Friday, October 31, 2014

Game 7: Miami at UMD

Greetings, and Happy Halloween. If you're staying away from the rink so the kids can collect gobs of candy that they probably won't eat anyway (at least, if they're like my 12-year-old, who would still have candy from about six Halloweens ago if we didn't make him throw it away), please join us on 94X (94.1 FM in the Twin Ports, 104.3 FM surrounding area) and the Bulldog Sports Radio Network.

(Listen live at 94xrocks.com or stream via mobile on the Red Rock Radio app, which works on most phones and tablets.)

My take on Adam Krause's absence can be found here, and a look at this weekend set is here.

Lines?

Lines.

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

Soucy - Welinski
Johnson - Raskob
McCormack - Kotyk

Kaskisuo - McNeely - Fons

Miami
Lemirande - Doherty - Schmit
Murphy - Coleman - Greenberg
Louis - Kuraly - Gacek
Wideman - Czarnik - Barber

Belpedio - Caito
Joyaux - Paulides
Dornbrock - Richart

Williams - McKay

Rivalry With Miami Only Getting Started

UMD and Miami.

These are two programs with plenty of history, yet only three meetings in history.

The teams met at the 2009 NCAA Regional in Minneapolis, a game "won" by Miami 2-1 on its way to the Frozen Four for the first time in the recorded history of history.

(Yeah, still bitter. The disallowed power play goal, the cheapshot on Jack Connolly, the general nature of that game just sucked, and is probably my most negative memory in my years covering this program. Either that or the goalless drought in 2007-2008 that darn near killed me.)

Last year, the NCHC rivals met late in the season in Oxford, Ohio. UMD won by scores of 5-4 and 1-0, riding a four-goal second period to a rally from 2-0 down Friday and getting a shutout from Aaron Crandall Saturday.

The end of Saturday's game featured a pretty big skirmish, with Derik Johnson and Blake Coleman getting into it at the horn. Players from both teams were sent to their respective penalty boxes as officials broke up the fracas.

(We rip officials a lot around here, but I thought the crew in that game did a great job. While they probably didn't assess enough penalties, it was 20:00 of the third period, and those penalties do nothing but pad statistics anyway. What they did right was separate players and get them off the ice where nothing else was going to start.)

Does that mean anything heading into this weekend?

"Oh, absolutely it does," Johnson, a senior defenseman, said this week. "Nothing against Blake Coleman or anyone over there, it's an emotional game. Stuff happened, but it's part of playing an emotional game."

"They were very good games, tight games," UMD coach Scott Sandelin said. "To go into their building, they were healthier team when we played them, I'm sure they remember that, too."

You can only assume Coleman, captain Austin Czarnik, Riley Barber, and others remember the way UMD ruined their Senior Night festivities last year, and they'll be looking to get six points this weekend in Duluth.

The RedHawks are a very aggressive team. They are plenty physical, led by Coleman, and they have high-end skill with players like Czarnik and Barber. Miami is very aggressive defensively, with guys jumping up in the play all the time. It almost looks reckless at times, but Enrico Blasi isn't a dummy. There's a method to it, and while I think UMD can take advantage of this -- St. Lawrence sure did last weekend -- it also has to be careful. The Bulldogs can't get too aggressive and risk giving up numbers in transition. Pick spots wisely and it could be a good weekend.

Miami's goaltending has been spotty so far, allowing six goals on 27 shots last weekend (five on 16 Friday), but it's not all goaltending. Part of it is giving up odd-man rushes after turnovers in the 75 feet or so between the red line and the top of the offensive zone faceoff circles. Even the best goalies aren't going to help when they're looking at wrong-colored jerseys constantly coming at them with speed.

******

Despite last year's hijinks at the horn, Blasi says his team has a lot of respect for UMD.

"This is a really good hockey team from what I see on film," Blasi said this week. "The level of skill, and the way they come up the ice, is very dangerous. We're going to have to play really good team defense."

Blasi calls this a "good test" for his group, and he feels he'll have a better idea where the RedHawks are at after playing "a real good (UMD) team."

Sandelin echoes that respect.

"They pressure on the forecheck. They finish checks."

He says the Miami defensemen -- a group led by Matthew Caito, Ben Paulides, freshman and Wild draft pick Louie Belpedio, and the brothers Joyaux -- are "a big part of rushes, a big part of their play in the offensive zone."

