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UMD men's hockey: Jacques, linemates finding offensive touch as NCHC play resumes

However, the rest of the Bulldogs are struggling offensively, most notably the power play. It could have provided a boost New Year's Day against Minnesota State, but didn't.

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Minnesota Duluth forward Jesse Jacques (18) controls the puck against North Dakota on Friday, Nov. 19, 2021, at Ralph Engelstad Arena in Grand Forks, North Dakota.
Clint Austin / File / Duluth News Tribune

Like most coaches, Minnesota Duluth’s Scott Sandelin has a number of coaching clichés he likes to pull out here and there to describe his team or a situation.

Then there’s the coach speak he wishes he could bury, like the phrase he had to dig out on New Year’s Day following the home loss to Minnesota State at Amsoil Arena.

“We’re a team where we can’t have any passengers,” Sandelin said. “We got to have everyone going.”

That wasn’t the first time Sandelin turned to the “passenger” analogy this season to describe those who he felt were not fully engaged in a game. In fact, it’s not the first time he’s used it over the Bulldogs' last six games — which have produced just one win and five defeats.

Currently fourth in the NCHC standings , the Bulldogs will resume conference play this month. They hope that’s against Miami at 7:07 p.m. Friday and Saturday at Amsoil Arena in Duluth after last week’s trip to St. Cloud State was postponed due to COVID-19 protocols at UMD.

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Once they are cleared from quarantine, the Bulldogs will need everyone as engaged as ever if they want to host an NCHC quarterfinal series in March, and not hit the road for the first time in seven seasons.

“If we’re going to be more successful moving forward, we got to have more out of some players,” Sandelin said on Jan. 1 following a pair of losses to No. 1 Minnesota State. “Now there's some guys that I thought had two good games for us, the way we need to play, but we didn't have enough, certainly tonight.”

Among the players that had two good games was a line that struggled to start the season. That’s the Bulldogs veteran forward trio of Kobe Roth, Jesse Jacques and Koby Bender.

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North Dakota forward Jake Schmaltz (8) and Minnesota Duluth forwards Kobe Roth (10) and Koby Bender (11) compete for the puck on Saturday, Nov. 20, 2021, at Ralph Engelstad Arena in Grand Forks, North Dakota.
Clint Austin / File / Duluth News Tribune

After combining for seven goals in the first 14 games of the 2021-22 season, the three seniors have paced a struggling Bulldogs scoring offense the last six games, combining for six goals.

Three goals have come from Jacques, the true-senior center out of Hermantown, who picked up the lone goal for UMD on Dec. 30 to force overtime against the Mavericks in Mankato. It was just his fifth goal of the season, but third in two games.

“It’s good for the self confidence, for sure,” Jacques said on Dec. 30. “Hopefully the snowball effect keeps going on, but at the end of the day, it’s a team game. We’re just trying to win on the scoreboard.”

Jacques, who has five goals for five points this season, scored two goals in the Bulldogs’ most recent win on Dec. 11 against Denver. That snapped a 13-game scoreless streak for him.

Roth, with five goals and seven assists this year, has two goals in UMD’s last six games. They both came against Denver on Dec. 11. Bender, with three goals and seven assists this season, has a goal and an assist in the last six games.

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In an attempt to get that line going offensively, Sandelin has tinkered with it at times, swapping out Jacques for freshmen center Carter Loney, at one point. He also tried senior Tanner Laderoute at right wing instead of Bender.

Sandelin said the Roth-Jacques-Bender line needs to be a strong line for UMD with its two fifth-year seniors in Roth and Bender, and then another veteran in Jacques. If they can score a goal a game or more, that will be good for the Bulldogs, Sandelin said.

“We need that line. If that line is good, we’re a better hockey team,” Sandelin said. “Whether it’s Jesse scoring or Kobe or Koby, they got to be guys we count on — that’s not just offensively, but all 200 feet of the rink.”

Breaking down the rest of the Bulldogs offense

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Minnesota Duluth forward Casey Gilling (37) shoots the puck on goal against Minnesota State goaltender Dryden McKay (29) on Thursday Dec., 30, 2021, at Mayo Clinic Health System Event Center in Mankato.
Clint Austin / File / Duluth News Tribune

While the Roth-Jacques-Bender line — listed second on the nightly line chart — has been finding the back of the net more, other lines and units for the Bulldogs have seen a dip in their offensive production.

The top line of senior wing and captain Noah Cates, fifth-year senior transfer Casey Gilling and Laderoute have combined for three goals in the last six games. Cates, who has been invited to play for the U.S. Olympic Men’s Hockey Team at the 2022 Olympics in February in Beijing , has a goal and two assists in the last six games. The same goes for Gilling, though he’s leading the team in the faceoff circle, winning 51.3% (60-57) of his draws.

Laderoute, who posted four goals at the start of NCHC play in November at Western Michigan, now has a goal and assist in his last 12 games.

Opposing teams have also found a way to slow down what was UMD’s most explosive line offensively to start the season. Junior wing Quinn Olson, freshman center Dominic James and sophomore wing Blake Biondi have a goal and two assists in the last five games after combining for two goals and four assists on Dec. 3 at Northern Michigan. In the last five games, Biondi has a goal and an assist, Olson has an assist and James hasn’t been credited with a point.

Loney has the only goal from the committee of fourth liners over the last six games, while the Bulldogs defensemen have chipped in nine assists — but no goals — in that same span. Overall, UMD has gotten just three goals all year from the blue line.

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Minnesota Duluth forward Noah Cates (21) shoots the puck on goal against Minnesota State goaltender Dryden McKay (29) on Thursday Dec., 30, 2021, at Mayo Health System Event Center in Mankato.
Clint Austin / File / Duluth News Tribune

The power play is also struggling, though that has been the case for most of the season. UMD is 10-for-65 (15.4%) on the man advantage this year, 4-for-33 (12.1%) in the last 11 games and 2-for-16 (12.5%) over the last six contests.

Down 2-0 to Minnesota State on New Year’s Day after two periods, UMD had 1:45 of a power play carrying over to start the third period, and another advantage late in the period. UMD came up empty on both, and was held to just two shots on goal during the 3:45 with an extra man.

When your team is struggling to score and down in a game, “that’s where power plays come in,” Sandelin said.

“When you have the power play, you have to take advantage of that,” Sandelin said. “We had two opportunities to at least get some momentum and we didn’t do that. Then you have to go back to 5-on-5. Maybe we score a power play goal, maybe we get a little life.”

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