Thursday, December 1, 2011

Road Trip Part 1: Houghton, Michigan

Bulldogs Look to Start Long Road Trip Continuing Unbeaten Streak

Looking at the Bulldog’s schedule when it came out, it looked a dream come true for an upper half WCHA finish. Four games against Mankato, Anchorage and, as every year, Michigan Tech. UAA was expected to be the best of those three teams, but the Huskies in Houghton under new head coach Mel Pearson have jumped out to the front.

The Huskies have proven that a change at the top could ease the pain of a miserable season last year and put them in contention for home ice in the first round of the WCHA playoffs.

Tech has made a nice run this season built primarily on home wins. The Huskies are 6-1-1 at home and 2-4-0 on the road. The lone loss at Houghton for the Huskies was to Minnesota State – Mankato 6-3.

The trip for UMD will be a challenge as Tech seems to always save a great effort or two for when they meet the Bulldogs. It isn’t like a game against Northern Michigan, but the effort is always upped for the Bulldogs.

The Bulldogs themselves come in on a hot streak winning their last five games while on a ten game unbeaten streak, the longest in the nation. The main reason for the streak is improved defense starting with goalie Kenny Reiter. Reiter has started all but one game this season, gained three shutouts and has been named WCHA Defensive Player of the Week twice this season. Reiter’s overall stats are 0.922 saves percentage and goals against of 2.12 good for 23rd and 17th in the nation respectively.

It isn’t UMD that has used good goaltending. Tech has been backed by strong goaltending from Josh Robinson. Robinson and Reiter have the same conference saves percentage of 0.926 and similar conference GAA (Reiter is 2.08 and Johnson is 2.22).

Team statistics are compared in our UMD – MTU StatPack:

Images via Wikipedia (Bulldog, WCHA, Husky)

Most facets being equal, it will be the scoring offense that will be key in this series. If UMD can generate scoring, the defense should be able to limit the Huskies for UMD wins.

On the Plus Side. UMD sports four defensemen in positive territory for plus/minus ratings. Leading the team in the category is Wade Bergman at +12 followed by Scott Kishel tied for second with +10. Other defensemen on the list are Brady Lamb +7 and Chris Casto at +6. Positive numbers for defensemen is a good indicator that the defense is strong and that they are in on the scoring. Both are true for the Bulldogs.

On the Road, Part 1 of 4. The next four series will be on the road for UMD and will be a pivotal part of their schedule. While not sounding like fun, it may not be all that bad. UMD is 2-0-2 this season on the road and 16-5-6 in their last 27 road games.

Prediction. It is a good week for UMD to be playing at Tech. After their off-week, the Bulldogs should be rested and ready to play. The Huskies always give UMD fits and there should be no reason to think it will be any different this weekend. Tech will want to prove that they are a top half of the WCHA team and the Bulldogs are trying to keep their unbeaten streak together while continuing their push for the top spot in the WCHA. UMD will show why they are near the top of the WCHA and will take home three points unless they come out rusty Friday night, which will likely result in a split. Look for the three-point weekend.

Around the WCHA. This is the last weekend where most WCHA teams are playing and playing two game series. After this weekend bye weeks and holiday tournaments become common. Looking at our picks, we will continue with the parody the league is stuck on this year. Lots of splits and no sweeps…hmmm, could that really be true? We’ll have to see.

Denver at Colorado College (Friday): This should be a great game. Yeah, that is not a misprint; it is a one game finish to a series that started Saturday, November 12 at Denver. The Pioneers won the first game 5-4. Both teams have high end talent that can score, but how the goalies play in each game will decide the winner. The “series” should be a split, meaning that CC wins this game in Colorado Springs.

Bemidji State at Saint Cloud State: The Beavers have not been great on the road and the Huskies are trying to stay in the middle of the pack. BSU will look to keep these games low scoring and should be able to do so in at least one of the games resulting in a split.

North Dakota at Alaska – Anchorage: Is the UND Men's Hockey Team beginning their mid-season surge or was last weekend just one great effort at home? This is an important series for UND if they are going to try to work their way back up to the top half of the WCHA standings, let alone the top few teams. UAA finally found the net at the purple Mavericks and that should carry over enough to this weekend. Until UND can play well every week and find more success on the road, a split is the only choice.

Minnesota State – Mankato at Minnesota – Twin Cities: MSUM has often played up to the Gophers in years past and this year shouldn't be any different. The Gophers are the much better team, but there defense has shown their youth and inexperience the last few weekends. The purple Mavericks are beat up and that will it difficult for them to win another game for quite a while.  We go back on an earlier prediction and go with the Gophers in a sweep.

Nebraska – Omaha at Alabama – Huntsville: The Chargers are still looking to get there first win of the season, unfortunately for them it won't be this weekend against the red Mavericks. The Chargers could trip up a couple WCHA foes in the coming weeks, but not here in a UNO sweep.

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