Monday, February 08, 2016

Monday Musings: Bulldogs Rally Late for Dramatic Win, Weekend Sweep

For UMD, Saturday was probably not the crispest 60 minutes of the season. The Bulldogs appeared indecisive with the puck at times, passing wasn't sharp, and things looked a little disjointed at times.

But the season long mantra has been "stick with it," and UMD did just that on Saturday. About 36 minutes after a controversial video replay decision overturned a go-ahead goal, senior captain Andy Welinski got a shot through traffic and by Colorado College goalie Jacob Nehama to tie the game 2-2. 53 seconds later, a Dan Molenaar shot was stopped by Nehama, but Alex Iafallo hammered home the rebound for his third goal of the weekend to put UMD ahead to stay.

Welinski's goal was set up by a Sammy Spurrell faceoff win. Spurrell's line (Charlie Sampair and Austyn Young) played well, with Sampair setting up Spurrell for a scoring chance on the shift before the fateful faceoff. Young contributed a couple good chances as well, so it was fitting this trio was on the ice for the equalizer.

Iafallo's goal came off good work in the offensive zone by Jared Thomas and Tony Cameranesi. Molenaar was able to get a shot off, and Iafallo went to the net. Two of the three goals he scored on the weekend came off driving the net and getting to a loose puck (the other was an empty-net goal).

UMD coach Scott Sandelin put together two new lines over the weekend. He had Thomas center Iafallo and Cameranesi, and Dominic Toninato centered Austin Farley and Karson Kuhlman. Three of the six (Iafallo, Farley, Kuhlman) scored goals in the series, Cameranesi had three assists, Toninato had two assists, and Thomas added an assist, so all six players got on the board in one way or another.

Not only that, but Spurrell's line gave UMD a number of quality shifts both nights, and the Cal Decowski line (with Adam Johnson and Parker Mackay) had a solid weekend while being held off the board outside of a Johnson assist Friday.

******

It was what this team needed. And spare me the "It was just Colorado College" stuff. Since falling to 0-13 Nov. 27, CC was 6-6-1 heading into this series. UMD was 4-6-2 in the same span.

And Colorado College didn't just improve while playing the dregs of society. The Tigers swept Miami, tied North Dakota, won at St. Cloud State, and beat Omaha at home. Colorado College's record isn't good, but a 13-game losing streak will do that to anyone. These are two significant wins for UMD, for a number of reasons.

--> Friday night (CC took a 2-0 lead in the second period) was the first time this season UMD won a game where it trailed at any point. Saturday was the second. To put that in perspective, UMD's second win last season came after the Bulldogs conceded the game's first goal. It took until win No. 10 for it to happen this year.

--> Iafallo hadn't scored with a goalie in the net since Dec. 4 before scoring the go-ahead goal Friday and the winner Saturday. He also scored the empty-netter Friday for a three-goal weekend.

--> With the wins, UMD takes sole possession of fourth in the NCHC. The Bulldogs know they will be no worse than tied for the last home-ice spot when they reconvene in Grand Forks next weekend. UMD has 25 points, Miami (no games in hand) has 22, and Omaha (two games in hand that will be played this weekend) sits in sixth with 19. Omaha will hold the tie-breaker on UMD if it sweeps Western Michigan this weekend and ties the Bulldogs for fourth (UNO will have eight league wins and UMD has seven).

--> UMD broke a string of futility at home. Over its previous four games at Amsoil Arena, UMD went 0-3-1 and was outscored 10-3. The Bulldogs improved to 6-5-2 overall at home this season, which isn't world-beating but is a step in the right direction.

I'm sure everyone's sick of hearing "stick with it," but UMD showed this weekend that there is serious value to doing exactly that.

Give CC credit. I thought the Tigers tightened up a bit defensively Saturday and forced a few mistakes they couldn't get UMD to make on Friday. No, the Bulldogs weren't as sharp as Friday, but I firmly believe at least some of that is a credit to Colorado College more than it is a discredit to UMD. But the Bulldogs did a good job shaking off the controversial disallowed goal (Welinski's shot went in, but it was ruled that Farley prevented Nehama from playing his position) and getting a close win anyway.

