Saturday, November 22, 2014

Game 14: UMD at Omaha

OMAHA, Neb. -- I'm not sure we can top what the UMD football team did at home this afternoon (congrats, fellas!), but it's our turn to try.

Off a three-goal third period Friday, UMD now seeks a seventh straight win that it can take into its first bye week of the season.

It's been a hell of a grind so far, and UMD has played a lot of games without senior captain Adam Krause -- who is here but was not going to play this weekend. Krause has missed eight games, counting this one. Senior alternate captain Justin Crandall missed two. Sophomore forward Sammy Spurrell has now missed six games and is likely to miss a bunch more, from what it sounds like. Freshman forward Brett Boehm wasn't available this weekend because of injury. Freshman defenseman Nick McCormack has missed some time but could be close to returning.

These injuries have tested UMD's resolve, and its depth. Guys like junior forward Austyn Young and freshman Blake Young have acquitted themselves well lately, and this team has shown it isn't just about its top line.

Friday, the top line didn't score and was a collective minus. UMD won anyway. It's a sign that the Bulldogs are getting reliable goaltending, and it's a sign this is a deep team.

Let's win one more, take a week off, get healthy, and finish the first half strong.



Iafallo - Toninato - Crandall
Farley - Cameranesi - Kuhlman
Osterberg - Decowski - Young (Austyn)
Young (Blake) - Thomas - Sampair

Johnson - Welinski
Soucy - Raskob
Corrin - Kotyk

Kaskisuo - McNeely

Randolph - Vesel - Parizek
Pope - Guentzel - Peterson
Lane - Zombo - Ortega
Nogard - Mountain - Polk

Cooper - Messner
Snuggerud - Brady
Youso - Gallo

Massa - Thompson - Crossthwaite 

Friday, November 21, 2014

Saturday Hockey Notes and Thoughts: UMD Rallies, Runs Win Streak to Six

OMAHA, Neb. -- Hell of a win Friday here. Hell of a win.

This will be a quick blog, as I am with family this weekend on this trip and want to spend some time with them. Watch my Twitter (@BruceCiskie) for more thoughts during the day.

UMD rallied from a 2-0 deficit to beat Omaha 3-2 Friday at CenturyLink Center. It's the second time UMD has come back from a multi-goal deficit to tie a game. It's the first time UMD has won when trailing by multiple goals through two periods since Jan. 11, 2008, versus Minnesota State. It's the first win of any kind when trailing after two since Nov. 12, 2010, against Michigan Tech.

Both those games were at home. You have to go back to Oct. 16, 2004, to find the last time UMD trailed by two in the third and won a road game (Michigan Tech took a 3-1 lead in the third before UMD ripped off five straight to win 6-3).

Not much happened in the first, but you could tell UNO goalie Ryan Massa wasn't going to be beaten low. Just didn't appear the opportunities were going to come there. I even made a comment -- and this is not a self high-five, I promise, because I could very well have ended up wrong and forgotten I ever said it -- that I wanted to see UMD start testing Massa high.

Sure enough, UMD started shooting higher and got some success in the third. Karson Kuhlman pinballed one in to make it 2-1, then Andy Welinski threw an absolute missile by Massa to tie it before Cal Decowski scored the winner with 2:35 left.

The UNO goalie had a good night with 33 saves. He still has a .947 save percentage, which is obscene. I'd be surprised if Dean Blais didn't come back with him Saturday.

I know Scott Sandelin will come back with Kasimir Kaskisuo. The freshman got beat twice in the second (the David Pope two-on-one goal was probably the worst one he's allowed in weeks, if not since the Minnesota game at the Ice Breaker, and that's being kind of picky about our goaltender, who has been awesome). But Kaskisuo made a big save that led to the rush Welinski scored on. That's a two-goal swing in a game we won by one, and it's something that can't be forgotten.

(Of course, I forgot who had the chance for UNO. I believe it was Dominic Zombo or Austin Ortega, which means it was definitely Jake Guentzel.)