It should be a fast-paced, entertaining series. These are two teams that like to get up and down the rink and play very aggressive styles. If Johnson is right and the Miami players have carried memories of last year into this weekend, it'll be physical and possibly testy, too.

And if Kasimir Kaskisuo and his defense play well, this could be a very good weekend for the home team.

Thursday, October 30, 2014

Adam Krause's Absence Means Opportunity for Austin Farley, Others

Next man up.

That's the old saying. It isn't meant to diminish the importance of injured players in any sport. Instead, the basic gist is "No one's going to feel sorry for us, so the next guy on the depth chart better damn sure be ready."

For UMD, the loss of forward Adam Krause to a broken wrist is significant.

For starters, Krause is the captain, and a really good one. He represents this program -- on the ice, on campus, and in the community -- about as well as anyone could possibly envision when awarding a team captaincy to a player.

Oh, and he was playing really well, too.

"Anytime you lose your captain, your leader, and the kind of player he is, and the way he was playing, " head coach Scott Sandelin said. "What he was doing as a part of that line, we're going to miss him."

Next man up: Austin Farley.

The junior played a bit on that line after Krause went down on Saturday, and he just kept going with what he had done throughout the weekend. Farley posted a practically unheard-of 19 shots on goal over the two games against Denver, scoring twice and earning NCHC Offensive Player of the Week honors.

"By far his best weekend," Sandelin said. "He kind of played that ratty hockey he needs to play. He was chirpy, he really wanted the puck. I don't know the last time a guy had 19 shots on a weekend. He was very noticeable and I thought he was our best forward all weekend."

Farley probably won't be the only player who sees an uptick in ice time or a change in role with Krause's absence. We saw sophomore Sammy Spurrell get increased time Saturday, and he had a two-point game. Cal Decowski moves into Farley's place on the Tony Cameranesi line, and he had a two-point Saturday, including a greasy, go-hard-to-the-net goal.

Senior Justin Crandall is back, and he will help eat some of Krause's minutes on the penalty kill after sitting out last weekend. Sandelin indicated that Crandall probably should have sat out against Minnesota State with his undisclosed injury, but he tried to play through it. He has looked good in practice this week.

It should be an interesting series against a Miami team that UMD swept in Oxford last February. In the second game of that series, things got quite a bit testy after the final horn, something we'll discuss a bit in the series preview that will post Thursday night or Friday morning.

Talk to you then.

Monday, October 27, 2014

Monday Musings: Bulldogs Split Again, Thanks to Emphatic Saturday Win

For UMD, Friday night was not its crispest performance. Then, things weren't necessarily looking good in the first few minutes Saturday. Denver outshot UMD to start the affair 6-0, and at one point analyst extraordinaire Kraig Karakas panned that they should throw a second puck on the ice so UMD could play with one, too.

The first media timeout of the game, which came with a shade over 14 minutes to go in the first, helped turn the tide a bit. UMD started controlling the puck more, began making smarter decisions in traffic and playing with more poise. Shots the rest of the first? 18-6, UMD. Nothing got by Denver goalie Evan Cowley, but Karakas was prophetic, mentioning that UMD needed to shoot lower because his glove was strong. It didn't work right away, but it eventually did, and UMD started chipping away at Denver's strong foundation.

Karson Kuhlman, who has emerged quickly as a force offensively as well as on the UMD penalty kill, started it with a slick backhander on a short-handed breakaway. It's UMD's fourth short-handed goal this season, good for the NCAA lead (tied with North Dakota). The penalty kill has continued to transition from a decent unit that was not any sort of serious offensive threat (one short-handed goal in each of the 2011-12 and 2012-13 seasons) to one that is more cohesive and a much bigger threat to turn mistakes into goals.

Last year, guys like Dominic Toninato and Alex Iafallo were a big part of that threat. Now, it's Kuhlman joining the fray. Toninato and Iafallo kill penalties still, but the presence of guys like Kuhlman will take pressure off of them. In games where special teams take up a big chunk of the 60 minutes, the coaching staff might be able to rest Toninato and Iafallo on the kill. Guys like Kuhlman, Adam Krause (once healthy), Justin Crandall (once healthy), Cal Decowski, and even some others have experience and/or the ability to kill penalties.

