Late in his postgame press conference Saturday following the 6-1 dismantling of St. Cloud State in the regular season finale at Amsoil Arena, Bulldogs coach Scott Sandelin was asked by the News Tribune how he felt about his team heading into the postseason.
“That’s a bad question to ask a coach,” Sandelin responded with a bit of a chuckle. “I was proud of our guys. We've had a pretty good run here since we lost to these guys in January. We won some games in different ways. We've still got to get better. It's the second season and you gotta bear down.”
While the degree to which he does so occasionally changes, Sandelin has been the kind of coach to always push his players to get better. He always has something they can improve on each week in practice.
Even after three national championships — with the last two coming back-to-back — he’s never satisfied. It’s what senior goaltender Hunter Shepard loves about his coach.
“If you don’t have a coach with that mindset or a team with that mindset, you don’t win two championships in a row,” Shepard said.
Nine times out of 10 — with that 10th time being last year’s dominating win over Massachusetts in the NCAA championship game — Sandelin always has something to critique after the game for his team.
On Saturday, he picked apart the second period in his postgame press conference. Despite UMD scoring three goals to take a 5-1 lead into the third period, he said the period was just “OK” and that his team “got a little loose and got a little careless with the puck.” He didn’t like that the Huskies were able to pull back within three 1:41 after UMD jumped ahead 4-0.
Of course, that three-goal margin lasted just 22 seconds as junior wing Koby Bender was able to nab his second goal of the period and night, third of the weekend.
“We've got to eliminate some of the mistakes we're making,” Sandelin said. “But I like the offensive push a little bit here. We need to try to get our power play going. I like where we're at, but you can always get better.
“We’re going to keep pushing guys to get better. It will be nice to be at home next weekend. Hopefully we can have a good start to the weekend on Friday.”
The second-seeded Bulldogs host seventh-seeded Miami in a best-of-three NCHC quarterfinal series Friday through Sunday at Amsoil Arena. Puck drop is scheduled for 7:07 p.m. all three nights.
While UMD is hosting the RedHawks for the third time in five seasons in the NCHC quarterfinals, the two schools met just once earlier this season in Oxford, Ohio. Miami won the first night 3-1 before the Bulldogs rebounded for a 3-2 win the next night. But that was way back in November, just a few weeks into the NCHC season.
“It's kind of like a new opponent,” Sandelin said. “We’ve got to treat it as such and worry about the things we need to do.
“There’s certainly some areas we have got to get better at and I’m going to continue saying that until the end of the year.”
UMD closed the season winning nine of its last 10 games and 10-of-12 since being swept at St. Cloud State.
The RedHawks, who finished last weekend’s series at Western Michigan minus starting goaltender Ryan Larkin, have just two wins in their last 15 games (2-11-2) with both coming two weeks ago at Nebraska-Omaha.
The Bulldogs are back in play for a No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament — which along with other NCAA tournaments will be played without fans in attendance, the NCAA announced Wednesday — moving up to No. 4 overall in the Pairwise after Boston College tied New Hampshire last weekend. UMD and Denver both jumped the Eagles with sweeps.
The Bulldogs, Pioneers and Eagles are separated by 89 ten-thousandths (0.0089) of a point in the RPI (ratings percentage index) and find themselves almost in a .0001 situation this season, though for a No. 1 seed.
Though because Denver went 0-3-1 against UMD, it’s unlikely they’ll jump the Bulldogs before Selection Sunday on March 22.
Here is how the News Tribune projects the bracket, if the season ended today:
1. North Dakota vs. 16. AIC
8. Massachusetts vs. 9. Clarkson
4. Minnesota Duluth vs.13. Arizona State
5. Denver vs. 12. Bemidji State
3. Cornell vs. 14. Michigan
6. Boston College vs. 10. Ohio State
2. Minnesota State vs. 15. Maine
7. Penn State vs. 11. UMass-Lowell
This story was updated at 12:25 p.m. March 12 with announcement that the NCHC had canceled its postseason tournament. It was originally posted at 7:39 p.m. March 11.