******

Now, it's time to move on. Quickly.

Bemidji State visits Tuesday night, as the teams make up UMD's scheduled home opener from Oct. 9 that was postponed by a freak power outage.

It's a short turnaround for UMD, but a huge game. UMD is responsible for two of the NCHC's three losses to WCHA teams this season (18-3-2 record). One of those was Oct. 10 in Bemidji, as the Beavers scored a late goal to win 3-2. The Bulldogs can't afford another non-conference loss.

After a slow start, BSU has rallied and now has an identical 11-11-5 record to UMD's. The Beavers haven't played since the North Star College Cup, beating Minnesota Jan. 30 and losing to St. Cloud State in the title game the next day. They had to Lake Superior State after Tuesday's game, while UMD will take this weekend off.

Before that, though, business. Get this win, get over .500, hopefully get healthier on the bye (juniors Kyle Osterberg and Willie Raskob will hopefully both be back for the North Dakota trip), and hopefully UMD can get on a run before the season ends.

Saturday, February 06, 2016

Game 27: Colorado College at UMD

As Scott Sandelin is occasionally prone to say, you can't have a great weekend if you don't win on Friday night.

Check.

Now, on to winning Saturday night.

Lines?

Lines.

UMD
Farley - Toninato - Kuhlman
Iafallo - Thomas - Cameranesi
Johnson - Decowski - Mackay
Sampair - Spurrell - Young (Austyn)

Welinski - Pionk
Soucy - Molenaar
Corrin - Kotyk

Kaskisuo - McNeely - Deery

CC
Gooch - Ockey - Bergh
Fejes - Rothstein - Gerdes
Bradley (Trey) - Bradley (Cody) - Heil
Burmaster - Hansen - Roos
(Warmup skater: King)

Kivihalme - Kwiecinski
Farny - McCaskill
Israel - Emilio

Nehama - Marble

Friday, February 05, 2016

Saturday Hockey Notes and Thoughts: Bulldogs Rally and Get Rewarded for Effort

A happy Saturday blog for the first time in a while. The Bulldogs hadn't won a Friday game since Dec. 4 against Western Michigan, a run of five straight Friday non-wins (0-4-1).

Won't be a really long blog, but I wanted to get some thoughts out there on the game. Plenty of programming notes on the bottom of this.

When Luc Gerdes scored on a power play early in the second period to put Colorado College ahead of UMD 2-0, it appeared that the home and Friday futility would quite possibly continue, despite another strong first period effort.

UMD outshot CC 16-6 in the first, took 32 shots, missed two tap-in goals and a couple potential tip-in goals, and watched Cody Bradley score the only goal of the period when a bad pass intended for his brother Trey bounced to him in the slot. Of course it bounced right to him, right?

The Bulldogs have been given numerous chances to pack it in, lamenting their terrible luck this season. Yet they keep coming, and they were finally rewarded on Friday night.

Austin Farley ripped a wrister top shelf to break UMD's long power play drought at 39 chances and get the home team on the board less than two minutes after Gerdes' goal. Farley's line with Dominic Toninato and Karson Kuhlman was going all night, and it was Kuhlman who made a great move to the net to tie the game in the second period. Farley got an assist on that goal, by the way, for his 100th career point.

Kuhlman had a great night, creating chances by making power moves to the net. Probably should have had a hat trick, but CC's Jacob Nehama was able to do just enough to keep the door shut on a couple other great chances Kuhlman created.

Toninato had a strong night as well, picking up two assists to triple his season total. He's been among UMD's best players in all phases, especially since the calendar turned to 2016, and it's nice to see him getting points to show for it.

Frankly, I really liked most of everything I saw from UMD tonight. Cal Decowski's line (Adam Johnson and Parker Mackay) was a minus on the night, and Willie Corrin and Brenden Kotyk were each minus-two in the back, but that's not indicative of the team effort. The new "second" line of Jared Thomas, Tony Cameranesi, and Alex Iafallo were stellar, with Iafallo getting his first two-point game of the season (two goals) and scoring a nice rebound goal to put UMD ahead for good in the third.

