Friday, January 23, 2015

NSCC Consolation Saturday: UMD vs UMTC

Maroon and Gold Matchup Pits Two Struggling Teams

Images via Wikipedia: Bulldog, NCAA, Gopher

This is getting close if not in the wheelhouse of "must win" for both teams.  The Gophers are trying to turn a slipping season around and salvage the possibility of an at-large NCAA bid.  The Bulldogs are trying to regain their confidence as a hockey team, period.

My prediction then would be a tie.  Fitting, right?

Championship.  BSU and MSUM will meet and the winner will be the second team to win the North Star College Cup.  After watching the semifinal games I was asked to predict the score assuming the winner was a foregone conclusion, that being the Mavericks.  I answered 7-1, so I will go with that and MSUM the winner.  Although BSU can be a little tricky as UMD found out…but MSUM won't let that happen.

UMD Falls to Bemidji 4-0 in First Round NSCC

Bulldogs Dominated by Beavers in Quarterfinal Match

Day 2 NSCC.  Focus on that because the game today at the Xcel Energy Center was dreadful.  It is not usual to be writing before letting the weekend play out, but it is a new opponent tomorrow and we are getting to the point where each game is the next shovelful in the hole that is being dug by the Bulldogs. 

PWR is the focus of the comments after a lackluster UMD performance where they were shutout by the Beavers of BSU 4-0.  The numbers now show that the NCHC would have five of their eight member schools in the NCAA Tournament.  That is not going to happen.

The result is that teams that want to stay in contention need to win.  Duh, right?  But that is a huge struggle right now for UMD let alone scoring a goal.  The confidence is gone and it shows in the play on the ice.  It is amazing and startling to see the Bulldogs play today compared to the Bulldogs of November/December…unrecognizable.

Most telling of all is the lackluster power play.  Against BSU, the Bulldogs had 12:07 of power play of which 0:33 was 5x3.  During the power plays, UMD amassed no goals and only six shots.  Good puck movement at times, but the shots and goals are just not coming.

I don’t know what it will take to stop the tailspin, but it has to happen soon as we approach February.  And judging from the UMTC versus MSUM game going on right now, the level of opponent play tomorrow in the consolation game will not let up.

North Star College Cup: UMD and Bemidji St

Can't Overlook Beavers for Saturday's Game

Bad taste in the mouth is an over used cliche, but what else can you say after last weekend's games against WMU?

The best way to get that out of the system is to win and maybe no better opponent to get a win than against Bemidji State.  BSU has had a rough year and they may be talented, but this is a team the the Bulldogs should take care of in fairly easy fashion tonight.  Then the Saturday opponent can be planned for.

Statpack. UMD and BSU:

Images via Wikipedia: Bulldog, NCAA, Beaver.

Picks by @afiskness.  The results of last weekends UMD hockeys games shows how tight the run for the Julie and Spencer Penrose Memorial Cup.  The Bulldogs are currently experiencing the same issues that they have experienced the the last few season: defensives turnovers, susceptible goaltending and lackluster effort at home.  These issues have to be remedied if this club wants to play late into March and April.

#11 Denver @ #9 Miami: These are two teams that are evenly matched.  The Redhawks are a much better home team then road and they should have the advantage.  I will go with a split.

Colorado College @ #2 North Dakota: Last week the Tigers found a nice win last weekend, but thing will be different in Grand Forks this weekend.  North Dakota sweep.

Western Michigan @ St Cloud State: The Broncos are playing really good hockey, but now the Huskies have found some magic.  This should be a good series that will end in a split.  

North Star College Cup
#7 UMD vs Bemidji State: The Beavers slow down play will likely be tough for the Bulldogs.  I think the Bulldogs are a good enough team on the road to get a win to advance to the Championship game.  UMD fan should cheer for the Mavericks as that would be the better team to play in the PairWise Rankings.  

Monday, January 19, 2015

Black is the New Green

After A Frustrating Weekend Against WMU, UMD Must Regroup Quickly

The past weekend being described as frustrating is an understatement.  One point out of a possible six for the Bulldogs has taken control away from UMD in the NCHC regular season race.

The Bulldogs are still second in the conference just as when they entered the weekend, but third (North Dakota) and fourth (Miami) now have two conference games-in-hand.

