UMD men's hockey: Back at Gilling's old stomping grounds, Bulldogs come to Miami seeking wins
With two weeks remaining in the regular season, Minnesota Duluth sits fourth in the NCHC and eighth in the Pairwise despite one win in their last seven games.
DULUTH — Wins have been tough to come by for Minnesota Duluth this winter.
The Bulldogs travel to Miami this week for a pair of NCHC games at 6:05 p.m. Friday and 4:05 p.m. Saturday in Oxford, Ohio, with just one regulation win in their last seven games (1-4-2). UMD is 5-10-3 since Dec. 3.
But the sky is far from falling for the Bulldogs, who are still on track to host an NCHC quarterfinal series March 11-13 at Amsoil Arena. The Bulldogs sit fourth in the league, five points ahead of St. Cloud State, with four NCHC games to play.
UMD (15-13-4 overall, 8-8-4 NCHC) is also on track to make a seventh-consecutive NCAA tournament appearance, ranked eighth in the Pairwise rankings heading into the games against the RedHawks.
“I think we all get caught up in the moment and just want to win games, right?” Bulldogs associate head coach Derek Plante said. “Quite honestly, there's been some games where we've actually played pretty good and not got the wins, which makes it tough and frustrating.
“It makes these next few games very important and hopefully (the team) is able to keep their intensity high enough, because the next few games can really set our season, determine where we want it to go.”
According to the record-keeping of KDAL’s Bruce Ciskie , the Bulldogs have yet to play a series this season with full roster available, but they could be close this weekend.
Senior captain and wing Noah Cates returned from the Olympics on Monday and was in the lineup Tuesday for the 1-1 overtime tie and shootout win at St. Cloud State . He missed five games in February playing for Team USA in Beijing.
Plante — filling in at the podium during the weekly press conference Wednesday while coach Scott Sandelin watched his daughter, Katie, play for Proctor/Hermantown at the state tournament — said sophomore defenseman Wyatt Kaiser is probable to be back in the lineup in Oxford after missing the last four games with a lower body injury. Senior wing Tanner Laderoute is questionable after missing the last two games with an upper body injury.
Freshman center Dominic James returned last weekend for the two home losses against North Dakota after not playing in Denver two weeks ago. All these absences of key players has allowed others to step up, said Plante, who credited senior defenseman Hunter Lellig’s play on the blue line and the growth of freshman wing Kyler Kleven.
The return of sophomore wing Luke Mylymok has also provided needed depth for the Bulldogs on the fourth line, Plante said. Mylymok missed the first 27 games of the 2021-22 season with a preseason injury.
Mylymok only played 12 games as a freshman a year ago, so with 17 career games at the college level, Plante said Mylymok still has some learning to do.
“He's a legitimate skilled player that has a good sense for around the net and is strong. He's a strong player, he's not afraid to get involved,” Plante said. “When you get him 100% engaged and he's pushing, he's a legitimate player for us that can really help us and on that fourth line, it makes us a dangerous fourth line.”
The RedHawks sit right where the Bulldogs last saw them in the NCHC standings following a 4-1 UMD win and 2-2 OT tie (Miami won the shootout) on Jan. 14-15 in Duluth — last in the NCHC.
Miami has played opponents tough the last three weeks, however, with Denver needing an empty-netter to win 4-2 on Jan. 29 after a tight 5-4 win on Jan. 28. The RedHawks swept Omaha in Oxford two weeks ago 5-4 and 4-2 before being swept last weekend at Colorado College 4-3 and 3-2.
Sandelin said after Tuesday’s shootout win in St. Cloud that he’s feeling good about where his team is at heading into its fourth and fifth games in nine days, but he’s also cautious about what has been a pesky Miami squad as of late.
“It was a good way to start the week,” Sandelin said after the shootout win at SCSU. “It wasn't a great way, we wanted to win the game. We got two out of three points. We're going to take anything right now. We got a tough road trip now. (Miami) is a tough team right now. They're playing well at home and they've been winning some games. It's always tough in there.”
Gilling returns to Oxford
Bulldogs fifth-year senior top-line center Casey Gilling, a native of Gaylord, Michigan, played his first four seasons of college at Miami University before graduating and transferring to UMD in the offseason.
He faced off against his former school, coach and teammates back in January, posting a goal and an assist in the 4-1 win. The NCHC schedule-makers made him wait until this weekend to finally return to Steve Cady Arena at the Goggin Ice Center on the Miami campus.
Gilling played 131 games with the RedHawks over four seasons from 2017-21, totaling 26 goals and 51 assists. Twenty of the 28 players he was with a year ago at Miami remain on the team, though none of his fellow seniors came back in 2021-22.
Gilling has seven goals and 12 assists in 30 games this season for the Bulldogs. His best season at Miami was his sophomore season of 2019-20 when he posted nine goals and 22 assists.