Even the fourth line of Sammy Spurrell, Charlie Sampair, and Austyn Young contributed solid shifts, even when stuck out there against the Bradley line of CC a couple times.

Neal Pionk had a great game, as did partner Andy Welinski (two assists each, both plus-four). Pionk's poise is that of a seasoned Division I veteran, but he shows that poise in his 26th game. It really is a sight to see, and it's not something that should be taken for granted.

It was a good team effort by UMD, and for a team that has struggled to score, getting five had to feel really good. The net drive was there, the net front presence was there, and the goals came as a result.

Simple formula, and this is how it looks when it works. It just hasn't worked often enough this season, even though the effort was there numerous times.

******

Lots of Hockey Day Minnesota coverage on Saturday. If you can't make it to Bayfront Park, join us on 92.1 The Fan at 9:30. Jeff Papas will call Duluth Denfeld vs Eveleth-Gilbert at 10am, and Kraig Karakas and I will be on the mic for Duluth East vs Lakeville North at 1pm. Lots of interviews around the games, as we tell the story of how this event came to be and what it means for Duluth's hockey community.

Also, I'll be on Beyond The Pond on KFAN in the Cities with Brandon Mileski and his crew at around 10:25, and you can catch me later in the day on KFAN with Joe Nelson in the 2pm hour. #overexposed

Game 26: Colorado College at UMD

From the friendly confines of Amsoil Arena. Well, they have yet to be as friendly as we'd like. Still need to work on that.

In UMD's last nine home games, it is 2-5-2 while being outscored 22-19. If you remove the two wins (both over Western Michigan), that margin is 20-6. Six goals in seven games on home ice. And trust me, UMD head coach Scott Sandelin hasn't forgotten about the importance of winning here.

"I think we've got to take advantage," he said. "The bottom line is we've got to establish this as a tougher place to play, and we haven't done that this year. We've kind of been Jekyll and Hyde in our own building."

Vastly improved Colorado College is the opponent in this series. The Tigers are 6-6-1 since a ghastly 0-13 start, and if any of you think we'll seeing the same team it saw in November in Colorado Springs, you're sadly mistaken. CC is probably one of the more improved teams in the country when you look at the start to the season and the way the Tigers are playing now.

Reminder, I'm on Beyond The Pond with Brandon Mileski and crew Saturday at 10:25 on KFAN FM 100.3 in the Cities. The show normally airs in Duluth, but will be pre-empted by Hockey Day coverage from Bayfront. Duluth folks can listen live on iHeartRadio if you're so inclined, and the show is usually available on podcast, too.

Also, if you're a TV watcher, Friday's game is on FSN. Or just #ListenToTheRadio so my son can eat.

Lines?

Lines.

UMD
Farley - Toninato - Kuhlman
Iafallo - Thomas - Cameranesi
Johnson - Decowski - Mackay
Sampair - Spurrell - Young (Austyn)

Welinski - Pionk
Soucy - Molenaar
Corrin - Kotyk

Kaskisuo - McNeely - Deery

CC
Gooch - Ockey - Bergh
Fejes - Rothstein - Gerdes
Bradley (Trey) - Bradley (Cody) - Heil
Burmaster - Hansen - Roos

Kivihalme - Kwiecinski
Farny - McCaskill
Israel - Emilio

Nehama - Marble

Impact Freshmen Help Keep UMD Afloat

Heading into the season with eight seniors and two highly-touted freshmen, UMD coach Scott Sandelin was clear what he thought expectations were of the latter.

For forward Adam Johnson of Hibbing and defenseman Neal Pionk of Hermantown, it wasn't going to be enough to come in and make the adjustment to college hockey. They were put in roles that showed the coaching staff expected them to be impact players.

For both, it's fair to say there have been ups and downs, but there's no question they've made an impact. Johnson has contributed on the power play from the start of the season, and while he only has ten points as we get ready for this weekend's series between the Bulldogs and Colorado College, his speed and smarts are obvious virtually every time he hops the boards.

Pionk has been a top-pair defenseman for a large part of his freshman season, playing both on his off-side and his natural right side with senior captain Andy Welinski, who is also right-handed but plays on the left side with Pionk nowadays.

