College men's hockey: Toninato boosting Bulldogs with more than just goals this season as captain
When Minnesota Duluth senior center Dominic Toninato jumped off the bench and onto the ice early in the first period a week ago at St. Cloud State, he screamed to linemate Joey Anderson for the puck prior to burying it into the back of the net fo...
When Minnesota Duluth senior center Dominic Toninato jumped off the bench and onto the ice early in the first period a week ago at St. Cloud State, he screamed to linemate Joey Anderson for the puck prior to burying it into the back of the net for his first goal of the season.
He wasn’t the only one screaming for a goal at that moment.
For six weeks, fans and followers of the unanimous No. 1-ranked Bulldogs were wondering what was wrong with Toninato, the team’s top returning goal-scorer from a year ago. Through eight regular-season games, all he had recorded offensively was a measly three assists.
The truth is there’s been nothing wrong with Toninato this season - a statement that No. 19’s teammates and coaches will back up feverishly. They’ll tell you the former Duluth East Greyhound has been nothing but stellar this season, even before their captain got off the schnide with two goals and two assists last week in a sweep of the Huskies.
The Bulldogs (7-1-2 overall, 4-0 NCHC) had to come from behind in both wins and, according to Anderson, a freshman wing, UMD doesn’t rally without Toninato leading the way on the bench.
“People that know the game, they can see what he’s contributing on the ice,” Anderson said Wednesday ahead of his team’s 7:07 p.m. NCHC games this weekend against Western Michigan (5-2-1, 2-2) at Amsoil Arena. “He contributes in many ways and I think the biggest way, honestly, is in the locker room with his leadership. He keeps the guys up and at it. He makes sure no one is down. That’s honestly a big reason why we came back in these games is because of stuff like that. That’s something most people don’t see or won’t know he’ll get credit for.”
Anderson credited Toninato for making the rookie wing much more comfortable in the Bulldogs’ system the past several weeks. Anderson hopped on Toninato and Alex Iafallo’s line just before the start of NCHC play and over the last four games has posted three goals and three assists.
Toninato, Iafallo and Anderson have scored a combined nine goals in the first four NCHC games and Toninato’s skills are a big reason why, Anderson said.
“He wins puck battles all over the rink. He’s in the right spots all the time,” Anderson said. “He’s very smart and his ability to make plays when he does get the puck allows me to maybe break for space somewhere to try and get open. We read off each other well. His skating and size are great. He’s able to do a lot with the puck that helps set up space for me and Iafallo.”
Toninato elected to return to Duluth for his senior season at UMD rather than sign this spring with the team that drafted him in 2012, the Toronto Maple Leafs.
Toninato, with two goals and five assists in 10 games this year, scored at least 15 goals the past two seasons. He started quickly those years, posting two goals in the first three games as a junior and five goals in the first four games of his sophomore year. It took him six games to score his freshman year.
Toninato is playing at a much-higher level and a more consistent level than ever before, according to Bulldogs coach Scott Sandelin. Prior to this year, the coach said he’d only seen that in bits and pieces from Toninato.
Toninato is plus-9 on the season, which ties him with North Dakota junior defenseman Tucker Poolman for the best plus-minus rating in the NCHC. He was plus-5 in the sweep at St. Cloud State and plus-7 over the last four games.
His lone negative night was minus-1 in the 4-3 come-from-behind win over Michigan Tech on opening weekend.
“He’s been good,” Sandelin said. “He came back for a reason. He wanted to have a good year. He wanted to be a good leader. He wanted to help this team accomplish some things and I think after the first month he’s done a great job with that.”
Toninato said it's important for him to do the little things right this season - getting on the scoresheet is a bonus - like winning battles along the boards or playing strong defensively. He does have nine blocked shots, with three coming in a 1-1 tie on Oct. 8 at Massachusetts-Lowell.
But what’s really important to Toninato this season is winning, he said. So far he’s helped his team accomplish that with a perfect start in NCHC play and a six-point lead over second-place Denver and Western Michigan going into this weekend.
“It’s a good start so far,” Toninato said. “Obviously we’ve got a lot of work to do. We got to keep getting better every day. We got another big challenge with Western coming in this weekend.”
UMD and Minnesota announced an agreement Thursday to play four home-and-home series over a five-season span in men’s hockey starting with the 2018-19 season and ending in 2022-23. The Bulldogs and Gophers have played every season since 1961-62. They’ll meet this year in the first round of what is likely the fourth and final North Star College Cup at Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul and again at the 2017 Ice Breaker Tournament in October at Amsoil Arena.
Western Michigan (5-2-1) at UMD (7-1-2)
What: NCHC series
When: 7:07 p.m. Friday and Saturday
Where: Amsoil Arena
Radio: WWAX-FM 92.1
Internet: http://921thefan.com (audio); http://nchc.tv (video)