After Kuhlman gave UMD the lead, it became an avalanche. Austyn Young scored his first career home goal -- with help from some heavy traffic provided by freshman Jared Thomas -- to make it 2-0. More traffic and a huge scramble in front led to Cal Decowski's power-play goal late in the period that made it 3-0.

That power play? It was Joey LaLeggia's hit from behind on Toninato. Getting one of the best blue-liners in the nation kicked out of the game didn't hurt UMD's chances. The Bulldogs, however, still had to execute on the man advantage, which isn't an easy task against an elite PK like Denver.

Decowski scored, UMD picked up three power play goals in the game, and went on to a 6-1 victory.

A 4-0 differential in special teams scoring helps, but UMD earned this win. There were adjustments, and the Bulldogs did a much better job in their own zone. There were still a couple instances where forwards got too far up the rink before the puck was cleared from the defensive zone, something Scott Sandelin and staff harped on after Friday. But I thought that Willie Raskob rebounded very nicely after a tough night Friday. Brenden Kotyk probably played his best game, and the top pair of Carson Soucy and Andy Welinski were once again solid. It was a nice step against a good opponent.

A few more thoughts:
  • Young got tossed in the third period for facemasking. It's the fourth straight game UMD has seen a player ejected. In all, though, I thought UMD did a good job with discipline, especially on Saturday. Denver took some penalties out of frustration, and UMD avoided taking retaliatory stuff like teams in the past might have.
  • Krause left in the first period. Undisclosed injury that was unrelated to his brief absence on Friday. Not sure on the prognosis at this point, but with Crandall (lower) already injured, the forward depth took a hit this weekend. Sandelin said Friday that he expected Crandall to be available for the Miami series. We'll see how those injuries play out this week. 
  • Can't really say enough good things about Kotyk. Think about it this way: From February 23, 2013, until October 10, 2014, he played in zero real games. 594 days. From his first shift against Minnesota at the Ice Breaker in South Bend, all Kotyk has done is get better. He's also one of the first to step in and stick up for teammates when scrums ensue. Despite his constant presence in physical battles, Kotyk has taken only one minor penalty over six games. And let's not make any mistakes here. The more Kotyk gets involved, the less likely teams will be to try to push around UMD's skill guys.
  • Nice to see Austin Farley, Decowski, and Sammy Spurrell all get on the board this weekend. UMD has 23 goals through six games, and despite Toninato having six of those, 13 different players have goals. 18 different skaters and 19 players have points.
  • Even nicer to see a breakout at home. UMD had lost five straight on home ice and scored just 11 goals. In two of three games at Amsoil Arena this season, UMD has played with intensity and toughness. Hopefully it's a good sign after last year's 5-10-3 nightmare at home.
  • Hard not to feel bad for Blake Young. The big kid out of Battleford got his first taste of a real game on Saturday, and when Krause went down, he quickly fell out of the rotation. Young (no relation to Austyn, who's from the Cities) hardly got off the bench in the second period before getting a few more chances to show what he could do in the third period. When he was out there, he seemed to do fine, but he wasn't out there enough to get a strong assessment. I'll watch him more closely in practice this week, and we'll see if injuries and the general unwillingness of coaches to change the lineup after a win combine to get Blake Young out there again Friday against Miami.
  • Miami comes in off a crazy 2-1 overtime win over St. Lawrence. Doesn't sound crazy, but the RedHawks outshot the Saints 53-11, including 15-0 in the second period and 8-1 in overtime. Let that sink in. Miami had eight shots on goal in only 3:25 of overtime. Outshot the Saints 95-27 on the weekend, but only mustered a split after SLU won 5-4 Friday. Sean Kuraly and Blake Coleman lead the offensive charge with seven points each. Freshman and Wild draft pick Louie Belpedio has two goals and three points in six games.

Saturday, October 25, 2014

Game 6: Denver at UMD

For UMD, this is a very significant game. I hate to beat a dead horse, but the five-game home losing streak has to end, and there's no better time than now. Plus, falling to 0-2 in such a difficult league is not a really good idea.

Points are a must. Preferably without a postgame skills competition.

Lines?

Lines.

