Bulldog hockey notebook: UMD men seeking redemption at Colorado College
A series between the top-ranked team in the country and a seven-win squad that's last in its league would typically garner little attention. It will evade the radar for most.
But not this week, not for No. 1-ranked Minnesota Duluth. The Bulldogs are out for redemption this week after that last-place team — Colorado College — left Duluth with four league points in early January via a tie and win at Amsoil Arena.
UMD (18-5-5 overall, 12-4-2 NCHC) slipped to second place in the NCHC during its bye last week while Denver (20-6-4, 12-3-3) moved into first by a single point with three weeks remaining in the regular season. The slim margin shows how every point over the next six games is sacred and how costly every lost point — like those four against the Tigers (7-19-2, 3-13-2) in January — can be.
"Going into this weekend, we owe those guys," UMD senior defenseman Willie Raskob said ahead of the games against the Tigers at 8:37 p.m. Friday and 8:07 p.m. Saturday at World Arena in Colorado Springs, Colo. "If you look back at our season, that could be the weekend that we look at and go, 'We really messed up there.'"
The Tigers tied the Bulldogs 2-2 (with UMD getting an extra point via a 3-on-3 goal) on Jan. 6 before beating the Bulldogs 2-1 the next night. Tigers freshman goalie Alex Leclerc stopped 69 of the 72 shots he faced from UMD in the series, which was one reason why the Bulldogs got beat on their home ice.
The other reason, according to third-year Colorado College coach Mike Haviland, was his team's ability to clog up the neutral zone and "maybe frustrated them a little bit."
"I thought we did a real good job in the neutral ice of taking away their transition," Haviland said. "They are extremely good at it. They have a ton of skill guys, even on the back end."
UMD coach Scott Sandelin said his team didn't have enough respect for Colorado College back in January and that the Tigers were the hungrier team that weekend. The Bulldogs didn't respond very well to the clogged-up neutral zone either, Sandelin said.
The Bulldogs will likely see a similar game plan from the Tigers this weekend in Colorado Springs, though the wider Olympic-sized ice sheet of World Arena could open things up, something Haviland noted.
Despite the extra space, Sandelin said his team still needs to be patient and take what's given to it. The odd-man rushes his Bulldogs love will still be few and far between.
"We have to do a better job of supporting the puck, coming out of our zone cleaner. They forecheck very hard with their two forwards and they take the walls away," Sandelin said. "If we get in the zone we can do some things, but we've got to find ways to get inside the (faceoff) dots and get some traffic and get some opportunities in those areas."
UMD senior captain and center Dominic Toninato of Duluth said the Tigers out-competed the Bulldogs back in January. Colorado College won the puck battles and got two big games from its goalie, he said.
But the big ice sheet — which is 15-feet wider than Amsoil Arena's NHL-size sheet — could change things. The Bulldogs are 10-1-0 in their last 11 games on Olympic ice sheets, having beaten the Tigers 5-0 and 6-0 last year in Colorado Springs.
Toninato said his team enjoys the larger rinks. The few extra feet "makes a huge difference." it allows UMD to use its speed more while also creating more time and space.
The most important thing this weekend is to start on time, though, according to Toninato. UMD can't spot the Tigers leads like it did last time and expect to fight its way back through a clogged neutral zone.
"We don't want to spot them a few goals and we don't want to get shocked into playing," Toninato said. "We know they are going to come hard and we just got to make sure we match it or play better than that."
Amsoil Arena set to be a busy place
The UMD women's program plays its final regular season series this weekend when it hosts St. Cloud State at 7:07 p.m. Friday and 4:07 p.m. Saturday at Amsoil Arena. The final men's regular season series takes place next week on Thursday and Friday at Amsoil Arena.
Then come the playoffs with the UMD women eyeing more than a first-round conference playoff series in Duluth. They'd love to overshadow the men's NCHC playoff series by hosting an NCAA tournament game come March.
"That's starting to cross our mind now as the season winds down, actually getting to host an NCAA quarterfinal, which would be incredible as none of the girls, we've never even made the top eight before," UMD senior captain and forward Ashleigh Brykaliuk said. "If it works out that way, that'd be pretty cool. It would be in our favor. We've played really well this year so far. Getting to host in front of our friends and family would be extra special being in that top eight spot."
Both the UMD men and women have clinched home first-round conference playoff series, with the opponents yet to be determined for both.
The women, who are 11-1-2 at Amsoil this season, will host a best-of-three WCHA series next week at 3 p.m. on Thursday and Friday at Amsoil Arena, with Game 3 on Sunday if necessary. Neither the men nor women can play Saturday at Amsoil due to high school section playoff games.
The UMD men's first-round NCHC series will take place March 10-12. If the UMD women, currently ranked No. 2 in the Pairwise, can land a top-four seed, they host one of the bottom four seeds in an NCAA quarterfinal on March 10 or 11, with the winner earning a spot in the Frozen Four.
"We haven't talked so much about the home games coming up, more so what's right in front of us," Crowell said of postseason play at Amsoil. "The next game is always the biggest game for us."
The UMD men will get back sophomore forward Parker Mackay this weekend in Colorado Springs after he missed the last six games with an upper body injury. Junior defenseman Nick McCormack is out with a lower body injury.
For the UMD women, defensemen Jayln Elmes, a freshmen, and Jessica Healey, a junior, remain day-to-day this week after both missed last weekend's series at Wisconsin. Healey suffered a lower body injury on Feb. 4 against North Dakota while Elmes suffered a head injury in practice last week, according to Crowell.
Junior forward Katerina Mrazova and senior forward Lara Stalder both returned to practice Wednesday after returning from Olympic qualifying in Switzerland.