UMD goalie's play defines Round 2 vs. Minnesota

The circumstances surrounding the second and third meetings between the Minnesota and Minnesota Duluth men's hockey teams will be much different than the first meeting Oct. 10 in South Bend, Ind.

Minnesota Duluth goaltender Kasimir Kaskisuo has helped the Bulldogs win four of their last five games. (2014 file / News Tribune)

The circumstances surrounding the second and third meetings between the Minnesota and Minnesota Duluth men’s hockey teams will be much different than the first meeting Oct. 10 in South Bend, Ind.
For one, there should be a lot more fans on hand when the top-ranked Gophers (7-1) and No. 13 Bulldogs (6-4) meet in a nonconference series at 7:05 p.m. tonight at Mariucci Arena in Minneapolis and at 7:07 p.m. Saturday at Amsoil Arena. An announced crowd of 2,586 attended the IceBreaker Invitational opener.
“It will be a lot better than the 500 people who were at Notre Dame,” UMD coach Scott Sandelin said with a more accurate assessment of the attendance. “I don’t think either team played great. Certainly we didn’t have a great start, but we finished well. We dug ourselves a hole again, then made it a game.”
The Bulldogs trailed 4-1 after two periods only to score twice in the third period of the 4-3 loss to the Gophers in the first game of the regular season. Both teams had begun official practices in full just six days prior to the game per NCAA rules, meaning fans had more time to stand in line for nachos than the teams had to practice for the game.
It resulted in neither coach being satisfied with his team’s performance. Sandelin’s squad was outshot 11-6 in the first period and outscored 2-0. Don Lucia’s Gophers nearly blew a three-goal lead, but left with a much better attitude having won the game.
“As long as you win, you don’t care if you’re playing in front of 10,000 or 100,” the Gophers coach said. “(The Bulldogs) are a good team. They’ve got good depth. It looks like the Finn has solidified himself as the No. 1 goaltender.”
The Finn, freshman Kasimir Kaskisuo, has established himself as the Bulldogs’ No. 1 goaltender - even if Sandelin isn’t publicly declaring Kaskisuo the top guy - after giving up his first collegiate goal on the first collegiate shot he faced in his first collegiate game when Minnesota senior wing Sam Warning put a backhander past the rookie on a breakaway 30 seconds into the game. Kaskisuo only stopped 18 of the 22 shots he faced that afternoon.
Kaskisuo had a similar experience in his third collegiate start, giving up a goal to Denver 33 seconds into the first game of the series. He went on to finish with 19 saves on 22 shots in a 3-1 loss.
“Whether it’s nerves or whatever going in, we can’t put him in position like that this early in the season,” UMD junior defenseman Andy Welinski said. “Both games where we let in early goals, he stood in strong.
“You have breakdowns every game. It’s just the game of hockey, it’s just how it goes, but to have him making a couple big saves, it changes the game, whether it’s in the first period or third period. When he makes a couple of those big saves, it really gets our team going. It gets everyone else confident and keeps us in hockey games.”
Kaskisuo’s last five starts have been more like his second collegiate start on Oct. 17 at Minnesota State-Mankato where he stopped 36 of 38 shots in a 6-2 win. He’s led the Bulldogs to victory in four of the last five games with a .939 save percentage and 1.99 goals-against average. At St. Cloud State a week ago, the only goals he allowed in both games came with the Bulldogs down a man on the penalty kill. His 27-save effort Saturday earned the rookie the team MVP award, which is a bright red, blue and yellow Superman T-shirt.
It was an appropriate look for Kaskisuo as he walked out the St. Cloud State visiting locker room to speak with the media.
“He definitely deserved it after Saturday night and after Friday night, too,” Bulldogs sophomore defenseman Carson Soucy said. “Lately he’s been huge for us. He made a couple huge saves against St. Cloud late. He saved us the game (Saturday). If he doesn’t make those, it’s a completely different series and we’re in a completely different spot in the standings, too.”
After the win over the Mavericks, Kaskisuo said the big difference between his first and second starts was the size of the crowd. The 5,375 fans in Mankato allowed him to focus better, he said after the game.
The biggest difference now, though, between that first start against the Gophers and his most recent starts is confidence. Like the fans in South Bend, it was technically present, but his confidence has since ballooned with every single start.
“I had confidence that first game, but now it’s at a whole new level. I’m ready and excited to play (the Gophers) again,” Kaskisuo said. “I’ve gotten used to the college game a lot more. I feel more comfortable with it.”
For Kaskisuo, who has displayed all the skill necessary to succeed thus far in his short college career, confidence rids the mind of any doubts, like whether the next shot is going in or not. Confidence allows a goaltender to live in the moment and make unconscious saves, Kaskisuo said, like the behind-the-back glove stop that landed the Finn at No. 3 on the SportsCenter Top 10 on the morning of Nov. 1.
“He’s gained confidence every game there is no question,” Sandelin said. “He’s played tremendous for us. He’s given us a chance when we haven’t started well. He’s made key saves, timely saves, which is what you need out of your goaltender. You watch him play and he’s improved every game. He’s also been consistent, which is another critical component for a goaltender.
“When we’ve needed big saves to maintain a lead, he’s given us those. He’s done his job, there’s no question.”
College men’s hockey

Minn. Duluth (6-4) vs. Minnesota (7-1)

What: Nonconference series
When: 7:05 p.m. today/7:07 p.m. Saturday
Where: Friday at Mariucci Arena, Minneapolis/Saturday at Amsoil Arena, Duluth
TV: FSN Plus on Friday/FSN Plus and FCS on Saturday
Radio: KZIO-FM 94.1/104.3
Twitter: @mattwellens

Co-host of the Bulldog Insider Podcast and college hockey reporter for the Duluth News Tribune and The Rink Live covering the Minnesota Duluth men's and women's hockey programs.
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