"Maybe we were too stupid to try that earlier in the year," Sandelin quipped a few weeks ago when asked about having Welinski on the left side of that pairing after Pionk played that side earlier in the season. "I talked to Andy about playing the off side. I think he really enjoys it. I know I did when I played. I think it's good for him, not only for us, but it's good for him down the road to learn that."

When asked if he had a preference, Pionk said he'd "go right side for now," but he said he'll play where he's told.

"You see the ice differently from the left side," Pionk added. "On the right side, you're more fluid going up the ice. There are benefits to both sides."

With two goals and ten points in 25 games, Pionk has shown no real signs of slowing down. He's playing big minutes and largely playing them well. It's a great thing for his development, and for UMD's future, as Pionk figures to be a top defenseman in this program for a long time to come.

Along the way, though, a third guy has emerged for UMD as a freshman who can be counted on in big spots. Parker Mackay came to UMD from the Alberta Junior Hockey League's Spruce Grove Saints, where he was a captain last year. Mackay doesn't have the local ties Johnson and Pionk do, nor did he commit years ago like they did. Compared to those two, Mackay was a late addition to the 2015-16 class, and he's shown himself to be a very worthy addition.

"He's extremely competitive," Sandelin said. "He's done a really good job for us. He cares, and he works extremely hard. He's getting better because he wants to."

Sandelin relayed a story from Friday's loss to Northern Michigan, saying Mackay was one of the first players off the ice when the game ended, and he was practically in tears.

"That was one you don't want to lose," Mackay said this week of a game where UMD held a 3-2 lead in the third period before NMU rallied to win on a late power-play goal. "It's frustrating throwing games like that away late in the season."

Mackay was injured at the end of the first period Friday, taking a puck to the neck while blocking a shot. Sandelin saluted his freshman, saying "That's the sacrifice you make as a teammate," while Mackay told me he got lucky.

"It hit me flat instead of spiraling," he said.

He didn't miss a shift.

Saturday, UMD jumped all over Northern Michigan with three goals in the first, including two in the first four minutes. Mackay had the second of those, his fourth goal of the season. Early in his UMD career, Mackay has the look of a player who can play on any line and in any situation.

He singled out senior Cal Decowski's leadership in helping him adjust to the college game: "He's a guy that leads by example, working hard on and off the ice. He doesn't take shortcuts. Always staying positive, always has the right things to say. It's been good to follow him."

When you look at the UMD roster, it's littered with guys who could make really good captains in future seasons (assuming they don't leave early, obviously). I'm talking about guys like Carson Soucy, Dominic Toninato, Karson Kuhlman, Kyle Osterberg, Pionk, and definitely Mackay. There's no questions UMD not only recruits high-end talent, but Bulldog coaches are searching for the right kind of character to mesh and develop into leaders for the team in their upperclass years.

It's a huge development for a UMD team that has seen so many experienced players struggle offensively. We don't need to keep harping on those problems, but it's clear a lot of veterans haven't produced the way they have in the past or the way they were expected to this season. Getting impact from a guy like Mackay has gone a long way toward keeping this team in the NCAA Tournament race (very much alive) and in the race for home ice in the NCHC playoffs.

******

Colorado College visits this weekend. UMD won 5-0 and 6-0 in Colorado Springs Nov. 20-21, but look at some of these numbers:

Colorado College was 0-12 after UMD won those games, and the Tigers fell to 0-13 the following Friday by losing to Air Force. Since then, the Tigers are 6-6-1, and they've swept Miami, won at St. Cloud State, tied at North Dakota (a game they trailed 4-0 in the first period), and beaten Omaha at home.

CC was outscored 53-18 over those first 13 games, but a much more respectable 43-39 over the 13 games since. Not earth-shattering, but certainly a lot better than the start of the season.

"They've beaten some good teams," Mackay said of the Tigers since the Bulldogs were there in November.

"Their power play is getting better and has produced," Sandelin said, "and their goalie (Jacob Nehama) has played outstanding for them. They're a team that poses a different set of challenges. This is a much, much improved team."