The Bulldogs have won six straight to improve to 9-4. UMD is still tied with Miami atop the NCHC, as the RedHawks beat Western Michigan 1-0. In the other league game, St. Cloud State held off North Dakota 3-1. Colorado College and Denver won non-conference, which keeps the NCHC's stellar record in those games very much alive.

Saturday should be another good game here. UNO will push back hard, and UMD has proven it can answer the bell. Playing with good discipline (two penalties for four minutes Friday) will be a key once again. Keep the Omaha power play off the ice, as Guentzel's return makes that unit quite dangerous.

That's it for me. More on Twitter Saturday as things pop into my head.

Game 13: UMD at Omaha

OMAHA, Neb. -- For the last time, UMD will play a weekend series in the gargantuan and largely empty CenturyLink Center.

(What was your favorite CenturyLink Center Bulldog moment? I'm going with Aaron Crandall's 358-save weekend* last January as the Bulldogs swept UNO.)

(* - Possible exaggeration)

Next year, UNO's home games will be played at the brand-new arena being built on campus in midtown Omaha, probably a good six or seven miles from the CenturyLink Center's downtown location. That'll cut capacity for UNO home games from around 17,000 to around 7,500, a much more manageable number.

(This is especially true in the fall months, where minds even in Omaha are largely preoccupied with Nebraska football, especially since Omaha dropped its football program as it was transitioning its athletic programs to Division I.)

This series pits two hot teams against one another, as UMD has won five straight and Omaha is unbeaten in six. Hopefully there's some excitement around here for the games and we get good crowds. Omaha hasn't played at home since Oct. 11.



Iafallo - Toninato - Crandall
Farley - Cameranesi - Kuhlman
Osterberg - Decowski - Young (Austyn)
Young (Blake) - Thomas - Sampair

Johnson - Welinski
Soucy - Raskob
Corrin - Molenaar

Kaskisuo - McNeely

Randolph - Vesel - Parizek
Pope - Peterson - Davis
Guentzel - Zombo - Ortega
Nogard - Lane - Polk

Cooper - Messner
Snuggerud - O'Rourke
Brady - Gallo

Massa - Thompson - Crossthwaite

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Piping-Hot Teams Collide in Omaha

INTERSTATE 35, Minn. -- Don't worry. My wife's driving.

UMD coach Scott Sandelin knows what his team has to do this weekend, as he faces mentor Dean Blais and Omaha at CenturyLink Center.

"We've got to go in there and make sure we do the things we need to do, and we're not living off last weekend."

Surely, UMD's players understand where the veteran coach is coming from. It won't get much better -- not from a standpoint of opponent, quality of game, or atmosphere -- than it was on Saturday at home. It was there that a record crowd witnessed one of the biggest wins UMD has ever posted in the building, 2-1 over then-No. 1 Minnesota to finish a weekend home-and-home sweep.

"It was great," Sandelin said of the charged-up home building. "It's fun when you go out for warmup, and that student section is full. You can feel that electricity. It was nice that we could keep them in it early by scoring. It's a fun place when it's like that. I know the guys feed off that, too."

Sophomore forward Dominic Toninato of Duluth called the weekend "an absolute blast."

"It was a big weekend for us, taking down the number one team," he said.

Now, UMD has to avoid a letdown as it heads south.

(Admittedly, that's quite the liberal use of the word, because UNO is white-hot, having gone unbeaten in six. This is a really good hockey team UMD is facing this weekend. However, UNO struggles to fill its home building, which seats 17,000 or so. The atmosphere isn't all that great. It won't be as bad as the Ice Breaker was, but it won't be nearly as good as the last two weekends were, either. That's what UMD has to be careful with. No big crowds to feed off of this weekend, so they'll have to feed off each other.)

For the Bulldogs, a five-game winning streak hasn't solved every problem that's popped up, but they've done a good job killing off a few demons.

"Our keys have been we've had good starts, and we've made those work," Sandelin said this week. "I think our guys have competed hard and I think our effort's been good. The other part of that is we've been disciplined.