UMD
Iafallo - Toninato - Krause
Farley - Cameranesi - Kuhlman
Osterberg - Thomas - Spurrell
Young (Blake) - Decowski - Young (Austyn)

Soucy - Welinski
Johnson - Raskob
McCormack - Kotyk

Kaskisuo - McNeely - Fons

DU
Moore - Doremus - Loney
Larraza - Shore - Heinen
Romig - Levin - Marcinew
Jacobson - Janssen - Arnold

LaLeggia - Zajac
Butcher - Didier
Plant - Hammond

Cowley - Jaillet

Friday, October 24, 2014

Saturday Hockey Notes and Thoughts: Pioneers Pounce on UMD Mistakes

For UMD, there's been a lot of talk about starting games better.

"Every coach talks about it," head coach Scott Sandelin said earlier this week. "The first four, five shifts, five or ten minutes of a game, is critical. It's not like it hasn't been discussed. I don't have the answer. The guys have to do it. They have to prepare mentally for a tough start.

"I don't know how you can't be ready to play."

Friday night, UMD started its top line, centered by Dominic Toninato, along with the defensive pairing of Derik Johnson and Willie Raskob. A lost faceoff, two UMD defensive zone turnovers, and a wired Ty Loney shot later, UMD trailed 1-0 at the 33 second mark of the game.

Yikes.

There were more bad plays in the defensive zone before the night was done. Unfortunately, struggles in the back were just the beginning for a scattershot -- at best -- offensive effort as Denver won 3-1 in both teams' NCHC opener.

A few things:
  • UMD has now lost five straight home games going back to last season: The finale to Omaha, two playoff games to Western Michigan, last Friday to Minnesota State, and Friday to Denver. UMD has scored 11 goals in those five games. UMD was 5-10-3 at home last year, 0-2 this year.
  • Speaking of not winning at home, there have been five NCHC games so far this season. The road team is 5-0. Combined score? 21-6. Average score? 4.2-1.2. UMD has its own issues at home, but so far the NCHC has been owned by away teams. It's an insanely small sample, and I have no other explanation for it at this point. 
  • Then again, I've been watching UMD struggle at Amsoil Arena for a while now, and I still can't figure that out. It's easy to blame empty seats or a general malaise that sets in too easily with our crowd. That's been the case since we were at the DECC. And UMD has won plenty of road games in front of large gobs of empty seats (Omaha comes to mind because of that huge arena they play in for one more year, and there were tons of empty seats at the Ice Breaker). I know those empty gold seats down in front are an eyesore, but they aren't a viable excuse for the Bulldogs' struggles at home.
  • For a third straight game, a UMD player got ejected. This time, it was Sammy Spurrell for a highly questionable checking from behind call. Questionable or not, this is how reputations are developed. And they aren't good reputations. Through the early part of the season, only Bentley (26.5) is averaging more penalty minutes per game than UMD (23).
  • UMD's power play cashed in for the fifth straight game to start the season. That's great, but the other four power plays were more like power outages. The last one -- a five-minute power play that ran until 11 seconds were left in the game -- produced five shots on goal, but Denver blocked a bunch, and the first half of that major power play was ugly at times, as UMD flubbed passes, failed to support the puck, and struggled to set anything of note up.
The blue line was a focal point for UMD. It was badly outplayed by DU's group, led by the elite senior Joey LaLeggia, along with Nolan Zajac and Will Butcher. We knew the Bulldogs weren't elite on defense, but they have to be better than they were on Friday.

Raskob and Willie Corrin struggled, I thought. Raskob had issues making plays all over the ice, especially in his own zone. More than once, he panicked and threw the puck up the boards, only to have it intercepted with ease at the point. Corrin made mistakes with the puck, too. They weren't the only ones. UMD's puck management in general was very poor on Friday, with silly turnovers playing right into Denver's hands, because the Pioneers just don't make many of those mistakes. When UMD established a forecheck, it was effective. But the lack of crisp passing and solid puck management made it really difficult to keep that forecheck going.

Earlier this week, Sandelin said freshman Blake Young would make his UMD debut this weekend, so I'd expect at least one forward to come out to allow for that Saturday. On defense, freshman Nick McCormack should play, but I'm not sure who comes out.

No reason for a change in goal. Kasimir Kaskisuo had a pretty solid effort, and he made a couple significant stops in the second to keep his team in the game when they just couldn't generate any sustained attack.

