Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Work in Progress; Derailed Again

Gophers Gain Sweep in Duluth 5-4 OT and 5-4

No one said this season was going to be easy, but the struggles and bad bounces for the Bulldogs have been ridiculous. It is the “every way to lose a hockey game” tour in this early season.

Kings of overtime no more. After quite a streak of OT wins, UMD was snake bitten last Friday after taking their first lead with 2:00 left in the third. An extra attacker goal by the Gophers that went in off a UMD player’s skate led the game to overtime. With less than a minute left in OT the Gophers finished with the game winning goal.

After the game winner, the Gopher players mobbed one another like they had won a playoff game. And why wouldn’t they, after squandering a lead and fighting their way to a win in OT over the reigning national champs? It was a well deserved win for them.

While the celebrating was going on, the Bulldogs were trying to shake off the gut punch they just endured. Another game, another way to lose.

Saturday night brought an about face on the UMD side. The Bulldogs came out buzzing looking to put Friday night in the past and move on. Up 2-0, the Bulldogs found themselves cruising until the bad bounces again got them down. After a Gopher goal and a UMD self-inflicted goal, the Bulldogs went to the locker room for the first intermission tied 2-2 but leading in shots 18-4. Enter the mental game.

Early in the second, 1:10 to be exact, the Gophers wrested the lead for good with a Nick Bjugstad goal. Follow that up by two more Gopher goals and the Bulldogs found themselves on a Gopher five unanswered goal streak.

What else could go wrong? Really, nothing, and this is where the light may be in the end of the tunnel.

The Bulldogs could have curled up and sacrificed themselves, but they did battle back to come very close to tying it up before eventually losing 5-4. I know that “very close” is worth nothing in the league standings, but the team does need to start back from somewhere.

What we are finding out about this UMD team is that offense is good, at least five on five. The once vaunted power play that has clicked for two years now doesn’t. Chemistry does take some time to develop and it needs to happen now.

The defense corps appears to be adequate even above average on blocking shots and reducing chances. It is goaltending where the big question lies. Many have speculated that Reiter really can’t be faulted for the goals, that they were good shots. So who does it fall on? The defense held UMTC to 16 shots Saturday. I guess they must have been waiting to only take quality shots to score 5 goals, that’s a 31% shooting efficiency! When UMD gets this thing turned around it has to start at the goaltending and work out from there. Goaltending is everything in college hockey. It can make a decent team great or keep a good team from reaching its potential. Let’s get the goaltending up to par and see what kind of team the Bulldogs are this season.

Up next for UMD is a road trip to Providence to face the unbeaten Friars.

Elsewhere in the WCHA.

Michigan Tech swept a home series against the Badgers. It marks the first WCHA sweep for MTU since 2007. Both games went to OT and ended 3-2. That puts Wisconsin on a 0-3-0 OT run this season and a combined 1-12-19 OT record since 2007. Tech just needs to sustain now. They did start off 3-0-2 last season before going 1-30-2 to finish the season.

Anchorage went into the Goal Rush and found two wins to take their record to 3-0-1. In the process they beat Nebraska – Omaha, their second WCHA non-conference opponent in two weeks, 3-0. SCSU was the other last weekend. For the record, UNO barely found the goals in the Goal Rush, scoring one in a pair of losses in Alaska.

Hats off to staffer Andrew Fiskness who picked the Denver win correctly. DU went east for a challenge and came away with a win over BC and a loss to BU.

Colorado College swept Bemidji State in Colorado Springs, as expected. But it wasn’t without drama. BSU had the lead four times in the Saturday night game, but CC had the answer every time to gain a 6-4 win.

The UP resurgence took a toll on Saint Cloud State as Northern Michigan swept the Huskies in Marquette. The UP teams (MTU, NMU and Lake Superior State) are a combined 11-1-0 this season and all are WCHA bound in 2014.

Totally unexpected results in Mankato as UMass – Lowell came to MSU and swept the series. Who saw that coming?

Finally, Maine traveled to North Dakota for a pair of games. Whatever suspicions NoDak fans had should start to be quelled as the Sioux won Friday then found themselves behind 2-0 Saturday only to battle back for a tie. In all, it was a respectable three point Sioux weekend.

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