UMD hockey notebook: Bulldogs confident returning to St. Cloud State for NCHC quarterfinal series
Wingers like Ben Steeves, who was named to the NCHC All-Rookie team Tuesday, are fans of the extra space SCSU's Olympic-sized rink provides.
DULUTH — Minnesota Duluth took the first three games of the regular season series with St. Cloud State in 2022-23, and even led 3-0 going into the final two periods of the rivalry game last Saturday night in St. Cloud.
The Huskies got the last laugh — and final four goals — however, to skate away with a 4-3 overtime victory prior to their Senior Night Celebration at the Herb Brooks National Hockey Center.
The setback didn’t rattle the Bulldogs, who after the game declared themselves a confident group heading into this week’s best-of-three NCHC quarterfinal series against the Huskies that begins at 7:30 p.m. Friday, back in St. Cloud.
“We should feel good,” Sandelin said following the 4-3 regulation win and 4-3 OT loss. “It’s not an easy place to win. It's not going to be easy next week, but it's playoffs. You’re playing to extend your season.”
The Bulldogs finished fifth in the NCHC this season, winning a tiebreaker with North Dakota based on regulation wins — nine for UMD vs. seven for UND.
It’s the second-consecutive season the Bulldogs travel to fourth-place SCSU as the No. 5 seed in the NCHC playoffs with their season on the line. UMD swept the Huskies a year ago en route to soaring up the Pairwise rankings and a third NCHC Frozen Faceoff title in five tournaments.
The Bulldogs can’t play their way into an at-large berth to the NCAA tournament this year. UMD will need two wins this season to continue its season.
“We know we can beat this team, and that's the biggest thing,” said UMD freshman wing Ben Steeves, who scored his 20th goal of the season Saturday. “It takes two wins next weekend. We got to come out with two wins to move on. So, that's our goal.”
Wide open spaces
Last weekend’s series was the Bulldogs’ first of the year on the wider, 200-by-100 foot Olympic ice sheet in St. Cloud. The Huskies are now the only NCHC team that plays on an Olympic-size sheet following Colorado College’s move from Broadmoor World Arena to Ed Robson Arena.
The extra space received a thumbs up from players like Steeves and freshman wing Isaac Howard, who also scored Saturday on one of his two breakaways.
Howard said he had some familiarity of with the wider sheet based on his experience playing tournaments in Europe with the U.S. National Team Development Program. Steeves said his experience was limited to road trips in the USHL to play at the Waterloo Blackhawks’ Young Arena.
Steeves said it can take some time getting used to the wider rink, but once you realize the potential with the extra time and space, there is a lot a forward can do to create offense.
“We're going to be already acclimated into this ice. We did a really good job this weekend, our first two games on the ice, adjusting to the forechecks and everything,” Steeves said. “When you get offensive zone pressure, it's easier to keep that pressure on and wear the other team down and get them tired. Then you can get changes.”
Steeves named to NCHC All-Rookie Team
Steeves was named to the NCHC All-Rookie Team on Tuesday after posting 17 goals in league play, which was tied for the most by anyone — no matter their class — in league play this season. His 17 goals are the second-most goals by a rookie in NCHC history.
2022-23 NCHC All-Rookie Team
- Jackson Blake, F, North Dakota — 45 points (15 first-team votes) – unanimous
- Ryan McAllister, F, Western Michigan — 43 (14)
- Ben Steeves, F, Minnesota Duluth — 39 (12)
- Joaquim Lemay, D, Omaha — 37 (11)
- Jacob Guevin, D, Omaha — 35 (11)
- Kaidan Mbereko, G, Colorado College — 36 (10)
The 20 goals overall by Steeves this year is second nationally for a freshman. He’s the first UMD freshman to score 20 or more goals in a season since Brett Hull did in 1984-85.
Steeves has two hat tricks this season, including a natural one against St. Cloud State in Duluth on Jan. 27. All three of those goals came on the power play, where Steeves has an NCAA-best 12 this season.
A 45-goal scorer with Sioux City in the USHL last year, Steeves had five goals in four games against St. Cloud as half of UMD’s 18 goals against the Huskies during the regular season came from freshmen.
“I like the way the young guys are playing,” Sandelin said Saturday. “They're having more of an impact here in the second half.”
Dubinsky ready to return
Sandelin said freshman defenseman Aidan Dubinsky will be available for this weekend’s NCHC series against the Huskies after missing the last three games with an injury. He last played Feb. 24 against Miami.
Dubinsky was available to play Saturday, Sandelin said, however, the coach elected to stick with the same lineup following Friday’s 4-3 win.