stolarz - Belfour

Undisciplined and Unlucky: UMD Must Shed Labels

OMAHA, Neb. -- It's hard to win hockey games when you're undisciplined. Killing off a ton of penalties is a good way to wear down your best players -- most of whom will kill penalties. It's not a good way to be successful.

When you're snakebit, life becomes even more difficult.

UMD enters Sunday's game averaging over 20 penalty minutes per game, and with just five goals over a four-game winless streak, its longest such streak since late in the 2008-09 season.

Saturday's 3-2 Omaha win was contentious, with both teams engaging in some chippy play. However, UMD was the only of the two teams to commit a major penalty, and the Bulldogs had two of them.

As a result, UMD piled up 38 penalty minutes in the game, and the Bulldogs had to kill off nearly seven minutes of major penalty-triggered UNO power play time in the third period. It was too much to ask, as Michael Young netted the game-winning goal in the third period after Adam Krause was ejected for a hit from behind.

Earlier, defenseman Derik Johnson was ejected for pulling the facemask of a UNO player. The public address announcer described the penalty as a game disqualification, meaning Johnson is out for the rest of the series. Subsequent stat sheet updates in the press box labeled the penalty as a misconduct, which would allow Johnson to return to the lineup Sunday. The official stats -- viewable here -- have a DQ listed.

(Coaches Scott Sandelin and Jason Herter were in the hotel lobby working on a game plan, and I didn't feel like interrupting them. I've been given no reason to think the official stats linked above are wrong, but I can tell you that the communication of this decision to the UMD bench Saturday night could not have been good.)

Either way, it's another in a series of undisciplined penalties on a team that is having enough trouble scoring without filling its foot with bullet holes.

UMD outplayed UNO five-on-five, but UNO had the only even-strength goal. The Bulldogs have to figure out a way to score at even strength. They are the only WCHA team that has gotten half or more of their total goals so far with the man advantage. If that trend continues, UMD won't realize its full potential.

Of course, the Bulldogs seem to be battling Murphy's Law right now. Lots of goofy bounces, bad breaks, and other such issues that aren't completely in their control.

"You make your own luck" is a farcical statement. It's a loser's lament and a winner's apology. It diminishes the meaning of luck and the influence it can have on the outcome of games. I have abhorred its use for some time, but it doesn't stop the words from coming out of coaches' mouths.

You don't make your own luck. Hell, that sentence is contradictory. Luck can't be created (unless it's Andrew). Luck happens. And just because you admit to being lucky (or unlucky) doesn't mean it's the only reason for your team's success (or lack thereof).

Examples? Sure. I have one that hits close to home.

The 2011 national championship game.

Am I saying -- or implying -- that UMD won because of luck? Hell, no. UMD earned that baby.

However, it's rare to see a 9-4 split in power plays in a closely-contested game that has so much on the line. It's hard to dispute many of the calls or non-calls in the game, but the fact of the matter is that most officiating crews wouldn't have the stones to call a national championship game the way that crew did on that night. It didn't help UMD win, because the Bulldogs ran into a very good penalty kill, but had the split not been as large, it would have changed the way the game was played. That could have made it tougher for the better team to win.

Going the other way, last year's Final Five saw UMD run into a white-hot Sam Brittain in the semifinals. By losing that game, the Bulldogs were shipped to the Northeast Regional, and ran into a clearly-superior Boston College team. If UMD had found a way to beat Brittain one more time on those 70 shots on goal, the regional destination could have changed, and so may have UMD's fortunes.

It's a fine line, but right now it's clear UMD is working hard, generally playing very hard, and not getting a lot of reward for the effort. Teams go through runs like this, where it seems every mistake or bad bounce ends up in the back of their net. It's happened to UMD before. The key here is how the Bulldogs respond.

Perhaps a quick turnaround helps. No time to sit around and think ... only time to recharge the body and get back on the ice.

In a matter of hours, we'll see if UMD can start to turn things back in its favor, or if the slump will extend to Grand Forks on Friday.