UMD better be careful. The Bulldogs got lucky the first time around, in that they played Colorado College at a great time. That team had zero confidence, and it was obvious. As soon as UMD scored in each game, it was basically over for the night. The Tigers offered very little pushback. Things are so much different now that this team was not phased at all by falling behind 4-0 in the first period at North Dakota. That wouldn't have been the case in November.

If UMD gets positive results this weekend, it will have earned them.

Thursday, February 04, 2016

Hockey Day Minnesota on 92.1 The Fan

Saturday is Hockey Day Minnesota at Bayfront Park in Duluth. We have the event covered on 92.1 The Fan, and you can listen free on iHeartRadio.

Here's a preview of what you'll hear on the radio, besides the games, of course. Jeff Papas, Kraig Karakas, and I will be with you throughout the day. We start on the air at 9:30am Saturday.

At 9:35am, Duluth Mayor Emily Larson welcomes this wonderful event to the city and Bayfront Park.

At 9:40am, we talk with the new executive director of the Duluth Amateur Hockey Association, Jason Watt, about his new role and growing up playing on Duluth's outdoor rinks all the way to his time at UMD.

Before the 10am game between Eveleth-Gilbert and Duluth Denfeld, we'll visit with the head coaches of both teams, Jeff Torrel of Eveleth-Gilbert and Kevin Smalley from Duluth Denfeld.

After the first period, we chat with the director of the Local Organizing Committee that was instrumental in bringing Hockey Day Minnesota to Bayfront Park, Jeremy Downs. We'll discuss the challenges and the amount of work that went into this production.

In the second intermission, we'll hear from the athletic director at Duluth Denfeld, Tom Pearson, as we learn about the impact of the event on Denfeld's athletic program and community.

Between games, we have a number of interviews lined up. At around 12:20, we chat with DAHA Board President Brett Klosowski about the impact of Hockey Day Minnesota on the association.

Then around 12:30, we talk to former Duluth hockey star and UMD Bulldog Pat Francisco, who was instrumental in organizing the funding effort that led to construction of the Duluth Heritage Sports Center.

At 12:35, we talk to Dane Youngblom of the Duluth Fire Department, followed by Sgt. Ken Zwak of the Duluth Police Department, as we preview the Police vs Fire outdoor hockey game that will be played Saturday night.

Around 12:40, we visit with a representative of the Minnesota Wild and Fox Sports North, talking about the history of Hockey Day Minnesota, which is in its tenth year in 2016.

Then, before the Duluth East vs Lakeville North game at 1pm, we preview the game with Lakeville North coach Trent Eigner and Duluth East coach Mike Randolph.

After the first period of East-Lakeville North, we'll hear from Duluth East athletic director Shawn Roed. He'll discuss how this event came together for Duluth's high school hockey teams and preview his winter sports teams in upcoming playoffs.

Following the second period, we'll learn about the Duluth Area Special and Sled Hockey Program from Christian Koelling of DASSH, who is also director of hockey operations for the UMD men's program.

Hope you can join us.

Monday, February 01, 2016

Monday Musings: Bulldogs Earn Much-Needed Win

There was good and bad for UMD in Saturday's 3-1 win over Northern Michigan in Marquette. Obviously, with the end result being a win that snapped a five-game winless streak, and no one obviously getting shelved by an injury, the good outweighs the bad.

We'll start there and save the negative for later.

UMD ground out a win against an opponent that wants to slow the pace of the game. Saturday's game was played at NMU's pace, with not many scoring chances either way. This has been an issue for past UMD teams, but the Bulldogs stuck with their tight defense and didn't give NMU much of anything. The Wildcats' only goal came off a UMD mistake, as Adam Johnson tried to weave through the neutral zone and coughed up the puck. Dominik Shine got it back over the UMD blue line and fed Darren Nowick to cut UMD's lead to 3-1.

Not only did that close the scoring, but the Wildcats didn't seriously threaten after that goal, either. By no means was it pretty, but it was an effective defensive performance by a team that really needed one.

Going into Friday, head coach Scott Sandelin really wanted to see his team play tighter defensively. While there were spurts of it in the series opener, NMU scored four goals, and three of them came off questionable defense (including a transition goal that UMD allowed not even 30 seconds after taking the lead in the third period).

