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College men's hockey: Sandelin shakes up UMD lines in hopes of more offense

Clint Austin / Minnesota Duluth forward Riley Tufte (27) competes with St. Cloud State's Blake Lizotte (27) and Jimmy Schuldt (22) for the puck during Friday's game at Amsoil Arena. 1 / 2
Clint Austin / St. Cloud State defenseman Brendan Bushy (18) pushes his stick though the legs of Minnesota Duluth forward Peter Krieger (25) during Saturday's game at Amsoil Arena. Despite changes on some of UMD's forward lines, Krieger still centered the top line against the Huskies.2 / 2

Back with the Bulldogs after serving as an assistant coach for Team USA at the World Junior Championship, Minnesota Duluth head coach Scott Sandelin decided to shuffle his forward line combinations this past weekend.

To do so, the coach had to break up what were some pretty strong trios during the first half. His moves proved mostly positive as UMD split its NCHC series with top-ranked and league-leading St. Cloud State, winning 3-1 on Friday and losing 4-2 on Saturday.

Freshman wing Noah Cates — who also was making his return from the World Juniors — went from playing on an all-freshmen third line with his older brother, center Jackson Cates, and wing Tanner Laderoute to playing on the top line with senior center Peter Krieger and sophomore wing Nick Swaney.

Freshman wing Cole Koepke took Noah Cates' place on the third line while junior wing Riley Tufte took Koepke's spot on the second line alongside sophomore center Justin Richards and senior wing Parker Mackay.

Asked why he decided to make the moves, Sandelin said it was time to change things up.

"I wanted to make some changes and see," Sandelin said after Friday's win. "We need to get some guys going right now."

Sandelin said he was pleased with his top two lines both nights as both had success offensively.

Noah Cates, Krieger and Swaney all finished the weekend with a plus-minus rating of plus-2 as Noah Cates scored his fifth goal of the year and Swaney tallied his sixth on Friday.

Tufte, Richards and Mackay finished even after combining for three goals. Richards netted his sixth goal Friday and seventh goal the next night to take over the team lead in points at 19. He's one back of Mackay for the team high in goals.

Tufte had the line's third goal, scoring his fifth of the season Saturday. It was his first even-strength goal of 2018-19 after getting the previous four on power plays.

Koepke, Richards and Mackay (combined 12 goals) were the Bulldogs' most productive line in the first 14 games of the season before the injury bug and World Juniors forced a non-voluntary shuffling of the deck.

That kind of offensive output should continue, if not increase, with Tufte, Richards said. Richards said Koepke and Tufte are similar players. They're big, physical and have heavy shots.

That all helped make the transition easy this week in practice and in games. Richards said he and Mackay should be able to help Tufte — who had 16 goals a year ago — get going offensively in the second half.

"We can make plays in small areas and get him the puck," Richards said Saturday. "He has a heavy shot. You saw it tonight. We definitely jell well together and play well together."

Postseason peek

If the regular season ended today, both the UMD men and women would be hosting conference playoff series, but only one is in a position to earn an at-large berth to the NCAA tournament.

The men — with 14 regular-season games left, all in conference — sit fourth in the NCHC and would host fifth-place North Dakota in a best-of-three first-round series.

Meanwhile in the NCAA tournament picture, the men would be one of the four No. 1 seeds as they sit fourth in the Pairwise rankings behind St. Cloud State and Denver (tied for second) and Massachusetts. UMD's likely landing place would be the Northeast Regional in Manchester, N.H.

As for the UMD women — who have 12 games left in the regular season — they would be the No. 4 seed in the WCHA playoffs and host Bemidji State in a best-of-three series. The Bulldogs split with the Beavers over the weekend in Bemidji, losing 4-1 on Friday and winning 5-2 on Saturday.

The UMD women are tied for 12th in the Pairwise, about six spots out of a possible at-large spot.

Up next

The UMD men hit the road to face Miami in NCHC play at 6:35 p.m. Friday and 6:05 p.m. Saturday in Oxford, Ohio.

The women are home hosting Ohio State in WCHA play at 7:07 p.m. Friday and 4:07 p.m. Saturday at Amsoil Arena. Saturday's game is on Fox Sports North Plus as part of the network's Hockey Day Minnesota coverage.

Matt Wellens

College hockey reporter for the Duluth News Tribune covering the Minnesota Duluth Bulldogs men's and women's teams, as well as the NCAA Division III programs at St. Scholastica and Wisconsin-Superior.

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