Saturday, November 10, 2012

Game 7: UMD at Nebraska Omaha

OMAHA, Neb. -- Time to get this series rolling ... finally.

Expecting a 5,000-ish crowd here for the opener, which doesn't directly compete against Nebraska football, but comes close enough (that game should be over before this one starts). Might be fewer people than that for Sunday.

Lines?

Lines.

UMD
Crandall (Justin) - Herbert - Basaraba
Farley - Cameranesi - Seidel
Danberg - Hendrickson - Flaherty
DeLisle - Decowski - Krause

Olson - Johnson
Bergman - Welinski
McManus - Corrin

McNeely - Crandall (Aaron)

UNO
Searfoss - Montpetit - Raubenheimer
Walters - Zombo - Archibald
Gwidt - Pearce - White
Polk - Lane - Schmit

Megna - Sustr
Seeler - Aneloski
Turgeon - Young

Faulkner - Stolarz - Belfour

Saturday Hockey Notes and Thoughts: Bulldogs Face Challenge in Omaha

OMAHA, Neb. -- This is a tough stretch of games for UMD to try to climb back over .500. Six games that could send things south in a hurry if they don't go well, even if I think it's unrealistic to expect such a thing to happen.

The Bulldogs had a bye last week, a chance to correct the little errors that have helped cause a 2-3-1 start to the 2012-13 season. It's too early to panic, but there is definitely room for improvement.

Nebraska Omaha is the opponent this weekend. The Mavericks are 4-3-1 after sweeping Michigan Tech in Houghton last weekend. While UNO isn't blessed with great scoring depth, Dean Blais has some really hard-working kids up front on his third and fourth lines, and there are some trees in the back.

UMD coach Scott Sandelin has talked a lot to me about wanting his team to be hard to play against this year. If last weekend's series is any indication, he has no better example to show the kids than the Mavericks.

UNO was ready from the outset against Michigan Tech, and one of the things that jumps off the page is the fact that this was a really hard team for Tech to play against. Not much time and space. They were hard on pucks. They mixed in a little 1-3-1 at times, which seemed to frustrate Tech. Friday was really a perfect road game for UNO, as it took the crowd out of things early, and took advantage of opportunities.

Zach Raubenheimer had both goals in that Friday win, including a beauty of a short-handed goal. Dude has some hands, as he showed on his short-handed game winner in the final moments of the third period.

It's not surprising that a Blais-coached team would be tough to play against, nor that a team coached by one of Blais' students would want to be that way.

What's mildly surprising is that -- outside of a spurt here or a spurt there -- it hasn't really clicked yet for UMD. The Bulldogs were far too easy to play against in the Friday loss to Wisconsin, as well as for a chunk of the series against Notre Dame. The trend reversed for the first 40 minutes of the Saturday game against the Badgers, but the Bulldogs weren't sharp in the first part of the third period and paid for it.

It has to be a more consistent UMD team this weekend, and moving beyond. UNO, North Dakota, and St. Cloud State are the next three opponents, and they'll be ready to pounce if the Bulldogs are uneven in their effort and/or execution.

******

One thing I'll try to watch closely is how Blais tries to match lines up against UMD, and how Sandelin counters. As the home team, Blais' Mavericks get the last change, which should theoretically allow him to get his top forwards -- guys like Raubenheimer, Josh Archibald, Brock Montpetit, Matt White, etc. -- away from UMD's all-senior group of Jake Hendrickson, Cody Danberg, and Keegan Flaherty.

However, if the game has flow to it and few whistles, Sandelin could have some opportunities to get his defensively-responsible trio on the ice against a top UNO line.

Another point to watch for is the play of UMD's top players. A huge part of the Bulldogs' challenge this weekend is getting more opportunities for sophomore Caleb Herbert to make things happen in the offensive zone. Herbert has just nine shots on goal in eight games, with three of them coming in the last game, the first of six this season where Herbert played on a wing instead of center five-on-five. Even if he moves back into the middle, I hope he is heading in the right direction.

He still hasn't scored this season, but we saw glimpses of what made him so dangerous as a freshman in that tie against Wisconsin. Makes me think a breakout game isn't all that far away. If it happens this weekend, this will be a perfectly enjoyable road trip.