The effort in the UMD zone was much more consistent and effective on Saturday, and the Bulldogs were rewarded for it with a victory.

Offensively, it wasn't pretty. In fact, I'm not sure what the final 40 minutes consisted of, because there weren't a lot of hockey-type things happening. But the Bulldogs jumped on NMU freshman goalie Matthias Israelsson, making his fourth appearance of the season, for two goals on three shots in less than four minutes. Matthias Dahlstrom took over from there, but the damage was done when Tony Cameranesi and Parker Mackay scored for a 2-0 lead. Dominic Toninato jammed in a rebound late in the first to make it 3-0.

The Bulldogs didn't do a whole lot offensively the rest of the night, but they also didn't have to. They weren't threatened.

It was a win, a win where Mackay continued his ascent by scoring again and contributing a very nice game. A win where senior captain Andy Welinski chipped in another point for a three-point weekend. A win where Kasimir Kaskisuo made 19 saves and was solid in net. A win where Alex Iafallo picked up his first assist of the calendar year. A win.

******

Good thing it was a win, because it takes the stain off the last 40 minutes, which was honestly some of the worst hockey I've seen all season. That's not all on UMD. The Wildcats didn't appear to have much urgency, even late in the game down by two goals. It wouldn't be fair to say NMU was content to lose the game 3-1, but it did look like that at times. Like I said, UMD went against a team that likes to slow the game down and limit scoring chances, and the Bulldogs didn't have to worry about chasing the game like they did Friday, because they scored first Saturday and never looked back.

It also makes the power play's performance less painful.

But that one still stings.

The power play was scoreless in seven tries. It generated just three shots on goal, marking the same number of shots on goal UMD got short-handed. The Bulldogs are now scoreless in their last 36 power plays going back to Dec. 11. Of those 36 power plays, UMD has been held without a shot on goal in 17 of them, including eight of 11 over the weekend against Northern Michigan.

There's been some bad luck -- goalposts, missed nets, "How did he do that?" saves, etc. -- thrown in to ruin effective man advantage efforts by UMD. Not all 36 power plays have been garbage, far from it, actually. But they've all had the same net result: No goals.

On Saturday, the power play looked like a group that didn't think it had a chance to score. Movements and passes were deliberate. Players appeared indecisive, unsure of themselves. And from my seat, our power play just looked way too easy to defend.

The system hasn't changed. We've seen it work. This was a power play hitting at over 20 percent before the slump started. But it works when passes are crisp and decisions are quick. That didn't appear the case on Saturday, and I don't know how that gets fixed.

I do know that is has to be better. We've beaten this subject to death, and yet it will inevitably come up again this week. I'm not going to call for personnel changes, largely because they just made personnel changes and constantly switching up personnel won't solve the issue.

(In fairness, special teams are far from a disaster. The penalty kill continues to shine, and it is probably equal parts Kaskisuo and the killers doing a good job. That's good to see. They're not overly relying on Kaskisuo to save the bacon, and instead doing things like preventing clean zone entries and blocking shots to make his life easier at times.)

******

Next up is a three-game homestand that will play out over five days. It starts with Colorado College in town Friday and Saturday. The Tigers are a .500 team since an 0-13 start to the season, and clearly CC is playing better hockey. I watched back the Tigers' games at St. Cloud State Jan. 8-9, and CC earned that split.

The Tigers have also swept Miami since UMD played in Colorado Springs Nov. 20-21 (5-0 and 6-0 wins). CC rallied from 4-0 down to eventually steal a point at North Dakota two weekends ago, and this past week the Tigers beat Omaha 5-1 Friday before losing 6-1 on Saturday. In the Saturday loss, CC was held to just 12 shots on goal.

It's also Hockey Day weekend, so we invite you to make a day of it on Saturday. Outdoor high school games at Bayfront Park start at 10am, and there's plenty of time after the second high school game to grab dinner and join us inside Amsoil Arena for the second game against the Tigers.

