College men's hockey: Bulldogs comfortable with any defensive pairing
One of the most consistent aspects of the Minnesota Duluth men's hockey team this season has been its defensive pairings. Outside of the World Juniors, you can always count on seeing Nick Wolff and Scott Perunovich, Dylan Samberg and Mikey Anders...
One of the most consistent aspects of the Minnesota Duluth men's hockey team this season has been its defensive pairings.
Outside of the World Juniors, you can always count on seeing Nick Wolff and Scott Perunovich, Dylan Samberg and Mikey Anderson, and Matt Anderson and Louie Roehl together on the blue line. Those duos go back to last year's national championship run.
An injury to Perunovich changed all that last Friday when the Bulldogs had to shuffle the deck in a 4-2 win over Miami at Amsoil Arena. Things returned to normal on Saturday in a 6-5 UMD victory, but with coach Scott Sandelin unwilling to commit to Perunovich being in the lineup this weekend, some unfamiliar combos could make appearances when third-ranked UMD wraps up the regular season at top-ranked St. Cloud State. Puck drop is scheduled for 7:38 p.m. Friday and 4:07 p.m. Saturday
"No matter where we are put," said Samberg, a sophomore out of Hermantown, "we can perform."
During his weekly news conference Wednesday, Sandelin would only say that Perunovich - a sophomore from Hibbing - was on the ice for practice. He called it a good sign, but added, "we'll see" when asked if the team's leader in assists would play against the Huskies.
Minus Perunovich last Friday, Wolff, a junior, played alongside Roehl, a sophomore. That combo isn't as unfamiliar as it may seem since they are roommates and play together on the penalty kill.
"We all trust each other. We all know our strengths and our weaknesses," Wolff said. "One big thing is communication. We have to talk to each other. That comes with trust, too. It was odd playing that Friday night game without Scott and with changed-up 'D' pairings, but we trusted each other and prevailed."
The unrelated sophomore Andersons were paired together Friday, while Samberg drew freshman defenseman Hunter Lellig, who has appeared in 17 games this year - 14 as the 19th skater.
Samberg said his approach to the game didn't change being lined up next to the inexperienced Lellig. It helped that Lellig was as conditioned as any player who had been playing regular shifts all season.
"It's coming down to the end of the season now. Games get a lot harder now, everyone is more conditioned," Samberg said. "I felt like he fit in there really well."
Who's coming to Duluth next week?
When the Bulldogs return to Duluth next week to host a best-of-three NCHC quarterfinal series at Amsoil Arena, they'll do so as either the No. 2 or No. 3 seed in the conference tournament.
UMD can finish no higher than second and no lower than third. If the Bulldogs maintain their hold on second, they host either Miami (for the second time in three weeks) or Nebraska-Omaha. The RedHawks and Mavericks are tied for last in the league and neither can finish higher than seventh.
The only team that can catch the second-place Bulldogs is Denver. The Pioneers are four points back going into their home-and-home series against Colorado College, but UMD holds the tiebreaker against the Pioneers via total conference wins.
Should Denver get five more league points than UMD this weekend, then the Bulldogs would host Colorado College, which is locked into sixth.
UMD captain Parker Mackay said the team wants to finish second, though it has little to do with next week's opponent. It's all about being the higher seed and being the "home" team on neutral ice at the upcoming NCHC Frozen Faceoff at Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul. That last change is important, the senior wing said.
"I wouldn't necessarily say it doesn't matter who we are facing, it does, but having that home-ice advantage is an advantage," Mackay said. "(Sandelin) gets to choose who were are matching up against and things like that. Those little things are always important.
"We want to finish as high as we possibly can. It keeps the confidence going."
In addition to locking up that No. 2 seed in the NCHC this weekend, Mackay said the Bulldogs are chasing one of the four No. 1 seeds in the NCAA tournament for the same reason, to be the "home" team on neutral ice. The Bulldogs are third in the Pairwise rankings and, if the NCAA tournament field was announced today, UMD is projected to be the top seed in the Midwest Regional in Allendale, Pa. The Huskies are projected to be the top seed in the West Regional in Fargo, N.D.
• The location of three NCHC quarterfinal series already has been determined - St. Cloud, Denver and Duluth - but the fourth is still up for grabs between Western Michigan and North Dakota. The fourth-place Broncos lead the fifth-place Fighting Hawks by four points and hold the tiebreaker having won three of four regular-season series. The Broncos are at Miami while North Dakota hosts Omaha. North Dakota hasn't gone on the road for a first-round conference playoff series since 2002.