College men's hockey: Debut goals hard to forget for Bulldogs
Minnesota Duluth seniors Alex Iafallo and Dominic Toninato have scored plenty of goals in three-plus college men's hockey seasons with the Bulldogs. Toninato has 38 goals in 111 career games and Iafallo has 28 in 112 career games.But both players...
Minnesota Duluth seniors Alex Iafallo and Dominic Toninato have scored plenty of goals in three-plus college men’s hockey seasons with the Bulldogs. Toninato has 38 goals in 111 career games and Iafallo has 28 in 112 career games.
But both players vividly remember their first.
“It was versus Notre Dame. It was here (Duluth), which was awesome, right in front of the student section, too,” Toninato said. “It was just a loose puck. I got about three whacks at it and luckily it went in.
“I had a couple chances the weekend before that and they weren’t going in, so it was nice to finally get that first one.”
Three Bulldogs tallied their first collegiate goals last weekend in the sweep of Michigan Tech at Amsoil Arena, allowing them to all pack a little lighter and leave the monkey on their back behind for this week’s flight east to play Massachusetts-Lowell at 6:15 p.m. today and 6 p.m. Saturday at the Tsongas Center in Lowell, Mass.
Junior wing Blake Young and freshman wing Jade Miller picked up their first goals in Saturday’s 6-0 win, and sophomore wing Billy Exell netted his first in Sunday’s 4-3 victory.
Young went 31 games without a goal his first two seasons at UMD, which is the exact opposite of his experience in juniors. Young scored his first Saskatchewan Junior Hockey League goal before he was officially junior eligible. He was called up from his Midget squad for just the one game, and put a puck in the back of the net.
Young scored his first collegiate goal by taking a pass from Exell right down the middle of the ice. He split a pair of Huskies and fired the puck from the top of the faceoff circles past Tech goalie Matt Wintjes to make it 2-0.
“Seeing guys get them year after year, you know it’s coming, you just have to wait your turn. It felt good to finally get that,” Young said. “It’s a little bit of a battle, but the team had a lot of success so that kind of overshadowed it a bit. If the team is doing good, you don’t miss personal stats much.”
Because of players like Young who had to wait, Miller knows he’s fortunate to have scored in his first college game Saturday. It even took Iafallo and Toninato several games to tally their first NCAA goals in 2013-14.
Miller had to wait a few months into his first season with the Austin Bruins of the North American Hockey League before finally finding the back of the net.
His goal Saturday came early in the third period to give UMD a 6-0 lead, and Miller said the most nerve-wracking part of the play was making sure he kept up with linemates Joey Anderson and Jared Thomas on the rush. The trio caught the Huskies off guard in transition, and then focused on Thomas, who had the puck, while Miller skated unmarked for an easy goal.
“They said I’m lucky to get the monkey off my back, but I’m not even sure if there was a monkey on my back to begin with (since) it happened so quick,” Miller said. “I was just a beneficiary of Joey making a nice stick-on-puck play and Tommy following it up and putting the puck on my tape. I had a big empty net to put it in. The net wasn’t as big as I thought it was going be. A little nerve-wracking, but it was an awesome feeling.”
First goals are hard to forget, but Exell’s will be etched in his mind a little deeper than others because of the magnitude.
Exell, who played in just six games as a freshman, tied the game at 3-3 with 8:25 remaining in regulation by finishing the initial chances by senior defenseman Brenden Kotyk and Young. Like Miller, the Huskies lost track of Exell and he was able to sneak in the back door.
“I saw Kotyk got that shot on net there and it kind of bounced in front,” Exell said. “All I wanted to do was battle for it and I ended up whacking it in. I think I was the first one to see it in the back of the net there. Nobody else realized it.
“Pretty exciting moment, tying the game.”
Bulldogs coach Scott Sandelin said after Sunday’s game he gave Exell credit for scoring late in the game.
Exell, like Young and Miller, didn’t play on the Bulldogs’ power play last weekend, so they were left sitting on the bench for extended periods of time in a series that saw UMD on the man-advantage for a total of 23 minutes, 46 seconds, thanks to a pair of major penalties on the Huskies.
“Hopefully those guys get confidence from it,” Sandelin said. “It was nice to see a lot of different guys score. We’re going to need that to continue to win games.”
Asked what was so memorable about their first college goal, all three players mentioned the celebration afterward.
That’s also what stood out to Iafallo when he scored his first, and when senior wing Kyle Osterberg did likewise that same night in Colorado Springs, Colo.
“We played really well against (Colorado College), too,” Iafallo said. “Just getting all the positive feedback from the seniors (stood out). That’s what we’re trying to do. Just back when I got my goal, (Justin) Crandall was always positive to me. We’ve been trying to do that through the first couple weeks here.”
College men’s hockey
UMD (2-0) AT UMASS-LOWELL (0-0)
What: Nonconference series
When: 6:15 p.m. today/6 p.m. Saturday
Where: Tsongas Center, Lowell, Mass.
Radio: WWAX-FM 92.1
Internet: 921thefan.com (audio); goriverhawks.tv / (video)