"It's a combination. Defense is everybody. It starts in goal, and Kaz (Kasimir Kaskisuo) has been outstanding for us. He gives us a chance every night. I thought our guys did a good job."

"I don't think we've done too much," Toninato said when asked how the team so quickly turned around poor starts to games, subpar Friday performances, and discipline issues. "I think it's just mental preparation before the game. I think guys are more ready to go from the drop of the puck. Guys are moving their feet, competing hard, and trying to stay out of the box."

UMD will face a very young but high-end Omaha squad. The Mavericks played seven freshmen in their last game, a win at Ohio State Nov. 8. UNO is 6-1-1, hasn't lost since falling 4-2 to Minnesota State Oct. 11, and -- by the way -- hasn't played a home game since that date, either. Dean Blais' young pups have ripped off a six-game unbeaten streak away from CenturyLink Center.

Among those young pups: Last year's Minnesota Mr. Hockey, Avery Peterson of Grand Rapids. In that Ohio State sweep, Peterson scored three times and had a five-point weekend for NCHC Rookie of the Week honors. The Minnesota Wild draft pick played some in the USHL around his high school season, but Peterson is showing that kids don't have to skip years of high school hockey in order to make the jump to college as "true" freshmen. It isn't for everyone, but there's no need for a universal rule on the bit.

Also in Blais' impressive freshman class is Duluth's Jake Randolph. The son of longtime East coach Mike Randolph spent two years in junior hockey with the Omaha Lancers after graduating from East and helping Toninato and linemate Trevor Olson become the most dynamic forward line in the state. After a 44-point debut season with the Lancers, Jake Randolph broke out big-time last year, with 26 goals and 86 points in 60 games.

"Jake's a great player and does very special things," Toninato said of his former Duluth East linemate. "He has great vision on the ice and can protect the puck well. He's making those assists like he did here."

(In case you're wondering, Olson is at North Dakota, where he has played in eight games as a freshman and is still awaiting his first collegiate point. Olson struggled through injuries during his USHL run, playing in just 21 games for Sioux City last season. He had 71 points in 84 USHL games over two seasons. He's a really physical player who will be a solid player at UND once the scoring comes for him, which it will eventually. Until it does, he may bounce in and out of the lineup. Even with that in mind, it's pretty cool to see all three playing at the Division I level. They were other-worldly players at Duluth East.)

Watching that Ohio State series, Blais really is fearless about employing his freshmen in tough situations. There were multiple instances where three freshmen -- Randolph, Tyler Vesel, and Luc Snuggerud in one impressive sequence -- were on a single penalty-kill unit. These guys can play. Snuggerud is already a very good defenseman, with a goal and three points in eight games. With the late departure of Nick Seeler, who eventually transferred to Minnesota, Snuggerud has gotten a great chance to make an impact early, and he appears prepared to take full advantage.

In goal, it's been all about Ryan Massa so far. He's 5-0-1 with a .953 save percentage, 45 points above his career total of .908. He's playing with high confidence, and he's getting some help from his friends, too.

"Massa's been outstanding," Sandelin said, "they haven't given up a lot of goals. They block a lot of shots. They get a lot of sticks in and disrupt a lot of plays."

Blocked shots and sticks in passing lanes are two hallmarks of this UNO defense. UMD has to put a priority on getting pucks to the net and making sure bodies are going to the front, too. Maybe a weekend of trying to solve Adam Wilcox will help the Bulldogs. He was clearly on his game, and UMD did the things it had to do: Created rebounds, got people to the net, tipped shots, and outnumbered Minnesota down low.

Oh, and the Bulldogs need to play with discipline. This UNO power play is hitting at just 16 percent, but there's a lot of skill, with guys like Dominic Zombo, Austin Ortega, and a returning-from-injury Jake Guentzel.

Toninato knows this.

"Omaha's got a pretty good power play, so discipline. Almost like a broken record."

He laughed, but he wasn't joking. Don't play with fire. UMD is likely a deeper team when you look at the forward lines and defensive groups. Like Massa, Kaskisuo is giving his team a chance to win every game it plays. Yes, UMD's power play has been clicking, but a special teams game allows UNO to dodge one of its biggest deficits when you look at this head-to-head matchup, and that's depth.