I don't know what to expect with the rest of the lineup. Without knowing, I'd guess that much of it stays the same, with some tweaks possible on defense as Sandelin and his staff try to find the right combination of players there (doesn't help that sophomore Chris Casto is banged up and won't play, though it opens the door for others to show their stuff). I finally got the goaltending situation right last time UMD played, and I'm guessing we'll see freshman Matt McNeely start Saturday, with Sunday determined by how things go Saturday.

But that's just a guess. Stay tuned.

******

Everyone else in the WCHA who is playing this weekend got things going on Friday. Being in Omaha and unwilling to pay to watch any of the games, I didn't see them. Here's what happened.

In Mankato, Denver took a 3-0 lead, watched Minnesota State creep closer, but held on late for a 4-3 win. Daniel Doremus scored on DU's only shot of the third period, and it stood as the game-winner after a furious Maverick rally fell short. MSU led in shots 36-20, including 30-11 over the final 40 minutes. Doremus and Nolan Zajac -- yeah, he's related -- each had a goal and an assist.

Clarke Saunders pitched a 32-save shutout as North Dakota won at St. Cloud State 3-0. It marks UND's first Friday win at St. Cloud since 1998, which was long enough ago that I was still single when it happened. Brendan O'Donnell scored at :48 of the first period, with Carter Rowney and Mark MacMillan (short-handed) adding the rest of the North Dakota offense.

Rylan Schwartz had two goals, including the game-winner late in the second period, as Colorado College beat Bemidji State at home 3-2. Jordan George and Danny Mattson had the BSU goals. At one point, the live stats humorously said that George scored twice, both at the 6:24 mark of the first period. He's fast, but he isn't that fast.

Late Friday, Minnesota scored twice in each of the first two periods in a 4-0 whitewashing of Alaska Anchorage. The Gophers shredded the UAA penalty kill, scoring all four goals over six power play chances. Kyle Rau had two goals, while Erik Haula and Nate Schmidt each had two assists. Adam Wilcox only had to make 14 saves for the shutout.

In local Division III hockey, UWS got a Michael Orosey overtime goal to beat UW-Stevens Point 3-2. The Yellowjackets are 4-1 after a fourth straight win. UW-Eau Claire stayed unbeaten by knocking off St. Scholastica 5-1.

******

Saturday's game starts at 7pm here, with Sunday's game at 2pm. I talked to senior defenseman Drew Olson during the week, and one thing that's worth watching is how the teams start out on Sunday. There won't be much of an atmosphere in the building, as UNO hasn't drawn particularly well this season, and their Sunday home games over the years have been played in front of very sparse crowds (last year's against St. Cloud State drew an announced 5,800 or so, but witnesses placed the actual number far below that).

Both games are live on 94X and the Bulldog Sports Radio Network. Download the FREE Red Rock Radio app to listen live on your iPhone or Droid, or check 94xrocks.com for streaming info.

Friday, November 09, 2012

Bulldogs Hope Bye Week Cures Struggles

OMAHA, Neb. -- For the UMD Bulldogs, there's good and bad to last week's bye.

The good? Any time a team is struggling, the coach will take the bye. UMD, winless in three and with three goals scored over those three games, certainly isn't in a position to turn down a bye.

The bad? Well, in an ideal world, you can heal some injuries during a bye week. UMD was and is a pretty healthy team, so in that regard, the timing might be a little off.

Either way, the schedule says take the week off, and the Bulldogs did that. It gave them a chance to work on a few things.

"I think for us it was a little awkward," senior defenseman and assistant captain Drew Olson said. "I think it's maybe something we needed to do right away. We were kind of up and down a little bit. I think we needed a little break to look back and see what we were doing good and what we were doing bad."

Olson said youth plays a role in the team's inconsistency, but that's something that has to solve itself.

A good example of the inconsistency was found in the third period of the team's last game, a 2-2 tie with struggling Wisconsin. It was a game UMD led 2-0 through two periods, and the Bulldogs appeared to be in complete control. A turnover created by Luke McManus falling down on his own in the defensive zone led to a Mark Zengerle goal early in the period, and the Badgers had life.