The homestand concludes with Bemidji State next Tuesday, Feb. 9. That's a makeup from the power outage-spoiled home opener that was scheduled for Oct. 9.

Saturday, January 30, 2016

Game 25: UMD at Northern Michigan

MARQUETTE, Mich. -- Let's forget the pleasantries.

You're sick of reading it. I'm sick of writing it and talking about it. The coaches are sick of talking about it and living it. The players are surely sick of it.

And I don't know how it gets fixed, outside of UMD has to play better, starting in its own zone. I'd say three of Northern Michigan's four goals Friday were the result of shoddy work in the defensive zone, and the fourth was a transition play that was defended very poorly.

Like I said in the blog after the game, scream at the goalie all you want, but playing that way in the D-zone is going to get any goalie beaten, no matter how well he is or isn't playing.

Last Saturday, Matt McNeely got the net against Denver in a move I theorized wasn't so much about the goalie but about the guys in front of him. I'd surmise the change wasn't made for this game for the same reason. UMD has to figure out its own zone and play better. It's capable. UMD was very tight defensively in taking four points from Miami just three short weeks ago. I thought the Bulldogs played pretty well defensively against an obviously dangerous St. Cloud State team the following weekend. It's there. It's been done before. And even if it means offense needs to be sacrificed, UMD has to get back to that form in its own end of the rink.

Lines?

Lines.

UMD
Iafallo - Toninato - Mackay
Farley - Cameranesi - Kuhlman
Thomas - Decowski - Johnson
Exell - Spurrell - Young (Austyn)

Welinski - Corrin
Soucy - Kotyk
McCormack - Pionk

Kaskisuo - McNeely - Deery

NMU
Adair - Nowick - Shine
Hanson - Sooth - Siemer
Payne - Diamantoni - Pierce
Starzynski - Paskaruk - Black

Klimek - Kaib
Maschmeyer - Urban
Vermuelen - Trenz

Israelsson - Tolvanen - Dahlstrom

Friday, January 29, 2016

Saturday Hockey Notes and Thoughts: UMD Power Play Shoots More Blanks as Winless Streak Hits Five

MARQUETTE, Mich. -- Maybe it was just hope, but I really thought UMD had hit rock bottom last weekend in Denver. Friday's effort was strong, but Saturday was just not good enough as Denver held on late to win 2-1.

"I thought we didn't play confidently," head coach Scott Sandelin said of his team's performance in that game. "Our game, we need to get our feet moving, and we really didn't have that. They kind of had the jump."

But UMD didn't hit rock bottom. I know this because Friday's 4-3 loss to Northern Michigan here was another step down the ladder toward rock bottom. Maybe this is it. I won't try to guess.

It was another game for UMD that simply wasn't good enough.

The Bulldogs wanted to play tighter defensively, but NMU scored twice -- including Robbie Payne's winner on a power play late -- off scramble plays in front of the net where bodies got to the front and UMD couldn't close out.

(This isn't meant as a rip on the goaltender, but without the benefit of replays, I'd say it could be argued that Kasimir Kaskisuo allowed a couple regrettable goals along the way. None of this should excuse more shoddy defensive zone play.)

Defensive zone play was a culprit on Friday, goaltending played a role, but the UMD power play might have been the most to blame. Scoreless in four chances, shotless in three of them, and somehow UMD missed a wide open net on the power play for the second time in three games.

I don't get it.

Most galling, the teams were playing four-on-four in the final minute and UMD had Kaskisuo pulled. NMU took a penalty with 29 seconds left, giving UMD a four-on-three power play that became a five-on-three with the empty net. The Bulldogs got two shots off in that 29-second sequence. One was wide, and one was blocked. Nothing on net.

It was a terrible setup by UMD. At a time in the game where urgency should just be a given (I mean, they're down a goal with less than a half minute to play), the Bulldogs showed none. Andy Welinski and Neal Pionk went back and forth up high, and at no point did the puck get picked up by a forward until half the 29 seconds had bled off the clock. It was a situation that screamed for someone to take the bull by the horns and make something happen, but that's not how it played out.

With how the power play has struggled, I guess it was fitting to see the game finish up that way.