If UMD can get more going offensively, it should mean more pressure on whoever plays goal for Denver Saturday (we'd heard this week that Tanner Jaillet would get a game, but can Jim Montgomery take Evan Cowley out after another strong performance from him?).

The good news is that Denver didn't run UMD out of the building. But the Bulldogs showed that there is still plenty to work on.

It starts with the start.

******

The NCHC didn't have a great night. Union pounced on St. Cloud State early, putting up three in the first half of the first period on its way to a 5-1 win. The defending national champions held SCSU off the scoreboard until the final seconds of the game.

In another matchup of ranked teams, North Dakota beat Providence 6-1 at The Ralph. Drake Caggiula had a goal and three assists, while the Brothers Schmaltz combined for five assists (Jordan had three).

In other games, Boston College beat Colorado College 6-2, Alaska-Fairbanks got a third-period power play goal to upend Western Michigan 1-0, and St. Lawrence jumped to a 5-1 lead and held on to beat Miami 5-4.

Ouch.

Game 5: Denver at UMD

You know, it's almost too nice outside.

Almost.

We're here and ready to open the NCHC season with a two-game series against Denver.

What's that picture? Well, it's something covered by a black curtain. That's what it is.

Oh, you want a more specific answer?

I haven't been told, but my senses indicate it's the banner that will commemorate Bill Watson's jersey retirement in the first intermission of this Friday night tilt. Something tells me I don't have to be told, because it seems somewhat obvious.

Watson will join us in the Glass Case of Emotion after the second period for what should be an interesting conversation. I'm not sure I've ever had a boring conversation with Bill.

Anyway, Denver brings another member of the Shore family (junior center Quentin), one of the top defensemen in the country (Joey LaLeggia), and a goalie carrying a .976 save percentage (no, not Sam Brittain, it's Evan Cowley).

Same ol' Pioneers.

Lines?

Lines.

UMD
Iafallo - Toninato - Krause
Farley - Cameranesi - Kuhlman
Osterberg - Thomas - Boehm
Sampair - Decowski - Spurrell

Soucy - Welinski
Johnson - Raskob
Corrin - Kotyk

Kaskisuo - McNeely - Fons

DU
Moore - Doremus - Loney
Larraza - Shore - Heinen
Romig - Levin - Marcinew
Jacobson - Tabrum - Arnold

LaLeggia - Zajac
Butcher - Didier
Plant - VanVoorhis

Cowley - Jaillet

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Parade of Ranked Opponents Continues for UMD

Opening weekend, it was No. 1 Minnesota and No. 12 Notre Dame on the road.

(I guess, technically, Minnesota was a neutral site, but you get the point.)

Last week, a home-and-home with No. 12 Minnesota State.

Now, the UMD Bulldogs continue to run the gauntlet in their early-season schedule. A visit from No. 11/No. 13 Denver looms for the 19th ranked (votes but no ranking in USA Today poll) Bulldogs.

Assistant coach Derek Plante referenced the schedule when we spoke this week, talking about how it compares to a 2013-14 schedule that was ranked as one of the toughest in the nation.

We're doing it again.

After Denver, UMD entertains ranked Miami next weekend before heading down Highway 23 to take on ranked St. Cloud State in two weeks. After that, a non-conference home and home series against current (almost-undisputed) No. 1 Minnesota.

The Bulldogs are off a split against MSU which followed a split (loss to Minnesota and win over Notre Dame) at the Ice Breaker. Once again last weekend, Plante says they only felt they got "four out of six periods" out of the team.

"We spotted them three goals," head coach Scott Sandelin said this week when referencing last Friday's 5-4 overtime loss to Minnesota State. "Yeah, we tied it, but you can get away with it once in a while.

"We can't keep doing that. It's a lot more fun to play like we did against Notre Dame, and in Mankato."

In Saturday's win over the Mavericks, "they kind of stormed us a little bit," Sandelin said of the first period. But he never felt they were going the wrong direction because they weathered that storm and started taking the play to MSU in the second period.

Finding that consistency will be the next challenge.

"Every coach talks about it," Sandelin says. "The first four, five shifts, five or ten minutes of a game, is critical. It's not like it hasn't been discussed. I don't have the answer. The guys have to do it. They have to prepare mentally for a tough start.

