UMD men's hockey: Bulldogs, Huskies battle for second in NCHC, and a more favorable Frozen Faceoff schedule
Second-place St. Cloud State hosts third-place Minnesota Duluth at 1:07 p.m. Saturday at Herb Brooks National Hockey Center in St. Cloud. The Bulldogs need a regulation win to overtake the Huskies in the final NCHC standings.
Minnesota Duluth dropped the puck on the 2020-21 regular season three months ago at Baxter Arena in Omaha, Nebraska, by playing nine games in 19 days in December.
The Bulldogs now wrap up their regular season — played in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic — at 1:07 p.m. Saturday at St. Cloud State playing just their third game in 17 days. It’s just another unique twist in a season that’s had more than enough to fill a decade.
UMD junior defenseman Cole Koepke said he enjoyed playing every other day in the Pod in Omaha, but this stretch of one game per week has had its benefits as well.
“Honestly, it’s kind of been nice for a player,” said Koepke, the Hermantown native. “Toward the end of the year, we’re able to get a little more rest time and recover our bodies a little better, and as a team get more practice to prep ourselves properly for this weekend.”
The Bulldogs and Huskies were originally scheduled to conclude the regular season a week ago by playing Friday, Feb. 26 in St. Cloud and Saturday, Feb. 27 in Duluth, however, Bulldogs coach Scott Sandelin said he and Huskies coach Brett Larson, the former UMD player and assistant coach, didn’t want 12-13 days off in between the end of their regular season and the start of the NCHC Frozen Frozen Faceoff on March 12-16 in Grand Forks, North Dakota.
So the Feb. 26 game in St. Cloud was moved to this Saturday while the Feb. 27 game in Duluth remained as is. UMD won that first game of the series decisively last Saturday 5-1 thanks to a three-goal first period by the Bulldogs and an eventual hat trick from senior wing Nick Swaney.
Like Koepke, Swaney said he’s appreciated the extra rest during a time of year a player usually sees very little.
“The end of the year is always the biggest grind,” said Swaney, who in his four years has helped the program win an NCHC Frozen Faceoff title and back-to-back NCAA championships. “For us, I think it's a huge thing to get that extra day and only play once a week, rest the bodies a little bit more, work on more things and just bring everything together that we can.”
After agreeing to limit their days off a few weeks ago, the Bulldogs and Huskies this week are battling for an opportunity to earn a potential extra day of rest at next weekend’s Frozen Faceoff.
The second and third seeds are all that remain undecided on the NCHC postseason bracket. Whoever finishes second behind regular season champion North Dakota would get two days of rest following a quarterfinal win on March 12 while the third seed, which along with No. 4 Nebraska-Omaha, would only get one day before the semifinals begin on March 15.
NCHC Frozen Faceoff
At Ralph Engelstad Arena, Grand Forks, N.D.
No. 8 Miami vs. No. 1 North Dakota
No. 7 Colorado College vs. No. 2 UMD or SCSU
No. 6 Western Michigan vs. No. 3 UMD or SCSU
No. 5 Denver vs. No. 4 Omaha
Semifinals: March 15
Championship: March 16
A win for either side Saturday could be the difference between that NCHC title game being the third game in four days or third game in five.
“The fun part about this game is there is some meaning here,” Sandelin said. “We’re both playing for seeding, were both playing for second. You want to finish the year on a good note.”
The third-place Bulldogs enter the weekend one point back of the second-place Huskies. UMD needs a regulation win to finish second in the NCHC for the third year in a row and fourth time in five seasons. UMD is already ensured a top-three finish in the NCHC for a fifth-straight season.
Should both teams finish with 44 points this weekend — UMD beats SCSU in overtime or a shootout — the Huskies win the tiebreaker by taking 10 of a possible 18 points in the six-game season series . SCSU currently holds a 3-2 lead in the season series, with both sides winning a game in overtime back in January.
The Bulldogs went into last weekend’s game against the Huskies having lost three straight. Even though that’s behind them, Sandelin said he doesn’t want his team to take their foot off the gas.
“Larson's team is going to be ready. They're a good hockey team,” Sandelin said. “Maybe we took advantage of some things that they didn't do well. They're going to be better at it in their building. Both teams want to finish on a good note and want a shot at second place.
“When you look at the tournament, that's another extra day, if you finish one or two, before you have to play again if you win that first game. That extra day can be critical.”
Minnesota Duluth at St. Cloud State
1:07 p.m. Saturday
At Herb Brooks National Hockey Center in St. Cloud
Live stats: Updates from SCSU Sports Information
Online streaming: NCHC.tv (subscription required)
Radio: KDAL 610 AM/103.9 FM