What is most striking from the weekend is how the Broncos used size and defensive minded pay to take the Bulldogs off their game and keep scoring at a premium.

That is not to say that UMD did not have their chances.  UMD had some good scoring chances in tight both nights but had problems finishing the play.  The difference maker was that UMD faced a goaltender that was up to the task along with some untimely misses.

It was fairly apparent UMD has more skilled scorers along with more speed that the Broncos, but WMU still had the best of the games.  The more I watched the Broncos dictate play and keep a tight lid on space and time for the Bulldogs, the more I am reminded of a team in green, Bemidji State.

BSU has seemingly had a way to do the same tight checking (maybe even clutch-and-grab) style has given Sandelin coached teams fits.  And it really makes for boring hockey to watch.  But as said this past weekend and years earlier with BSU, you make the team based on what you get in recruiting.  And a slow-it-down, grind-it-out style is what the Bulldogs need to be wary of as the season progresses.

There is not time to wait as this weekend's North Star College Cup brings the green Bemidji State team in as UMD's first opponent Friday at 4pm.

PairWise Commentary.  It is after the calendar turned so talking PWR is alright, I believe.  So why talk about it?  It does have bearing, especially if the team is not winning.  Winning makes PWR watching easy if not ignorable, it is when winning takes a break.

And this weekend is not time to take a break from winning.  After another test, of sorts, against Bemidji State Friday, the second game could bring on the #1 rated Minnesota State - Mankato or highly regarded (nationally at least) UMTC.  The Cup?  That would be nice.  Wins are the highest prize this upcoming weekend.

Friday, January 9, 2015

January 2015 is Longer than Usual; Tough Tests for UMD

After Exhibition Weekend, #3 UMD Starts Long Stretch at #7 North Dakota

January is notorious for feeling like a long month coming off of vacation days and holidays close to each other in December leading into January 1.  But this January is longer than usual for college hockey teams like UMD with five weekends in the month and the team playing a pair of games in each of them.

And it is not just the run-of-the-mill middling teams for the most part.  A series at North Dakota (currently #7 in PairWise),  a game against UMTC (Tied #11) or MSU-Mankato (#1) in the North Star College Cup, and a series at Denver (#14) are the highlights of the month.  In the shuffle is a home series against Western Michigan and the opening game of the North Star College Cup against Bemidji State.

The weekend sweep of an exhibition series at Thunder Bay's Lakehead University was a good start to a grueling schedule in January.  All players will need to be on call for duty at any time as the wear and tear on the student athletes from playing and recent outbreaks of influenza and other viruses could sideline any player.

It will be a telling run for the playoff and possibly an NCHC title run when January ends.

Half of Season in the Rearview Mirror.  The holiday break also brought the mid point of the regular season schedule for the Bulldogs.

In a quick summary, goaltending by Kasimir Kaskisuo, offense from Dom Toninato, defense from Andy Welinski, and rookie play from Karson Kuhlman have garnered our high attention at the halfway point for the season.

StatPack.  The matchup by the stats for UMD and North Dakota:
Images via Wikipedia: Bulldog, NCAA, NCHC, ND
Picks by @afiskness.  The second half of the NCHC season begins this weekend.  The Bulldogs are tied for first and they would like to take home the Julie and Spencer Penrose Memorial Cup for winning the regular season.  This will be quite a feat as I think any of the top five teams could win it.  A good showing in Grand Forks by the Bulldogs is a must.

Picks (continuing to use PWR rankings for top 25)
#3 Minnesota Duluth @ #7 North Dakota: The Bulldogs play another #1 team!  The toughest schedule in the country continues for UMD.  It is always hard to win in Grand Forks, but the Bulldogs do play good on the road.  Split.

#14 Denver @ #6 Nebraska Omaha:  This series will come down to goaltending.  Both teams are highly rated and evenly matched.  Split.

#4 Miami @  St Cloud State: It hasn't been the season that Huskies fan thought it would be, but they do have some quality wins.  The large home ice win be an advantage against the Redhawks.  St Cloud will get a win for the split.

