Thumbs up, thumbs down, three stars: Bulldogs top lines bury Tigers to complete series sweep
Top-ranked Minnesota Duluth extended its winning streak to eight games on Saturday by finishing off an NCHC series sweep of Colorado College, winning 5-1 before a crowd of 5,903 at Amsoil Arena in Duluth.
Junior wing Riley Tufte had a goal and two assists, sophomore wing Nick Swaney had two goals while senior captain Parker Mackay and sophomore center Justin Richards each had a goal and an assist.
Bulldogs coach Scott Sandelin said he had no complaints about Saturday's win, so neither does News Tribune college hockey writer Matt Wellens. Let's just start calling this recap what it is: Thumbs up, thumbs up, three stars.
Thumbs up to the goals UMD's top lines poured in
Of the Bulldogs eight goals this weekend in the 3-0 win on Friday and 5-1 win on Saturday, all eight came with the Bulldogs top two forward lines on the ice.
Riley Tufte, Peter Krieger and Nick Swaney's finished with four goals on the weekend (they set up Nick Wolff's score Friday), including three on Saturday. Cole Koepke, Justin Richards and Parker Mackay also had four goals — two each night.
Both lines came into the weekend with a combined six goals each. Meanwhile, the freshmen line of Noah Cates, Jackson Cates and Tanner Laderoute had nine goals between them.
It's great to see a freshmen line do so well early, and Laderoute and the Cates brothers' line is an absolute delight to watch when they get on the ice. It's a trio that every Bulldogs fan should get excited about.
But when it comes crunch time, you need your veterans to put the puck in the net, as last year's championship team showed with seniors Karson Kuhlman and Jared Thomas stepping up big over the final few weeks.
This weekend, UMD saw a pair of sophomores in Swaney and Richards both score two goals, but so did the captain, Mackay. Tufte got his fourth goal of the season as well. Krieger had two assists.
This was a real positive offensive weekend for UMD, going into a series next week against a team it has struggled to score on at times — Denver.
"In this league you need everybody to help," Sandelin said. "That's how this team is built. It might be some guys one night and other guys another night. Tonight, we got some balanced scoring, we got the power play goal, we played good defensively. (Goaltender Hunter Shepard) wasn't as busy tonight, which is good. It was a much better effort."
Thumbs up to the Bulldogs' puck possession
You may have read in the News Tribune that a much improved Colorado College team was coming to Duluth this weekend to challenge the No. 1-ranked Bulldogs.
And after this weekend, you're probably asking yourself, "What was the hack that wrote this thinking when this story was published?"
I stand by what I wrote earlier this week, and even more so now after seeing Colorado College play in person (my previous experience was only through NCHC.tv). This is a much deeper team than past seasons with many more offensive weapons than before.
The problem this weekend for the Tigers was they rarely had the puck long enough to show off their newfound depth and skill. And it was no fault of their own for the lack of puck possession. It was all UMD. The Bulldogs are just so good right now at making five guys look like seven or eight on the ice. If UMD keeps this up, an accidental too-many-players-on-the-ice call will come.
"We had the puck a lot, that's a good way to defend," Sandelin said. "It's a good way to play. Hopefully we can continue to build off that."
The Bulldogs have put on a clinic in puck possession the last few weeks, outshooting teams in six of the last eight games, often times by wide margins.
Shot charts are the best tool we have in college to judge puck possession since there isn't anyone up in the press box timing puck possession with a stopwatch.
This weekend against CC at Amsoil, UMD held a 59-47 advantage in shot attempts on Friday. When you break that down to shots on goal, the advantage was 37-19 UMD. On Saturday, the shot attempt margin ballooned to 77-31 in favor of UMD. Shots on goal were 38-16 Bulldogs.
Honestly, it can be amazing, yet boring at times watching this Bulldogs team. You're amazed at how easy it can look for UMD to skate around the ice and maintain possession like it does, but you also find your body locked in on one end of the ice, wondering if you'll ever turn the other way again in a period.
I'd like to tell you that things will heat up before Christmas with UMD playing Denver, North Dakota and Western Michigan. Games between those three are typically physical and feature some fun up-and-down action.
But I've also been wrong before, as this week showed. If UMD doesn't let the Pioneers, Fighting Hawks or Broncos touch the puck, then we'll be in a for a few more 3-0 and 5-1 games like we saw this weekend.
I'm guessing Bulldogs fans will be just fine with that.
Matt's Three Stars
3. Bulldogs sophomore center Justin Richards/Bulldogs senior wing Parker Mackay: I'm making Richards share the third star again. I promise I won't make this a habit like the double thumbs up has become. Both finished with a goal and an assist Saturday, setting each other up on the goals.
2. Bulldogs junior wing Riley Tufte: A goal and two assists for the Dallas Stars first round draft pick on Saturday. His goal — a top-shelf power play one-timer — was the prettiest of the night, as was his pass around the block attempt of a sprawled out Tiger to set up Nick Swaney.
1. Bulldogs sophomore wing Nick Swaney: Two goals for Swaney tonight with his second via the Tufte pass being a key goal as the Tigers had cut the margin to two in the second period with a power play goal just minutes earlier.