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UMD men's hockey: Bulldogs' power play will be tested by Broncos, Huskies and Pioneers the next three weeks

Minnesota Duluth's league-worst power play will take on the top three power plays in the NCHC over the next three weeks, starting this weekend against Western Michigan at Amsoil Arena.

UMD Men's hockey faces Omaha at Baxter Arena
Minnesota Duluth forward Blake Biondi (7) controls the puck near Omaha forward Jack Randl (28) on Saturday, Jan. 22, 2022, at Baxter Arena in Omaha, Nebraska.
Clint Austin / Duluth News Tribune
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DULUTH — After going 2-for-16 in six games between Dec. 3 and Jan. 1, and 4-for-33 in 11 games played between Nov. 13 and New Year’s Day, Minnesota Duluth’s struggling power play has taken steps over the last four games.

The power play has improved by over four percentage points in the last two weeks, going 3-for-18 in series against Miami and Nebraska Omaha, however, it still has a ways to go, according to Bulldogs coach Scott Sandelin.

“We got to find a way, otherwise we’re going to be in a lot of those situations where, if we don’t get some momentum or score on some of those power play opportunities — or just even get chances — we’re going to have to play better defensively,” Sandelin said. “We’re going to have to play squeaky tight D.”

UMD will need to play “squeaky tight D” indeed over its next five games, and stay out of the penalty box as well, as it prepares to face off against the NCHC’s top three power play units over the next three weeks, starting with Western Michigan at 7:07 p.m. on Friday and Saturday at Amsoil Arena.

The Broncos power play sits third in the league at 24.2%. The second-best power play in the NCHC belongs to Denver, which is scoring 24.8% of the time. UMD visits the Pioneers on Feb. 11-12.

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The top power play in the conference and country belongs to St. Cloud State at 38.6%. SCSU hosts UMD on Feb. 8 and 22 in St. Cloud, before coming to Amsoil Arena to close the regular season on March 4-5.

The Bulldogs’ power play is last in the NCHC and 42nd out of 59 NCAA Division I teams at 15.7 percent.

“We’ve got to figure that out. It’s a huge part of our game and a big part of today’s game — the power play and penalty kill,” said Bulldogs captain Noah Cates last Saturday in Omaha. “We talk about it a lot, but we got to clean it up.”

The Bulldogs power play scored clutch goals each of the previous two Fridays, leading to victories.

On Jan. 14 against Miami at home, a power-play goal by senior wing Koby Bender restored a two-goal lead for UMD midway through the third period. Last Friday at Omaha, a power-play goal late in the first put UMD up by two (and a shorthanded goal early in the second pushed the lead to three).

Over the last two Saturdays, however, the power play has come up short in clutch moments.

In a 2-2 overtime tie and shootout loss at home to Miami on Jan. 15, the Bulldogs failed to score on two power plays in the second, when it surrendered the lead. It couldn’t convert late in the third period down a goal and again on a 4-on-3 advantage in OT.

Last Saturday, UMD went 1-for-7 on the power play, with the lone goal of the night coming during a five-minute major penalty on Omaha late in the third period with the Bulldogs already down 4-0.

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The Bulldogs came up empty on two power plays in the first period, two in the second and another early in the third period. One power play started late in the first and carried over to the second, with another advantage coming 47 seconds later.

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It was UMD’s best chance to claw back from a 2-0 deficit, but instead, the Bulldogs went into the third down 4-0.

Sandelin and Cates said Omaha’s pressure last Saturday hindered the power play’s ability to get into the opposing zone and to get shots on net. It’s something the team needs to work through if it wants to start converting on man advantages.

“Our power play had some good looks early, and then had troubles getting up the rink and just executing,” Sandelin said last Saturday in Omaha. “It all seemed to fall apart. I was more disappointed with that, the fact that we didn’t execute certainly on the power plays.”

Scouting the Broncos

011120.S.DNT.UMDMPUX.C04.jpg
Brandon Bussi (30) of Western Michigan makes a glove save against Minnesota Duluth on Jan. 10, 2020, at Amsoil Arena in Duluth.
Clint Austin / File / caustin@duluthnews.com

Playing on campus at Lawson Ice Arena — with its rowdy Lawson Lunatics — Western Michigan has built a reputation as a tough team to beat back in Kalamazoo, and that’s held true this season. The Broncos are 7-3 at home.

The road is where Western usually struggles. In fact, the Broncos haven’t had a winning record on the road since their first season of NCHC play back in 2013-14. That’s likely to change this year, though, with the Broncos sitting 9-2 on the road this year heading into this weekend’s series in Duluth.

Including this weekend, the Broncos play eight of their final 12 games away from Lawson, including each of their next six. WMU has won its last five road games after getting swept at Denver on Nov. 12-13, and 10 of its last 11 games overall, averaging 4.27 goals per game in that span.

“They like to get the puck up the rink, and their D are a part of that,” said Sandelin, whose Bulldogs split at Lawson Nov. 5-6, losing 4-3 to the Broncos before winning 3-0. “Their forwards get after you. They have some really skilled players. You have some difference makers.”

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Sandelin listed fifth-year senior forward Ethen Frank, junior defenseman Ronnie Attard and junior goaltender Brandon Bussi as difference makers for the Broncos this season. Bussi has allowed no more than a single goal in his last four starts, Attard had two goals and an assist last Saturday against North Dakota and Frank leads the nation in goals per game with 17 in 21 contests.

“They're playing with a lot of confidence. Their special teams are some of the top in the league, their power play's been dangerous forever,” Sandelin said. “They're dangerous, They play fast. They're a tough team in their building. I'm glad that we went in there early and we know what to expect.”

Co-host of the Bulldog Insider Podcast and college hockey reporter for the Duluth News Tribune and The Rink Live covering the Minnesota Duluth men's and women's hockey programs.
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