Wednesday, November 16, 2011

First Intermission: Bulldogs One Third Through Season

A Report Card on UMD's First Trimester of the 2011-12 Season

The first third of the 2011-2012 UMD Bulldog’s season is in the books. In following with our past precedent, we are issuing our first trimester report card.

First, a disclaimer...overall the team would be receiving all A’s except for the really rough streak to start the season. The first four games, two against Notre Dame and two against Minnesota – Twin Cities, really put a damper on the season and made many fans wonder how big the drop off from National Champions this season would be. As we have seen in the last eight games, the kinks were worked out and the Bulldogs are now nicely on track.

Offense: A-. There was little concern over the offense entering this season. The players have lived up to, and in many cases, exceeded early expectations. One of the most positive stats is the number of players on the scoring sheet. Of the 44 goals for the Bulldogs, 15 different players have tallied at least one.

Of note:
  • Jack Connolly (6-11-17) and JT Brown (3-11-14) have been the strong points of the offense, as expected. Each are #4 in the nation for assists.
  • Pleasant surprises include Travis Oleksuk (11-3-14, #2 in the nation for goals) and Mike Seidel (5-2-7) who is chipping in the third most goals for the Bulldogs.
  • Strong freshman presence is noted from Caleb Herbert (3-7-10).
  • We want to see more from one of the heroes of the national championship, Max Tardy. With only two assists to show for this year, we were definitely expecting more.
Stick salute:
  • We would have really liked to see Cody Danberg finish off his career at UMD in the playoffs, but the injury bug struck him again ending his season after the first game this season. He was coming off a medical redshirt from last season and now can just watch his team play. Little consolation, but Danberg did tally an assist in his only game this season, his 100th as a Bulldog.
Team Defense: B+. Maybe it isn’t fair, but the three game losing streak and the soft goals against Minnesota – Twin Cities is stuck in our craw. The team has bounced back nicely, but there were some scary moments in the first four games that include two losses from ahead and the Friday Gopher game where the game tying goal was scored with an extra Gopher attacker and the loss in OT. Since that low point, the defenders have come together including goalie Kenny Reiter (see goaltending below). The defense corps and Reiter bettering their play begs the question of who sparked, or even carried, who? The defense is better, but we believe it is ultimately Reiter who is playing the best defense.

Of note:
  • Wade Bergman has really stepped up to the leadership role on the blueline as a junior. His one goal and six assists doesn’t put him the lead for defenseman scoring on the team, but his solid play makes him top notch.
  • The strong freshman presence from Chris Casto (2-3-5) after a couple of tough games to start the season is very encouraging.
Special Teams: B-. What can you really fault as of late? It again was the beginning of the year that put this facet of the Bulldog’s game in question. Look at the facts: UMD penalty kill is tied for 31 in the nation at 81.2%, but they have not given up a power play goal in six games and only one in the last eight. Those are great stats, but when you add in the 33% penalty kill rate against the Gophers (3 for 9 killed) it is your stats that get killed. On the power play, the national rankings don’t look great (#17), but the power play rate is really good (22.2%). It is difficult to give a lower grade to a team that is really clicking right now, but we feel the whole body of work needs to be taken into account. If things stay on track, this category will have the biggest grade jump at the next grading period.

Of note:
  • Oleksuk (4 PP goals) and Connolly (3) leading the way on the PP.
  • Mike Seidel is making hay on the PP too, scoring three of his five total goals with the man advantage.
  • We like the way that Brady Lamb is chipping in on PP (2 goals), but we are concerned about the seemingly large number of shots coming from the blueline on the PP.
Goaltending: B+. This is maybe the biggest travesty in our grading. Reiter should really have an A all by himself, but he did have his own rough start (1-2-0). Additionally, this category is for all the UMD goalies and Aaron Crandall has been disappointing in his only game this season. His 0.783 saves percentage and 5.05 GAA is alarming even though it was only one game. Reiter is playing lights out (0.923 and 2.05), but the Bulldogs need a capable backup and so far Crandall has not given the coaches a real reason to try him again. If he is needed, hopefully practice has been getting him more ready.

Of note:
  • Reiter now has 3 shutouts, good for #2 in the nation.
  • Reiter’s 2.05 GAA is 12th in the nation.
Coaching: A. For all the strife in the start of the season, the coaching staff has kept with this team and got them to perform to high standards. Additionally, the recent changes in forward lines has sparked more offense. By not staying with a safe status quo, the coaches have made the team more potent at scoring.

Overall Team: B+. Again, we can’t overlook the slow start, but we are loving the current team’s level of play. A long season may be on the menu again this year.

Looking Ahead. The schedule so far has been quite favorable for UMD. Of the 12 games, four have been away from Duluth. That will change with a vengeance as the opposite will occur for the next 12 games when UMD plays at home for only four games. It will be a challenging test for this team to see if they have the mettle to be a top tier team in the WCHA.

Of note:
  • Two of the next six series will be against future NCHC teams, Nebraska – Omaha and Western Michigan.
  • During this last grading period UMD was 1-0-1 against future NCHC teams (Denver).
The next grading period will end after playing Alabama – Huntsville on January 21, 2012.

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