Bulldogs big loss could be a springboard

John Gilbert

UMD freshman Caleb Herbert (21) scored two goals to ignite a 4-0 UMD first-period lead against Michigan Tech.--John Gilbert
UMD freshman Caleb Herbert (21) scored two goals to ignite a 4-0 UMD first-period lead against Michigan Tech.--John Gilbert

The good thing -- make that, the ONLY good thing -- about the complete meltdown of the UMD men’s hockey team last Saturday night was that if the Bulldogs rebound and rise to win the WCHA title or go on to repeat glory in the NCAA tournament, they will look back at that 5-0 loss to Michigan Tech as the springboard to a successful stretch drive.

How can a low point be positive, I hear you ask? Every college hockey team goes through a season with ups and downs; it’s just that the Bulldogs lulled us all into the complacency of high expectations by not having any lows. They played well in splitting their first series with Notre Dame, and they played very well despite losing those two 5-4 games to Minnesota. Then they didn’t lose for 17 game, and even when they lost 3-1 at Nebraska-Omaha to end the streak, they outshot the Mavericks. Since then, coach Scott Sandelin hasn’t been thrilled with what he’s watched. Two one-goal victories despite subpar play against Alabama-Huntsville. Then a 4-goal first period against Michigan Tech last Friday.

But since that point, Michigan Tech scored four straight goals to wrench a 4-4 tie from UMD. And the next night, Tech jumped to a 4-goal lead in the first period, and thrashed UMD 5-0. That means Tech spotted the Bulldogs four goals, then proceeded to score nine consecutive goals in the Huskies first visit to Amsoil Arena. In the process, Jack Connolly, who had scored 15-23--38 during a 22-game point-scoring streak to tie the legendary Mark Pavelich for the all-time UMD single-season record, had that string snapped. He often has personified the Bulldogs, and he did that again, because he was, as they say, a bubble off, and so was the whole UMD team.

Sandelin did some juggling for Saturday night: Like chessmen on a large, slippery board, he moved Joe Basaraba from first line to third; Justin Crandall from second line to first to replace Basaraba; Keegan Flaherty from third line to second, to replace Herbert; Dan DeLisle came out of the lineup and was replaced by Adam Krause on the fourth line. What was intended to be a tactical shakeup looked instead like a dose of coaching impatience, when none of the lines looked as though the players had been introduced.

Tech scored four times in the first period, and Sandelin replaced goalie Kenny Reiter with Aaron Crandall, who played well thereafter, but it didn’t help the offense. In the third period, Sandelin put the lines back the way they had been playing for two months, and an early goal might have induced a comeback of their own. Instead, Tech freshman Tanner Kero scored at 0:40, and Tech cruised to a stunning 5-0 romp.

“I can’t understand how any player could walk out of here [Friday night], and not be mad enough that they can’t wait to come out tonight and make up for it,” said Sandelin “We got our asses kicked and it wasn’t even close who the better team tonight was.”

UMD has a long road trip to last-place Alaska-Anchorage this weekend, and it might be the biggest weekend of the season for the Bulldogs. Winning is important, but playing at their familiar high-intensity if far more important to getting back on track. If they don’t, and keep sputtering -- the Bulldogs are now 0-21 on the power play in the last six games! -- they come home to face North Dakota.