Notre Dame vs. Western Michigan (home/home series):  The Fighting Irish (receiving votes) have not played to their expectations this year, but with some success they could be a factor in Hockey East and the NCAAs.  The Broncos are in the bottom half of the NCHC standings and are hoping to find some more consistency.  This home and home series should be a split.

Thursday, December 11, 2014

MTU and UMD Meet as Top Ten Teams

UMD's Aggressive Offense Allowed by Strong Defense

Last weekend before the turn of the calendar and things are bright for UMD.  Riding a streak of eight wins in nine games, the team looks to finish 2014 strong with a road trip to Houghton, Michigan to face
Welinski's effectiveness jumping up into the play, like in this
short handed goal against Miami, is enabled by strong defense
 behind him. (Andrew Nippert/ College Hockey HighHorse)
the surprising upstart Huskies of Tech.

At the beginning of the season many may have looked past this series at MTU.  But the Huskies have put on a show for their long loyal fans staying at the top of the WCHA and near the top of the polls.  This will be a quality non-conference weekend for both teams, especially if one of the teams can pull off a sweep.

In this streak for the Bulldogs, success starts with aggressiveness on the forecheck.  Michigan Tech is flexing muscle on defense holding opponents to 1.50 goals per game in 14 games.  Even in their two losses, they only game up two and three goals respectively against Minnesota State – Mankato. 

A strong forecheck like that of UMD’s is just what can break a defense like Tech’s.

The factor that allows the Bulldogs to go hard onto the offensive zone is the strong goalie play and Kaskisuo and his 0.922 saves percentage.  Aggressive offensive play gives up odd-man rushes and the goalie has to be trustworthy.  Kaskisuo gives UMD the chance to play aggressively.

Farley's speed and aggressiveness is key to Bulldog's
forecheck. (Andrew Nippert/ College Hockey HighHorse)
Some of the beneficiaries of the backstopping success includes 10 goal scorer Dom Toninato and Austin Farley who now has the most points in NCHC play for the Bulldogs with 10 (4 goals, 6 assists). 

Most noticeable is defensemen can jump up into the play more and that is not more evident anywhere than in Andy Welsinski’s play this season.  Currently leading UMD blueliners with six goals and assists for 12 points and a +11.  Nationally Welsinski is the second leading goal producer of defensemen and tied for 16th in points.  Again, more evidence of confidence in the players behind him to be jumping up into the play and making the most of his opportunities.

Out of the Box Thinking.  Bulldog penalties on the decrease.  What a wonderful statement for UMD fans to hear.  And with less penalties have come more wins.

In UMD's last seven games, the Bulldogs have been the lesser penalized team in the game.  And in UMD's last four, their most penalized game was four penalties for eight minutes.

With the current win streak coinciding with the decrease in penalties, there is no coincidence.  

StatPack.  Numbers alone says that this should be a good series:
Images via Wikipedia: Bulldog, NCAA, Huskies
Picks by @afiskness.  The Bulldogs sweep last weekend of the Colorado College Tigers has moved them into a tie for first place in the NCHC with Miami Redhawks.  Last Friday's game shows maturation of this team by coming back after being down by two goals.  They should not have come out cold against the Tigers which is a little disconcerting, but they never panicked and got the comeback win.  During the Saturday night game the Bulldogs toyed with Colorado College in the convincing win.  This makes the Bulldogs 8-1 in their last nine games.

#9 Minnesota Duluth @ #4 Michigan Tech:  This should be a great Series at the McInnes Student Ice Arena in Houghton.  I like the matchup for the Bulldogs.  The Bulldogs play good on the road and if they continue to stay out of the box they could get a sweep.  Right now I am leaning to a split.

Colorado College @ Western Michigan:  Both of these teams are not ranked and are at the bottom of the NCHC.  The Broncos are looking to restart the engine for some goal scoring and the Tigers are likely to provide.  The inconsistency for both teams will result in a split.

St. Cloud State @ #12 Nebraska Omaha:  The Huskies are not meeting preseason expectations wherewas the Mavericks have been playing well balanced hockey.  This looks like a split, but I am going with a Mavericks win and a tie.

#1 North Dakota @ #11 Denver: These are two well balanced teams who are both playing really good hockey.  Both games will be hard fought probably with a bunch of penalties.  Split.