Good starts and good discipline could lead the way for UMD to have another good weekend.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

UMD Pregame Video vs Minnesota

UMD's pregame videos this season have been fantastic from the word "go."

But, like the atmosphere, Saturday's video was off the charts. In a good way.

Here it is, in all its glory.

Monday, November 17, 2014

Monday Musings: Bulldogs Can't Fly Under Radar After Sweeping Minnesota

Last week, I was texting with someone involved with the UMD men's hockey program. This particular person wasn't necessarily pleased with UMD's spot in the USA Today/USA Hockey Magazine poll that came out last week. While understanding that polls really don't matter at all in college hockey, it still stung that the Bulldogs were 15th, one spot behind a St. Cloud State team they had just swept in St. Cloud.

The conversation ended with us agreeing that UMD was flying under the old radar, and that wasn't necessarily a bad thing.

Forget that. It's over now.

Sweeping in St. Cloud might not have grabbed people's attention, but sweeping No. 1 Minnesota -- the prohibitive national championship favorite -- damn sure will.

UMD ran its winning streak to five by completing a sweep of the Gophers in front of a record crowd at Amsoil Arena Saturday night. That crowd was plenty juiced before the game. The student section filled quickly when doors opened 90 minutes before faceoff. Armed with Thunderstix, the fans were making noise throughout the pregame warmup, and even with a ton of events going on at the DECC complex on Saturday, the vast majority of the fans were in their seats or in the building in time for an epic pregame video.

(If it ends up on YouTube, I'll get it on the blog. Whether you were there or not, it's worth watching.)

Said huge crowd was amped already, and Dominic Toninato's early goal (28 seconds in) gave them an excuse to not settle in at any point. That about blew the roof off the place.

The Bulldogs kept putting pressure on Gophers goalie Adam Wilcox, and freshman Karson Kuhlman deftly tipped a Willie Raskob center-point shot past the star netminder late in the first to give UMD a 2-0 lead.

The Bulldogs badly outshot the Gophers Friday (38-17), and kept that rolling for most of Saturday's game, until Minnesota began to push back more emphatically in the second period of that game at Amsoil Arena.

In the third, Minnesota finally was able to sustain attack. The Gophers got their forecheck going steadily throughout the game, and it was at its best in the third. It was probably part-desperation and partially due to UMD losing senior forward Justin Crandall on a (bogus*) kneeing major in the closing moments of the first period. The Bulldogs were down to 11 forwards, had to mish-mash lines, and it is likely a few guys were a bit fatigued in that third period. UMD still did a good job blocking shots and keeping bodies largely away from Kasimir Kaskisuo, not that he needed a ton of help. Kaskisuo was outstanding Saturday, making a few saves where it seemed impossible he saw the puck, but read plays wonderfully and kept himself in great position.

(* - I know a lot of Minnesota fans vehemently disagree, but based on the animation I saw of the hit, I see nothing more than a minor. Crandall knocked knees with Minnesota defenseman Michael Brodzinski, but he never changed his vertical base or direction, while it was Brodzinski who made a sudden movement to try to avoid the contact. Yes, Crandall turned his body, but it was pulling up to hit someone, not to lead with his knee. The knee never came out from the body.)

(And I'm still not mad at the on-ice officials. Live action, it looked bad. And they don't get replays. I've already ranted about this and I probably will again. But not now.)

But when it came time to push offensively, it was clear a lot of guys didn't have the energy they had earlier in the game. That and the No. 1 team in the country wasn't about to go down without a fight. UMD did a great job defending late, to the point that even what appeared to be a neutral-zone breakdown and a tremendous odd-man chance for Minnesota late turned into no shots on Kaskisuo because Alex Iafallo ruined the rush with the mother of all backchecks. It was a great play by the sophomore and all about hustle.

