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Blais identifies Sioux problem that UMD is striving to attain

Dean Blais, head coach of the North Dakota hockey team, has a problem. So does Scott Sandelin, head coach of the UMD hockey team. However, the difference in the magnitude of their problems best defines the difference in the two programs right now.

Dean Blais, head coach of the North Dakota hockey team, has a problem. So does Scott Sandelin, head coach of the UMD hockey team. However, the difference in the magnitude of their problems best defines the difference in the two programs right now.
"Our biggest problem is that we've got one line doing all our scoring," said Blais. "We've got Jeff Panzer centering Ryan Bayda and Bryan Lundbohm on our top line, and they're the only ones who seem to be able to score. They've gotten 18 goals in our last six games, so that's an average of three goals a game. Minnesota couldn't stop them last weekend, and Denver tried to intimidate them by hitting, hooking and holding 'em, but they got four goals in one game and two in the other."
Sandelin's problem is considerably different. He's trying to squeeze some goal-scoring -- any goal-scoring -- out of his Bulldog forwards. Last weekend was promising, because in losing 5-4 in overtime and then winning 5-4 against Michigan Tech, the Bulldogs, who had been scoring 1.5 goals a game, got nine. But junior defenseman Andy Reierson was the team's offensive leader and WCHA co-offensive player of the week with four goals and one assist against Tech, and Reierson is UMD's leading scorer through six WCHA games with 5-2--7, and no forward has more than three goals.
Therein lies the difference. The Fighting Sioux, with one line scoring too much, are 5-2-1 in the WCHA and 6-2-4 overall, while UMD, with nobody scoring enough, is 1-5 in the league and 1-7 overall. Panzer 5-13--18, Lundbohm 11-6--17, and Bayda 7-10--17, meaning Blais' "problem" threesome is 1-2-3 to lead the WCHA in scoring, while defenseman Travis Roche, who got six assists in Saturday's game against Minnesota, is 0-10--10.
Those two teams collide in a UMD-UND series at Ralph Engelstad Arena in Grand Forks this weekend, and the two coaches share a deep and personal respect for each other because Sandelin was Blais' assistant for six seasons, which include three WCHA titles and two NCAA championships. Blais was an outspoken promoter for Sandelin to move on to become a head coach, and was both proud and happy when Sandelin was named to replace Mike Sertich at UMD during the summer.
Blais, a former Iron Range Conference star at International Falls before his University of Minnesota playing days, downplays his team's capabilities, even though beating and tying Minnesota last weekend, right after the Gophers were listed No. 1 in national ratings thrust the Fighting Sioux to within one point of co-leaders Minnesota and Colorado College. One thing Blais doesn't downplay is the impact Sandelin had on the Sioux, and what he anticipates from him at UMD.
Sandelin was cordial as he endured Sertich's homecoming as the new Michigan Tech coach, and this weekend it's his turn. Sandelin will be in the spotlight, back at North Dakota, where he starred as a defenseman from 1983-86 and then was an ace in coaching the defense and recruiting from 1994-2000.
"We'll welcome Sandie back," said Blais. "I'm giving him a plaque at the Booster Club luncheon, and I know all of our players will go over and shake hands with him. But he's deeply entrenched in Duluth now, and I know he'll do a good job there. It'll just take some time. He also knows our guys won't be letting up at all, just because he's coaching the other team."
Blais also acknowledged that a difference in the way coaches handle players is why it takes time for a two-way adjustment, something he's noticed with the Sioux and his new assistants, Dave Hakstol and Brad Berry, both former Sioux stars who played pro hockey. Blais stressed that he is impressed with Hakstol and Berry, but there are definite differences in the way Sandelin, usually soft-spoken, dealt with defensemen.
"There's no question that some of our early problems had to do with the fact that our defense is hearing different voices," said Blais, whose team suffered surprising losses to Minnesota State-Mankato and Michigan Tech. "Then we also had to start early, with a short practice period, because we had one week of practice then had to play in the Ice Breaker tournament at Ann Arbor.
"Dave and Brad are both working with the defense, but I think they have yet to get their attention," Blais said. "Against Michigan Tech, we took nine penalties, and eight were by our defense."
Some of that is probably true at UMD, too, Blais suggested, where players used to Sertich, Jim Knapp and Glenn Kulyk's methods now must adjust to Sandelin and the more abrupt and aggressive style of Rohlik and Strobel.
As for both teams' so-called problems, Sandelin could provide a little counseling to Blais on what it's like when you don't have one line scoring so much they stand 1-2-3 in league points.
"No," laughed Blais. "I guess I'll settle for having one line scoring."

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