"I don't know how you can't be ready to play. I don't think guys aren't ready, but sometimes that stuff happens."

The Pioneers are formidable. Denver is led by its backline, primarily senior Joey LaLeggia, who might be the best defenseman in college hockey. He's the kind of player who has always been dangerous with the puck, but he's really developed his skills without it. LaLeggia isn't a big guy, so he'll never be a thumper, but he uses his stick really well, understands leverage, and knows how to play his position.

He isn't the only dangerous defenseman for second-year coach Jim Montgomery. He also has Nolan Zajac and Will Butcher at his disposal, and all three can wreak havoc offensively. The Pioneers have been known to use three defensemen on the power play, with Zajac working down low as a forward-type. That's how dangerous these players are in the offensive zone.

If that's not enough, Montgomery has some nice pieces up front. The 48th Shore family member to play hockey for DU, Quentin, is one of the Pioneers' centers. You'll notice guys like Ty Loney, Zac Larazza (probably best-known for scoring the winner in the 2012 Final Five double-overtime semi against UMD), and Trevor Moore.

In goal, Montgomery started both Evan Cowley and Tanner Jaillet last week, but the latter was upended by Zach Schroeder of RPI less than 2:30 into Saturday's game and left with an injury, so Cowley ended up playing over 117 minutes on the weekend. Stepping in for the graduated Sam Brittain, the two only combined to stop 42 of 43 RPI shots in a weekend sweep.

Montgomery has indicated that both will play this weekend, as he tries to sort through what he has at the position.

Sandelin is still trying to do the same thing at all positions, but he was happy with freshman Kasimir Kaskisuo on Saturday. Expect him to start Friday's game.

As for other positions, when asked about the tough decisions he has to make about the lineup for every game, Sandelin said "It sucks, actually. But it's nice to have a depth problem.

"Our guys were kindly reminded by me that it doesn't matter who you are. If you're not playing the way we think you can play, we have other guys who can step in. We have some guys who are chomping at the bit to play more. We don't have time to wait."

That quote from earlier this week is in line with what Sandelin told me Saturday, when he added that he is "not a patient person."

While he generally liked what he saw in Saturday's game, look for a few changes throughout the weekend. Most notably, Sandelin said freshman left winger Blake Young will make his debut this weekend, though he wouldn't say which night. Young is the only skater yet to appear in a game. We've discussed the logjam at left wing before, and he's been firmly caught up in it.

******

Don't forget that former UMD star Bill Watson's No. 14 will be retired after the first period of Friday's game. Sandelin calls it an "awesome honor" for a "good friend." Bill will join our broadcast after the second period Friday.

Also want to welcome Matt Wellens to the UMD hockey beat. Matt is the Duluth News Tribune's new UMD men's hockey dude. He's an all-around nice guy, a Packers fan, and a dog owner. He worked in Marquette prior, and put in a good amount of time analyzing Walt Kyle's mock turtlenecks while covering Northern Michigan hockey.

His Twitter is @mattwellens, and he will be blogging on the team here. Give him a follow and check out the blog.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

UMD Hockey: Where Are They Now?

Haven't done this in a few years, but we'll give a whirl and try to update it somewhat regularly.

I've tried -- using Google, Hockey DB, and social media -- to compile a list of former UMD Bulldogs playing professional hockey anywhere in the world.

Find the Google doc here.

If you have info on a player not listed but who is playing pro hockey this year, please comment, email me, or tweet me and I'll make sure I get the relevant details.

I know a few guys who have been playing pro are missing, so hopefully someone can help clue us in.

Monday, October 20, 2014

Monday Musings: Bulldogs Go Bananas in Third, Split with Mavericks

For UMD, Saturday brought a few welcome sights.

To start, it was clear very early in the game that freshman goalie Kasimir Kaskisuo was seeing the puck very well. The lanky Finn was victimized on the first two shots he faced in his debut against Minnesota, but since then he has stopped 54 of the 58 shots sent his way (.931 save percentage).

He made a couple athletic stops Saturday in Mankato, but Kaskisuo was basically asked to play a solid game. He controlled his rebounds very well, showed poise and some aggressiveness when covering pucks a couple times, and played the puck for really the first time, as he didn't do it much (if at all) against Minnesota. You can see his puck-playing needs work, but he took positive steps in every area on Saturday.

