Thumbs Up, Thumbs Down, Three Stars: Bulldogs off to strong NCHC start after tough road trips
UMD men's hockey went into Western Michigan's Lawson Ice Arena and North Dakota's Ralph Engelstad Arena and came away with points, something others have struggled to do early on this season.
Minnesota Duluth’s men’s and women’s hockey teams both took bus trips west on U.S. Highway 2 over the weekend.
The Bulldogs women traveled to Bemidji State and returned with six WCHA points after beating the Beavers 9-0 on Friday and 4-1 on Saturday to sweep the series.
UMD’s men’s squad made the trek all the way to Grand Forks to play North Dakota, and returned with three NCHC points following a 4-1 win on Friday and 2-1 loss on Saturday to the Fighting Hawks at Ralph Engelstad Arena.
Here’s a look back at last weekend’s Bulldogs hockey action via the Thumbs Up, Thumbs Down and Three Stars by hockey reporter Matt Wellens.
Thumbs up to UMD men getting points at Lawson, The Ralph
The Bulldogs men opened up this season’s NCHC slate with trips to the two arenas that are considered the toughest road destinations in the league — Western Michigan’s Lawson Ice Arena and North Dakota’s Ralph Engelstad Arena — and both trips came in the first three weeks of NCHC play.
The Bulldogs emerged with splits at both Lawson and The Ralph, however, the perception of those splits on Saturday night can differ based on the order of the results. Even though both weekends resulted in three points in the NCHC standings, UMD felt better about the result at Western — a 4-3 loss Friday, followed by a 3-0 win Saturday — than it did about the outcome at North Dakota.
Senior wing and captain Noah Cates explains why.
“Losing Friday at Western, having that bounce-back game was huge for us,” Cates said after Saturday’s game in Grand Forks. “Having the opportunity to sweep here, it kind of hurts a little bit.”
“Stings” was the word sophomore winger Blake Biondi used Saturday at The Ralph, and it’s easy to understand why. A win would have not only given the Bulldogs a sweep in Grand Forks, but put them first in the NCHC.
Instead UMD sits third in the league, a point behind second-place Denver and four back of the first-place Fighting Hawks. But that’s not a bad position to be in after three weeks of NCHC play, especially after traveling to The Ralph — where the Pioneers picked up no points Nov. 5-6 — and Lawson — where St. Cloud State was swept last weekend.
UMD still has NCHC road trips to St. Cloud State, Omaha, Denver and Miami coming in the second half, while Western, UND and SCSU all have to visit Amsoil Arena late in the season.
The last time the Bulldogs played a full conference slate at home back in 2019-20, they went 9-1-2 and took 29 of a possible 36 league points at home.
“We feel good, we feel like a top team. It's just so tough to beat anyone in their own barn,” Cates said. “We know how hard it is, how strong you have to be and how fine the line is to winning and losing these games.”
Thumbs down to UMD men’s Saturday offensive struggles
For the second Saturday in a row, the UMD men struggled to break through offensively and it resulted in missed NCHC points.
Two weeks ago, the Bulldogs tied Colorado College 0-0 at Amsoil Arena, failing to get any of their 30 shots through. The only puck to find the back of the net on Nov. 13 was a shootout goal by Cates, which gave UMD a shootout win and two points.
On Saturday in Grand Forks, UMD was held to a single goal on 23 shots on goal. That score came from Biondi 34 minutes, 51 seconds into the game and wasn’t enough to beat North Dakota.
The Bulldogs currently boast the best team defense in the NCHC, giving up on average just 1.75 goals per game through 12 games. They’re surrendering 1.17 goals per game in league play. That means UMD doesn’t need much to pick up wins.
Offensively, the Bulldogs are averaging 2.75 goals per game overall and 2.67 in league play. With junior goaltender Ryan Fanti sporting a .944 save percentage and 1.40 goals against average overall — .955 and 1.16 in NCHC play — hitting that average of 2-3 goals a night is really all this UMD offense needs to do at the moment to pick up league points.
“It’s always a little tougher on Saturday, you maybe have a second less to make a play,” Cates said. “Credit to (North Dakota), they did a good job taking away lanes and closing on us quickly so we can’t make those plays or get those shots. We just have to break through, whether it’s getting the puck to the net quickly or getting more sticks and bodies to the net. Just to break through on Saturday’s, it’s always tougher.”
Thumbs up to diversity of UMD women’s scoring
The 13 goals the Bulldogs put up in their sweep at the Sanford Center in Bemidji over the weekend came from a total of 10 different goal scorers.
Anna Klein, Naomi Rogge and McKenzie Hewett finished with two goals each while the other goals came from Gabbie Hughes, Kylie Hanley, Kailee Skinner, Anneke Linser, Clara Van Wieren, Mannon McMahon and Taylor Anderson.
Hewett, Skinner and Linser all came into the weekend with no goals while Anderson and McMahon had just one each.
Early on this season, almost all of the Bulldogs’ scoring was coming from their top line of Klein, Hughes and fifth-year senior Elizabeth Giguere . Now the Bulldogs have five players with double-digit points and four with five or more goals through 10 games .
“It was well spread out, which is exactly what we want,” UMD coach Maura Crowell said after Friday’s win. “That speaks to the depth that we’ve talked a lot about this season.”
3. St. Louis Blues defenseman Scott Perunovich — The Hibbing native and 2020 Hobey Baker Memorial Award winner out of Minnesota Duluth made his NHL debut with the Blues on Nov. 16 and in his second game on Nov. 18, picked up his first NHL point by assisting on St. Louis’ second goal of a 4-1 win. Just as he did so often at UMD, Perunovich took the puck from behind his own net, carried it deep into the offensive zone and drew two defenders his way below the red line. He then slipped a pass between said two defenders to an open Pavel Buchnevich, who easily set up Robert Thomas on the redirect.
2. UMD fifth-year senior center Casey Gilling — The transfer out of Miami had two big goals for the Bulldogs in Friday’s 4-1 win at North Dakota, tying the game at 1-1 midway through the first period and extending the lead to 3-1 in the second period. Gilling also led the Bulldogs with four shots on goal Saturday.
1. UMD fifth-year senior wing Elizabeth Giguere — The former Clarkson Golden Knight and 2020 Patty Kazmaier Memorial Award winner who transferred to the Bulldogs this offseason had five assists at Bemidji State. At 251 career points, she’s the 10th player to total 250 or more points in NCAA history.
Both Bulldogs squads are in action over the Thanksgiving holiday weekend, playing nonconference games.
The UMD women are taking part in the D1 in D.C. Tournament at the MedStar Capitals Iceplex — the practice arena for the NHL’s Washington Capitals — in Arlington, Virginia, taking on Penn State at 3 p.m. Friday and St. Lawrence at 1:30 p.m. Saturday. Ohio State is also taking part in the showcase.
The Bulldogs men will host Alaska in a nonconference series at Amsoil Arena with puck drop scheduled for 7:07 p.m. Friday and 6:07 p.m. Saturday.