This was a great team effort. I thought freshman Blake Young looked good playing some on the Toninato line after Crandall's ejection. Willie Raskob had his best weekend of the season, and Carson Soucy -- though not a factor in the scoring -- was really good, too. Andy Welinski is off-the-charts good at the moment, and he's doing it in all phases, with and without the puck. I'd argue he's top two in the NCHC (I haven't seen Jordan Schmaltz of North Dakota yet, and might not for some time since we don't play them until January), and possibly top 3-5 in the country.

Junior Austyn Young was put in on the third line for the Saturday St. Cloud game, and I don't think it's a stretch to say he's playing the best hockey that he's played at UMD right now. He's a good example of a guy who is taking advantage of the opportunity placed in front of him after Adam Krause went down. When the captain returns -- possibly as soon as early December -- coach Scott Sandelin will have some decisions to make with his lineup. But that's down the line a bit, still.

A five-game winning streak is nice, and UMD is sure to get some national attention now, which is good for the program and will make some fans feel good. But nothing has been won yet, outside of these eight games.


The Bulldogs go from the No. 1 team in the country to one of the hottest in Omaha. The Mavericks ride a six-game unbeaten streak into this weekend's series at CenturyLink Center in Omaha. UNO maybe hasn't played the best competition in that run -- sweeps against Western Michigan and Ohio State, along with a win and tie against Cornell -- but it's done this work all on the road. UNO hasn't played at home since Oct. 10-11 against Minnesota State, running off these six road games with a pair of bye weeks mixed in.

Dean Blais has some Northland connections on this squad, with former Duluth East Greyhound and Toninato linemate Jake Randolph joined by last year's Mr. Hockey, Avery Peterson. Randolph has a goal and eight points in eight games, while Peterson scored three times in the Ohio State series and has four goals and six points this year.

Goalie Ryan Massa, who entered the season with a career save percentage of .901 in 46 games, has played in six this year, with a 5-0-1 record and .953 save percentage. He's allowed eight goals on 171 shots so far.

Hell, with Kaskisuo sitting at .931 right now, will anyone score this weekend???

That'll do it for me. I'll try to check in at the rink Tuesday, but Wednesday for sure ahead of the Thursday travel to Omaha. Remember, Friday's game is 7:30, with Saturday set for 7. There aren't a lot of places that draw better Friday than Saturday, but with Nebraska football hosting Minnesota an hour away in Lincoln on Saturday, you can imagine where the state's attention lands for that day.

Saturday, November 15, 2014

Game 12: Minnesota at UMD

Time for Minnesota's first visit to Amsoil Arena since the Gophers stole a pair of 5-4 wins in October 2011, one week after UMD unveiled its first-ever national championship banner for men's hockey.

As I mentioned before, the silver lining is that UMD ran off a 17-game unbeaten streak that took it to the top of the national polls*.

(* - You know, the polls that don't matter.)

Bumping around town during the day, there seemed to be an inordinate amount of UMD apparel on people at the mall and other shopping-type places. Either the bandwagon is already starting to swell after four straight wins, or the last of the four -- a dominating 3-0 win over No. 1 Minnesota -- really has people excited for this home game.

UMD is 2-3 here, 5-0 on the road (counting the Notre Dame Ice Breaker game as a true road game), and 0-1 at neutral venues so far. That 2-3 record is deceiving, because UMD likely played well enough to win two of the games it lost, and it absolutely deserved the two it won. But when you win five games at home over a full season, people tend to overreact to things like that and think it's the "same old (expletive)" again.

Anyway, if you're reading this, get here early. Just trust me on that. Traffic is already building up.



Iafallo - Toninato - Crandall
Farley - Cameranesi - Kuhlman
Osterberg - Decowski - Young (Austyn)
Young (Blake) - Thomas - Sampair

Johnson - Welinski
Soucy - Raskob
Kotyk - Molenaar

Kaskisuo - McNeely - Fons

Reilly (Connor) - Rau - Fasching
Warning - Kloos - Cammarata
Bristedt - Lettieri - Ambroz
Michaelson - Isackson - Reilly (Ryan)

Reilly (Mike) - Collins
Marshall - Brodzinski
Bischoff - Glover

Wilcox - Lehr

Friday, November 14, 2014

Saturday Hockey Notes and Thoughts: Bulldogs Administer Impressive Beatdown of No. 1 Minnesota

MINNEAPOLIS -- I've done over 300 of these hockey games over nine-plus years of being lucky enough to hold down this gig.

