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No. 1 UMD looks to regain top form in men's hockey

Was that just a bump in the road, one stop in a six-month, 40-game season? Minnesota Duluth believes so. The Bulldogs say they've put last weekend behind them -- a tie and loss at home to Michigan Tech -- and are looking to regain the form that's...

UMD hockey
Minnesota Duluth goaltender Alex Stalock (32) pushes Michigan Tech?s Alex Macleod to the ice while the Bulldogs? Evan Oberg (4) and Trent Palm (54) turn their attention to Brett Olson (16) on Friday at the DECC. Stalock was called for roughing while Macleod was called for goaltender interference. [Derek Montgomery / dmontgomery@duluthnews.com]

Was that just a bump in the road, one stop in a six-month, 40-game season?

Minnesota Duluth believes so.

The Bulldogs say they've put last weekend behind them -- a tie and loss at home to Michigan Tech -- and are looking to regain the form that's placed them No. 1 in Division I men's hockey the past eight weeks.

UMD (17-5-4) takes the first step today, opening a Western Collegiate Hockey Association series at Alaska Anchorage (6-16-2) at 10:07 p.m. at Sullivan Arena.

"Last week, when things weren't going right, we started making things more complex than need be. We tried so hard in some cases that it was working against us," said junior defenseman Wade Bergman. "Other times we lacked a sense of urgency and didn't have that extra gear.

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"What we realized was that nothing is going to be handed to you, especially down the stretch in our league. You have to work for every little thing you get."

The Bulldogs, the top-scoring team in Division I, scored four times in the first period of the first game against Michigan Tech and then went without a goal the final 109 minutes and 47 seconds of the series, tying 4-4 in overtime and losing 5-0. They were outshot 71-66. They were 0-of-6 on power plays, putting their streak at 0-for-21. Top scorer Jack Connolly was shut out in consecutive games for just the second time in the last three seasons.

UMD is 2-2-1 following a school-record 17-game unbeaten streak of 14-0-3.

"During our streak it seemed everything was going our way, and the last few games we've struggled a little bit," said senior center Travis Oleksuk. "We haven't been as strong defensively and we haven't been finishing around the net like we had been. Credit the other teams for part of that.

"What we talked about this week is: Where do we want to go from here? We have to pick things up and keep going."

UMD is still No. 1 in the PairWise Rankings, which mimic the NCAA tournament selection process.

In WCHA play, UMD is first in scoring (3.89 goals a game) and second in defense (2.56).

However, UMD's power play is 10th among 12 teams in league play and its penalty killing ninth.

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Coach Scott Sandelin identified four areas needing improvement as UMD faces the final 10 games of the regular season: competitive level; execution and play-making; defensive play, especially around UMD's net; and special teams.

"It was evident to anyone at last weekend's games that in the last four periods Michigan Tech beat us in every facet of the game," said Sandelin. "It was a humbling reality for all of us and I don't know how it couldn't get the attention of our team. Practice has been good this week and if we play the way we've practiced, we'll be better."

Sandelin reworked his forward lines before last Saturday's loss and tweaked them again this week. The Bulldogs had gone the previous 16 games with basically the same lineup.

With first-place Minnesota off this week, second-place UMD has a chance to cut into a five-point lead held by the Gophers.

Anchorage is last in the WCHA and has lost seven straight games, its worst streak since ending 2005-06 with 10 straight defeats. On Nov. 11-12 at Amsoil Arena, UMD swept Anchorage 5-0 and 3-1.

UMD is 8-1-3 on the road and Anchorage 2-7-1 at home.

Related Topics: HOCKEY
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