"I think we were a little too tentative (starting the third period)," Olson said. "Once they scored that first goal, it kind of put us back on our heels, and they took it to us a bit."

Wisconsin tied it with around five minutes to go, and Olson noted that UMD picked its game up after that, taking things to the Badgers for most of the rest of regulation and overtime, outside of the time needed to successfully kill off a penalty that carried into the extra session.

It's easy to look at 2-3-1 and think UMD is in for a tough season. However, such negativity should be slowed down by a few things.
  • 2-3-1 was UMD's record through six games last season. The second win and the tie came in a series at Providence, and were the first two games of UMD's 17-game unbeaten streak that carried into the new year before it ended in, you guessed it, Omaha.
  • There is plenty of talent on the offensive side, but while some guys appear to be doing a decent job scoring goals, Mike Seidel hasn't scored since opening weekend, and Caleb Herbert -- arguably this group's best offensive player -- hasn't scored at all.
  • Thought to be a strength going into the season, the defensive corps hasn't rounded into form ... yet. Sophomore Chris Casto -- thought by many to be a solid prospect to turn pro after the season -- had such a hard time with the puck against Notre Dame Oct. 19 that he got benched for more than half the game. Senior Wade Bergman hasn't quite been himself. He's been positionally sound, but I continue to think he's struggling with the puck a little bit. Even the best defensemen fight the puck every now and then, so I think it's just a matter of time before Bergman gets it going again. Olson has been fantastic, and you can see the potential of freshman Andy Welinski, too, even though he's yet to really put together a three-period game since the season opener.
The point here? There's no need to open the plastic lid that protects the "PANIC" button, not after six games, because there are plenty of positives.
  • While the power play was empty against UW, it's been moving the puck, and I thought the man-advantage effort in the Saturday tie was very good at times, even though the unit didn't score. Half of UMD's 14 goals so far have come with an extra body on the ice compared to the other team.
  • Some of these freshmen look like they're going to be very good. Welinski will be a power play quarterback to be reckoned with by mid-season. Tony Cameranesi and Cal Decowski have impressed at center, which is a tough position to play in to start a Division I career. They're clearly improving on faceoffs, and you can see their overall confidence growing in virtually every shift they take. 
  • Junior Joe Basaraba might "only" have two goals so far, but he's been a beast physically. He was cited by multiple people as one of the few bright spots in that 2-0 loss to Wisconsin that no one wants to talk about. He was active in all zones, used his body effectively, and was able to get a couple chances at the net as a result of his strong play.
  • How about that goaltending? Freshman Matt McNeely may already have the ins on the No. 1 job, and it isn't a thing that junior Aaron Crandall has done wrong. McNeely's confidence grew throughout his first start, a win at Notre Dame, and he looked very good in his first back-to-back against Wisconsin. If the lanky, athletic youngster keeps this up, there's a chance he could be a 25-28 game (or more) starter for this team, and no coach is going to turn that down from a freshman. "He's been playing well," Olson said of McNeely. "He's confident in the net, and he makes the big key saves when you need him to. That's what you need as a team, to have that confidence in the goaltender ... so you can take a few more chances."
I know I'm biased, but there's no need to panic here.

UMD has a very tough stretch of games coming up -- with this weekend's set in Omaha followed by a trip to North Dakota and a visit from St. Cloud State. If the Bulldogs can play .500 hockey in the next six games, there's a chance to accumulate some points before the Christmas break.

Given the opposition, it might be a lofty goal for a young team that hasn't quite found its groove yet. But if UMD can be hovering around .500 the week after Thanksgiving, it'll be big down the road. As this team improves, it'll need some quality performances in the coming weeks to keep the ol' power rankings from forgetting about UMD.

(Yes, I just brought up the power rankings. In early November. In my defense, Duluth News Tribune ace Kevin Pates brought the power rankings up in a conversation we had outside Amsoil Arena Tuesday. And if he brings it up, I'm perfectly justified in doing so.)