I'm not sure any 60-minute performance I've seen was as impressive as what UMD put on display Friday night at Mariucci Arena.

Greetings from downtown Minneapolis, where I'll blog quickly on the events of the evening, set up a wild Saturday back in Duluth, and then get some shut-eye before I execute the trip home. I might add to this midday Saturday if I have time.

There isn't much that needs to be said. UMD pretty throughly trounced Minnesota in virtually every aspect of the game Friday. Constant puck possession and frustrating forechecks left Minnesota frustrated, taking bad penalties, and unable to gain any juice in the offensive zone because by the time the puck got there, it was time for a line change.

As Gopher radio analyst Pat Micheletti said afterwards, it was hard to tell sometimes which UMD line was on the ice, because they all did the same thing. They were all over Minnesota's vaunted defensemen, giving them no room to make plays up the rink. By the middle of the first period, Minnesota's behavior became that of a frustrated hockey team, one that was used to doing to other teams what UMD was doing, and it didn't stop until the final horn.

Final shots were 38-17. A Gopher team known for its offense was held to 14 even-strength shots, and the home team attempted only 31 shots in 60 minutes. And it wasn't because they weren't willing to shoot. UMD wouldn't let them.

And it wasn't like UMD had anyone not on board. 18 skaters, and I can't think of one that didn't contribute in some way. All six defensemen made plays at one point or another. All 12 forwards were a factor in the offensive zone. It was such a team effort that defensemen Derik Johnson and Carson Soucy were the only Bulldog skaters who didn't register a shot on goal.

Any thought that UMD would be intimidated was squashed early, and a penalty on Minnesota's Leon Bristedt 22 seconds in led to the game's first goal, a power-play tally by Austin Farley. If it weren't for Gophers goalie Adam Wilcox, it would have been 3-0 or 4-0 after one, as he made a few acrobatic saves on a long UMD five-on-three that registered six shots.

The Bulldogs didn't get frustrated by Wilcox, instead pouring more and more shots on him until he finally cracked again in the second. Sophomore defenseman Dan Molenaar registered his first career goal at 9:55 of the middle frame off a feed from the right by Karson Kuhlman. Dominic Toninato scored in the third to create the final margin of 3-0.

Freshman Kasimir Kaskisuo could have done homework in goal for much of the night. He made a few good saves, including stops on Kyle Rau and Jake Bischoff, but the work of the guys in front of him was incredible throughout. UMD negated Minnesota's speed by playing a highly-disciplined game and making them resort to chips and dumps to get the puck across the UMD blue line. The Bulldogs outnumbered Minnesota to the puck on so many occasions that it was easy to lose count.

I'm not kidding when I say this. There is almost literally not one thing that I thought UMD did poorly on Friday. It was a complete and thorough tail-kicking administered by a team that a lot of observers think is pretty darn good. Friday might have been the coming-out party.

Now, it's time to create some magic at home.

The teams meet in Duluth Saturday night. It's Minnesota's first trip to Duluth since a two-game sweep there in October of 2011. Those were the final two losses before UMD rolled off a 17-game unbeaten streak that started the following weekend in Providence. They were also fantastic hockey games, both 5-4 finals, with Friday's game going overtime.

Saturday will be no different. UMD better be ready, because the Bulldogs will see a pushback from Minnesota. There isn't much that Don Lucia can do as far as bodies because of the injuries he's dealing with, but I wouldn't be surprised if a couple lines were shuffled to try to create more of an offensive threat, and maybe even some offensive balance.

Kaskisuo will make his ninth straight start, with his save percentage now up to .928. You can see the confidence growing every time he plays, and all that does is make a goalie even more dangerous.

(By the way, UMD's current four-game winning streak is its longest since the end of the 2012-13 season, when the Bulldogs ripped off four straight home wins to finish the regular season.)