UMD started slowly on Saturday. While MSU only led 1-0 after one, it could have been worse. The Mavericks had the puck a lot, and UMD just didn't do much positive when it had possession. The Bulldogs began to assert themselves more offensively in the second period. It was nice to see Kyle Osterberg and Justin Crandall get on the scoresheet as UMD took a 2-1 lead.

But when the third period started 2-2, the Bulldogs leaned on the guys they've leaned on all season to this point. And sophomores Dominic Toninato and Alex Iafallo didn't disappoint. Iafallo set up Toninato in front for a short-handed goal early in the third. It's Dom's fifth goal, second short-handed goal, and Iafallo's fourth assist of the season. The two combined to set up Hermantown's Jared Thomas for a power-play goal about halfway through the third to make it 4-2. That was Thomas' first collegiate point.

Through four games, Toninato has five goals and seven points, Iafallo one goal and six points. Tony Cameranesi and Carson Soucy each have two goals and five points.

******

I said before the season there would be real competition for spots in the lineup, especially at forward.

Scott Sandelin has to be pleased with the idea of two home weekends before he has to leave players at home for an NCHC road trip (Nov. 7-8 at St. Cloud State). There will be a very difficult decision to be made if things keep going as they are now.

Thomas has already placed himself in a position to play more than he had been. He's smart, responsible, and clearly has some real skill. His ascension has caused sophomore Sammy Spurrell to sit three of the first four games this season. It's nothing Spurrell has necessarily done wrong, but Thomas gives UMD even more depth in the middle than it already had.

Also, freshman left wing Blake Young hasn't made it in the lineup yet, but largely because he's a left wing on a team that goes four-deep there (Iafallo, Austin Farley, Osterberg, and Charlie Sampair). He isn't redshirting, so he will play at some point.

On the blue line, Willie Raskob is off to a slow start and was a surprise scratch Saturday. He's healthy, so clearly the coaches are trying to send a message. The blue line as a whole didn't have a great weekend. Too many turnovers and generally some questionable puck management, especially on the power play. The group did a better job Saturday keeping MSU players from the front of the net and giving Kaskisuo a chance to see the puck on virtually every one of those 38 shots he faced.

I think the competition there is much less defined at this point, which is another reason to be pleased that this team is at home for four straight games and can make any lineup change it wants from one game to the next.

(When they board the bus for St. Cloud sometime during the afternoon on Nov. 6, they will be limited to 22 players. Typically, you'll see them take 13 forwards, seven defensemen, and two goalies.)

******

Lots of comments over the weekend about discipline. Now, I'm going to tread carefully, but I do have some thoughts.

I thought UMD did a much better job playing with a composed edge on Saturday than it did Friday. This team is talented. Guys can't afford to get mad because someone lost the puck on the power play. That chop from behind on the puck carrier -- when you're on a power play, no less -- is probably getting called 95-98 times out of 100.

That doesn't mean that a player shouldn't compete for that puck. But guys have to compete within the rules.

"No matter what point of the game, you're up or you're down, you get an opportunity on the power play, you can't give that up 30 or 40 seconds in," Sandelin said.

"You have to keep your composure. Things aren't going to go your way and you're going to miss opportunities. You keep your composure. We can't take penalties behind the play. Whether they were or not (penalties) is not to be argued. Don't put yourself in those positions."

Everything was fine Saturday, outside of what I thought was a silly and unnecessary kneeing penalty on Derik Johnson that led to his early shower. Johnson had a huge issue with bad penalties as a sophomore, but he did a great job cleaning up his game last year. With that came more playing time as he gained the coaches' trust.

I have not seen a replay of Saturday's hit, but I did not think it was a good one. Not sure I'd say it's worthy of supplemental from the NCHC, but I didn't like it because we were up three goals and cruising to a win. Just didn't need to happen.

No matter your feelings about that hit, UMD's discipline continues to be an issue and it has to get better. As it improves, it has to last more than a couple weeks. The occasional blowup is going to happen to even a team full of choir boys, but the Bulldogs have to avoid the penalty bug and stick to what works.

Then again, with the way this team is scoring short-handed all of a sudden, maybe it should take more penalties.

I'm kidding.

Maybe.