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Bulldogs look at spoiler role against Huskies, rest of WCHA

The smart money says there is no way UMD can win the WCHA hockey championship. Even if the Bulldogs get all the breaks and good bounces they failed to get in going 1-10-1 through the first half of the conference chase to stand last.

The smart money says there is no way UMD can win the WCHA hockey championship. Even if the Bulldogs get all the breaks and good bounces they failed to get in going 1-10-1 through the first half of the conference chase to stand last.
However, the level of improvement shown by the Bulldogs may mean that while they're missing a tremendous race at the far end of the WCHA, they might well determine who succeeds and who doesn't.
UMD, which lost 4-2 to Merrimack on an empty-net goal, and blew a 2-0 lead in tying Colgate 2-2 at the Silverado Shootout at the DECC last week, might use that tournament to sharpen up for St. Cloud State's invasion of the DECC this weekend.
"I hope we got the kinks out last weekend," said coach Scott Sandelin. "We'll find out."
Sandelin switched lines, putting his top two offensive threats together by uniting Nate Anderson with Tom Nelson, while Judd Medak fills out the rest of the line. That moves Mark Carlson to wing with Jon Francisco and Derek Derow on another unit, which Sandelin said he hopes bolsters the offense on one unit and adds some grit to the other.
St. Cloud State is one of six teams embroiled in a wild and crazy race for the WCHA title, and other than pace-setting North Dakota, the Huskies may be in the best position to make a move.
"We know that UMD has been working hard in every game," said St. Cloud State coach Craig Dahl. "I think the WCHA is as strong and balanced as it's ever been, with the teams at the top all very close, and the bottom teams working their fannies off. I said at the start of the season the winner of the league would have 5-7 losses, and I still think that's the way it's going to be."
North Dakota leads at 10-3-1 for 21 points, and the Fighting Sioux are the only team that appears capable of pulling away. The Sioux are 12-2-1 in their last 15 games and rank No. 3 in the country. They have the league's top three scorers in Jeff Panzer (17-31--48), Bryan Lundbohm (20-21--41) and Ryan Bayda (12-23--35), and they're all on one line. But the Sioux also are suffering the pain of coach Dean Blais, whose 15-year-old daughter, Mary Beth, was stricken suddenly with leukemia and is in Rochester undergoing chemotherapy. Blais is with her, while assistant Dave Hakstol coaches the Sioux.
Denver (8-5-1) is second with 17 points, followed by a four-way tie at 16 points among St. Cloud State (8-4), Minnesota (7-3-2), Colorado College (8-4) and Wisconsin (8-6). The top six are all solid, with Dakota third, CC fifth, St. Cloud State seventh, Minnesota ninth, Wisconsin 11th and Denver -- which is 9-0-2 in its last 11 -- 14th in national ratings. But Minnesota State-Mankato is close, at 5-7 for 10 points, followed by Alaska-Anchorage (3-8-1) for 7 points, Michigan Tech (3-11) for 6, and UMD (1-10-1) for 3.
The antiquated points race is followed in the standings, but with all teams winding up with the same number of games, serious observers know that two tallies are of utmost importance -- games lost, and goals-against. The Huskies figured to be a favorite in preseason ratings, but they've done it in roundabout fashion, scoring much less than anticipated, with goaltender Scott Meyer and a rapidly improving but youthful defense carrying the load.
"With four losses, we're in pretty good shape," said Dahl. "Minnesota has 3 losses and 2 ties, and North Dakota has 3 losses, with CC and us with 4 losses. Meyer has a 1.81 goals-against average and a .934 save percentage. We're playing three and sometimes four freshmen on defense, with Jeff Finger, Colin Peters and Ryan Lemere playing regularly, and Joel Peterson and Ryan Johnson alternating."
Offense gets most of the media attention, but defense wins games and championships, and Dahl likes where his Huskies are defensively, even if he's puzzled by the sputtering offense and almost silent power play. Mark Hartigan is St. Cloud's top scorer, with 12 goals, 9 assists for 21 points -- 11th in league scoring, while Nelson, UMD's leader, ranks eighth with 9-14--23. Such snipers as Tyler Arnason, Joe Motzko, Jon Cullen and Brandon Sampair could break loose at any time, but the Huskies are covering for them with defense.
"We're outshooting teams 555-530 in all our games, which is close, and we've scored 62 goals, but our power play is only at 17.4 percent compared to Minnesota's 28.1 and North Dakota's 25.3," said Dahl. "That's costing us a goal a game. We've only given up 35 goals, though, and our overall average of 1.94 goals-against leads the league, with CC second, at 2.50."
In league play, the Bulldogs are second-lowest in goals-for with 28 and second-worst in goals-allowed, at 51. North Dakota has scored 66 goals, by far the league's best (CC is second at 46), but St. Cloud State has given up only 28 goals, the best in the league, with Minnesota's 32 goals-allowed second. North Dakota has given up 46 goals, but its offense has compensated.
As Dahl said, however, the top teams are all aware of how hard the bottom teams are playing, which means UMD and Michigan Tech. While the Bulldogs took Wisconsin to the wire before losing in overtime, and had a 1-1, 2-1 tie and loss series against Denver, Tech has surged to respectability under interim coach Mike Sertich.
The biggest accomplishment Tech has performed came at the Great Lakes Invitational Tournament. Sertich noted that in 18 years of coaching, he had never faced either Michigan or Michigan State, the two CCHA powers that were co-favorites at the Detroit event. Tech stunned the hockey world by beating Michigan 7-3, then, after trailing 2-0, the Huskies rallied to tie Michigan State before losing 3-2 at 19:04 of overtime against the once-beaten and No. 1 ranked Spartans. Tech outshot MSU 14-1 in the third period and 44-28 for the game, and defenseman Mat Snesrud from Cloquet was named all-tournament.
"We surprised a lot of people by beating Michigan 7-3," said Sertich, who appears well on his way to removing the word "interim" from his title, "but we played our best game the next night against Michigan State."

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