Tuesday, November 06, 2012

Random Rabble: Election Day

Get out and vote. Seriously. You probably don't need me to remind you, but there it is, anyway.

You'll notice that I haven't spent much time dissecting the issues on this blog. I figure you're here to read about sports -- chiefly UMD hockey -- so you don't need me polluting the feed with my views on things. I do enough of that on Twitter, and if you follow me there (thanks, by the way), you can probably figure out how I'm voting on the two major amendment issues in Minnesota, as well as the presidential race. That'll be all of that.

UMD hockey returns from its off week to play at Nebraska Omaha this weekend. Games are 7pm Saturday and 2pm Sunday, due to Creighton basketball occupying the Century Link Center Omaha on Friday night.

(I've heard good things about the atmosphere in that building for hoops, so I'm going to try to go to that game and check it out for myself.)

As for UMD, this will be the first road trip in WCHA play, which means a number of healthy players will be left at home. These are never easy decisions for the coaching staff, but they're usually more troublesome this early in the season. Without having asked, I'd expect the lineup to greatly resemble what was on the ice for the Saturday night draw against Wisconsin. Yes, there was a blown lead and a lost point in that game, but I thought the team played very well and did many more good things than bad.

The UMD volleyball team plays Concordia-St. Paul Tuesday night in St. Paul. UMD has won eight straight since dropping a match to Augustana in five sets last month. Concordia has won 12 straight since UMD beat the Golden Bears in Duluth in late September. In addition, CSP hasn't lost a set at home in 13 straight matches. Incredible run.

There are tremendous implications to this match, even though it's non-conference (the match in Duluth was an NSIC match, but this one does not count in the league standings ... instead, the coaches have agreed to play each other twice this season, and I'd say it's a hell of a good move). UMD could sweep a season series from the five-time national champs, something that would only help in the all-important Central Region rankings. The Bulldogs are fifth in the rankings that came out last week, while Concordia was in first. The top eight teams make the NCAAs, and there really isn't any reason to think UMD won't make it, no matter what happens Tuesday. But the Bulldogs could do wonderful things for their seeding with a victory.

Speaking of rankings, the UMD football team is perilously close to not making the Division II playoffs. A win last Saturday over Mary -- along with a loss by Emporia State -- lifted UMD back into the top six of Super Region Three. That's huge, since six teams will make the playoffs when the field is announced Sunday. The 9-1 Bulldogs can virtually cement their spot in the tournament with a win over Northern State (6-4) Saturday. UMD hasn't missed the playoffs since 2007, and I doubt this team plans on changing that trend. Once the playoffs begin, a two-time national champion with the amount of experience the Bulldogs sport becomes dangerous no matter its seed.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

WCHA Preseason Media Poll

Here is the release sent to WCHA media and the league office regarding this year's preseason media poll, conducted through 94X -- the home of UMD hockey -- for a third straight year.

My votes can be found here.

A year after surprising many by winning the WCHA's MacNaughton Cup Championship, the Minnesota Golden Gophers are a nearly-unanimous pick of WCHA media to win the league. The annual 94X WCHA Preseason Media Poll, released Wednesday, shows the Gophers easily outdistancing the rest of the league.

A panel of 25 members of the WCHA media voted on a predicted order of finish, along with a handful of individual honors.

Minnesota received a whopping 24 of 25 first-place votes. Defending WCHA playoff champion North Dakota had the other first-place vote and finished a distant second. Denver came in third, followed by Wisconsin and Minnesota Duluth. St. Cloud State claimed the final "home-ice" position in the preseason balloting.

Minnesota junior forward Nick Bjugstad was a runaway choice for the Preseason Player of the Year. He also anchors the media's second annual Preseason All-WCHA Team, where he is joined at forward by Wisconsin junior Mark Zengerle and St. Cloud State senior Ben Hanowski. The defensemen on the team are Denver's Joey LaLeggia and Nick Jensen of St. Cloud State. Sam Brittain of Denver and Josh Thorimbert of Colorado College tied for the goaltending nod.