******

Not sure what else to write. Nothing about this game was good. The crowd was small and quiet. The goal horn is loud and annoying, and I swear the damn thing is right by where I sit. The officiating was hideous. I didn't think UMD played all that particularly well. UMD lost.

The guys are frustrated. The coaches are frustrated. I'm frustrated. You're frustrated.

What can I say to make you guys feel any better?

Well, I asked on Twitter. Lots of "what's going on?" type questions. "What's it going to take to turn the season around?" That stuff.

Honestly, and this isn't an excuse, I think the whole season to this point is starting to catch up with UMD. Not only are we talking about kids, but we're talking about human beings. How many times can they dominate a game and get kicked in the face in the end before it starts to affect their confidence?

Now, as Sandelin noted regarding Saturday's loss in Denver, the Bulldogs are starting to look like a team that just isn't sure of itself. Everyone around it can deny, but UMD is morphing into a team that's waiting for something bad to happen because that's all it's seen as of late.

As long as there's season left, there's time to turn this around. I firmly believe that. But I'm also not a moron. There isn't a lot of time. UMD has kicked away some real opportunities to win games and build a resume, and now I don't know what needs to happen to fix what's wrong.

I screamed about the importance of scoring three goals. And then we gave up four.

I talked about scoring five on five. We did that three times Friday. So did the adversary.

Basically, it looks like I'm wrong a lot.

We'll be back Saturday night to try again. For now, I'm going to drown my sorrows in SmartWater while I watch women's curling on TV and something on Netflix.

Game 24: UMD at Northern Michigan

MARQUETTE, Mich. -- I can think of no better time to start turning this season around. At 8-10-5, UMD is completely off the national radar, an also-ran in the bloated national polls (one-third of the nation's teams are ranked by USCHO, just think about that, then ponder the fact that national polls rank 25 of nearly 340 Division I basketball teams!), and trailing in the PairWise.

This weekend, the Bulldogs do battle non-conference with Northern Michigan, a WCHA team that has been hovering around .500 much of the season and is sitting at exactly .500 right now (9-9-6).

It might be an unfamiliar venue (UMD hasn't played in Marquette since 2010), but it's a familiar feel. The Berry Events Center is an Olympic ice sheet -- 200 feet by 100.

The Olympic sheet -- or "big sheet," as most call it -- has been very good to UMD over the last two seasons. "Good" might be an understatement.

Since the start of the 2014-15 season, UMD is 6-0 in Olympic surfaces, outscoring the adversaries 23-4. Included in that is a 3-0 mark this year, with a 14-1 aggregate.

That average of four goals per game sure is enticing. UMD just can't seem to shake the scoring doldrums this year. I don't know the power play/even-strength breakdown from 2014-15, but last season UMD scored on 8.9 percent of its shots overall. This year, the Bulldogs have 59 goals on 884 shots (7.0 percent). If UMD was scoring on 8.0 percent of its shots this season, the Bulldogs would have 20 more goals.

Think about that. A team that has lost three games by one goal and three more by two (one of those was a one-goal game until a late empty-netter) with 20 more total goals scored, nearly one per game. If UMD merely matched its opponents' shooing percentage of 8.4, the Bulldogs would have 13 more goals, more than enough to still make a difference.

It's scary.

That's how low the margin for error is in this sport, and UMD is consistently -- for whatever reason -- coming up on the wrong side of it.

As head coach Scott Sandelin noted this week, there's still time to get this fixed. But he also correctly stated that "we're running out of time." Sounds contradictory, but both statements are very true.

Lines?

Lines.

UMD
Iafallo - Toninato - Mackay
Farley - Cameranesi - Kuhlman
Thomas - Decowski - Johnson
Sampair - Spurrell - Young (Austyn)

Welinski - Pionk
Soucy - Kotyk
Corrin - Molenaar

Kaskisuo - McNeely - Deery

NMU
Adair - Nowick - Shine
Hanson - Sooth - Siemer
Payne - Diamantoni - Purpur
Black - Starzynski - Pierce

Klimek - Kaib
Maschmeyer - Urban
Frantti - Trenz

Tolvanen - Israelsson - Dahlstrom