That's it for me for now. Possibly more early Saturday once I'm back in Duluth. Definitely more once we get to the rink.

Game 11: UMD at Minnesota

MINNEAPOLIS -- No reason to hide from reality.

UMD head coach Scott Sandelin used the phrase "big challenge" multiple times this week in describing his team's home-and-home series against No. 1 Minnesota.

And rightfully so. Hate on the Gophers all you want, but there's no denying that you won't find a better team in the nation right now. Even with their depth tested by a couple key injuries -- forwards Travis Boyd and Vinni Lettieri and defenseman Brady Skjei are either definitely out this weekend or likely out -- Minnesota has enough high-end skill to overwhelm most opponents.

We hope this weekend's opponent isn't "most opponents," because at least on paper, UMD has the ability to beat Minnesota. It's shown that ability multiple times before, and it's not like this team has stunk so far this season.

So they lose Skjei, a first-round pick of the New York Rangers? OK, well Don Lucia is typically scratching two drafted defensmen every night. Because he has eight to pick from for a lineup that usually only has six in it.

Yes, eight drafted defensemen. And there aren't any obvious busts in a group that is unquestionably led right now by junior Mike Reilly -- a guy who, at least in my completely unqualified opinion, could be playing in the NHL right now. Michael Brodzinski (yup, Jonny's brother), Jake Bischoff, Ryan Collins, Jack Glover, and the list continues with the rambunctious Ben Marshall. It was Marshall, you might remember, who threw the illegal hit on UMD's Austin Farley that helped turn the North Star College Cup title game into a gong show last January.

(No, it wasn't a hit to the head as charged by the officials. But it was an illegal and unnecessary blow-up hit on a guy who didn't have the puck. A penalty, but probably not a major, and look how the third period/overtime played out. Makeup calls and missed embellishments both ways, and it took away from a fantastic game.)

Anyway, task at hand. The Gophers are really good. UMD has shown it can be, but if "being in the national conversation" is something that matters (I'm not sure it should and I'm not sure it does to this group, but that's a rant for a different day), the Bulldogs need to win at least once this weekend.

Why wait?



Iafallo - Toninato - Crandall
Farley - Cameranesi - Kuhlman
Osterberg - Decowski - Young (Austyn)
Young (Blake) - Thomas - Sampair

Johnson - Welinski
Soucy - Raskob
Corrin - Molenaar

Bristedt - Rau - Fasching
Warning - Kloos - Cammarata
Reilly (Connor) - Isackson - Ambroz
Hoglund - Michaelson - Reilly (Ryan)

Reilly - Collins
Marshall - Brodzinski
Johnson - Bischoff

Wilcox - Coyne - Lehr

Special Weekend Ahead for Minnesota-Stocked Bulldogs

What has always been a special in-state rivalry never had a chance to fade away.

Even after it was announced that Minnesota and UMD would be going their separate ways (cue Steve Perry) in terms of conference affiliation after the 2012-13 season, it was abundantly clear that the two would continue playing one another.

It's doubtful that anyone could have seen this kind of frequency coming, however.

The teams met for the 221st, 222nd, and 223rd times in history last year, with two November games at Mariucci Arena and one at the inaugural North Star College Cup, where the teams tied 4-4 before the Gophers claimed a shootout to take the tournament title.

Meeting No. 224 has already happened this season, with Minnesota winning 4-3 at the Ice Breaker in South Bend, thanks to two breakaway goals inside of the first six minutes. UMD rallied after trailing 4-1, but couldn't complete the comeback.

"We let him (freshman Kasimir Kaskisuo) out to dry against the Gophers, but he's been just great back there (since)," junior forward Austin Farley said this week.

"We didn't play great, didn't have a great start, but finished good," head coach Scott Sandelin said.

For 18 UMD players who were born in this great state, this weekend home-and-home series that begins in Minneapolis Friday marks an incredible opportunity. Whether they dreamed of being Gophers as kids or not -- something the self-righteous portion of the "Main U" fanbase believes every hockey player in this state does -- it's a chance to take down the most visible hockey program in the upper Midwest.