For the second straight year, the media chose North Dakota's Rocco Grimaldi as Preseason Rookie of the Year. Grimaldi took a redshirt after an injury-ravaged season, and he is again eligible for rookie honors.

Teams were scored under a standard system of 12 points for a first-place vote, 11 for second, and so on. The number listed with each team is the number of points that team averaged per vote.

94X WCHA PRESEASON MEDIA POLL
PREDICTED ORDER OF FINISH

1. Minnesota (24 first place votes) … 11.92 poll average
2. North Dakota (1) … 10.76
3. Denver … 9.92
4. Wisconsin … 7.8
5. Minnesota Duluth … 6.88
6. St. Cloud State … 6.84
7. Colorado College … 6.08
8. Nebraska Omaha … 5.48
9. Michigan Tech … 5.2
10. Minnesota State … 3.6
11. Bemidji State … 2.48
12. Alaska Anchorage … 1.04

PRESEASON PLAYER OF THE YEAR
Nick Bjugstad, forward, Minnesota (16 votes)
Others receiving more than one vote: Erik Haula, forward, Minnesota (4); Mark Zengerle, forward, Wisconsin (3)

PRESEASON ROOKIE OF THE YEAR
Rocco Grimaldi, forward, North Dakota (8 1/2 votes)
Others receiving more than one vote: Nic Kerdiles, forward, Wisconsin (5); Jordan Schmaltz, defenseman, North Dakota (2 1/2); Brady Skjei, defenseman, Minnesota (2); Andy Welinski, defenseman, Minnesota Duluth (2)

PRESEASON ALL-WCHA TEAM
Forwards

Nick Bjugstad, Minnesota (20 votes); Mark Zengerle, Wisconsin (17); Ben Hanowski, St. Cloud State (8)
Others receiving more than one vote: Danny Kristo, North Dakota (7); Erik Haula, Minnesota (6); Rylan Schwartz, Colorado College (5); Corban Knight, North Dakota (3)
Defensemen
Joey LaLeggia, Denver (20 votes); Nick Jensen, St. Cloud State (9)
Others receiving more than one vote: Nate Schmidt, Minnesota (7); Wade Bergman, Minnesota Duluth (3)
Goalie
Sam Brittain, Denver and Josh Thorimbert, Colorado College (7 1/2 votes each)
Others receiving more than one vote: Juho Olkinuora, Denver (3), Joel Rumpel, Wisconsin (2)

The following media members took part in the 94X Preseason Media Poll.

David Ahlers, KKAR Radio/University of Nebraska-Omaha; Stephen Anderson, Daily Mining Gazette; Andy Baggot, Wisconsin State Journal; Tyler Buckentine, USCHO.com; Mike Chambers, Denver Post; Bruce Ciskie, KZIO Radio/Bulldog Radio Network; Chris Dilks, Western College Hockey; Shane Frederick, Mankato Free Press; John Gilbert, WCHA.com; Kurt Haider, KENI Radio; Mick Hatten, St. Cloud Times; Dirk Hembroff, WKMJ Radio; Jack Hittinger, Bemidji Pioneer; Ken Landau, 103.9 FM The Eagle Radio; Don Lyons, Leighton Broadcasting/St. Cloud; Todd Milewski, USCHO.com; Dan Myers, Minnesota Hockey Magazine; Jess Myers, 1500ESPN.com; Joe Paisley, Colorado Springs/Colorado College; Kevin Pates, Duluth News Tribune; Chris Peters, United States of Hockey; Brian Posick, WIBA Radio/Badger Radio Network; Chad Purcell, Omaha World Herald; Brad Schlossman, Grand Forks Herald; Jay Stickney, 102.3 ESPN Radio.

94X is the broadcast home of UMD Bulldog men's hockey. The full 37-game schedule, plus playoffs, can be heard on KZIO-FM, which is 94.1 in the Twin Ports, and 104.3 FM in the surrounding area. All games will also be broadcast on KBAJ 105.5 in the Grand Rapids area, and KAOD 106.7 FM in Babbitt, and on the internet at www.94xrocks.com.