(All due respect to North Dakota on that one. They can't quite claim that crown.)

Even the non-Minnesotans on the UMD roster catch the fever.

"I don't know the tradition between them," Farley (Niles, Ill.) said this week. "I've heard that they don't get along very well. I want to help my team win.

"I've always been good against them, and I just want to continue, because I know how bad our guys from Minnesota want to beat them."

That October meeting was a bit sluggish. I don't know if it was the crowd ("500 people," as Sandelin said), or the afternoon start, or the fact it was the season opener, but the game just didn't have the pizazz I expect out of UMD-Minnesota.

I do expect to see the pace and intensity ramped up for this weekend.

"Both teams are a lot different than they were in Game 1," Sandelin noted. "We've got a big challenge. I like our guys' mentality right now after last weekend. We have to play with the same confidence that we did last weekend."

That should make for some interesting matchups. I firmly believe UMD can play with this team, especially across the four forward lines. It'll hurt not having Adam Krause available, especially as the series shifts to Duluth and the regulation-size rink Saturday. That's where things should become much more physical.

(As evidence, think back to the games in Minneapolis last year, then the game in St. Paul at the NSCC. The latter game was much more physical, at least in my view, and therefore much more emotional and intense. I'd expect Friday to be a little bit more firewagon-type hockey, up and down the rink and a good test of UMD's blue-line depth. Saturday will still be a fast pace, but it won't quite be the same kind of game, and that should benefit UMD a little bit. Sandelin is quick to note that Minnesota is really good, but they're especially good at home, "because they use the big rink so well.")

Defensively, Minnesota has a bit more high-end talent with guys like Mike Reilly, who has to be accounted for at all times when the Gophers have possession. Even with Brady Skjei out, I have to concede the Gophers probably have the advantage when it comes to defensive depth. And if UMD is to succeed this weekend, it's likely that Kaskisuo needs to outplay stud goalie Adam Wilcox of the Gophers.

Even before last weekend's first-since-1999 sweep at St. Cloud State, the Bulldogs were a confident bunch. Now, Sandelin knows the challenge is to keep them from getting too confident.

"I thought we had a really good week of practice (last week)," he said. "And I think it showed on the weekend. We had a lot of jump. We need to do the same thing (this weekend)."

A good start and disciplined play is critical. On the big sheet, a huge key is making the Gophers players think they have less room than they do, whether it's five-on-five or a power play. But in doing so, UMD has to maintain enough discipline to avoid getting caught with too many guys in single areas.

In talking with assistant coach Jason Herter, who does a lot of work with the UMD kill, this week, he said there wasn't a whole lot his guys could have done differently on a couple of St. Cloud State's power play goals last weekend. He specifically noted Jonny Brodzinski's goal from Friday night, saying "guys were in the right spots," and Brodzinski did what Brodzinski does: He made a great play.

And most coaches will say that if someone can beat their team while their players are doing the right things, more power to that someone. Sandelin said something similar on Saturday when we talked about the Friday game in St. Cloud. As a coach, if you watch the tape and see your guys doing the right thing, and the adversary makes a play anyway, you can only tip your cap and move on.

That said, if UMD is consistently in the right spots this weekend, it will score more goals than it allows.

A good start is only the first key both nights. As the teams get started Saturday in Duluth, I expect an atmosphere we haven't seen much of at Amsoil Arena. It'll be packed, and it should be very loud. Minnesota hasn't visited since the second weekend of the 2011-12 season, so we're at more than three years since the Gophers were an adversary in UMD's still-new building.

They've already played a couple classics there, with Mike Connolly's five-goal game in February 2011 and the back-and-forth Gophers overtime win in October 2011. But this fanbase is starving for a chance to see the Bulldogs play their longtime in-state rivals in Duluth, and they'll finally get that on Saturday.

They won't be disappointed. The North Star College Cup title game had everything, largely because of the smaller ice surface leading to more physicality. I expect a similar formula Saturday, and it should be great to watch unfold.