John Gilbert Sports

Bulldogs Hang On to Take Victory Into Break

The most obvious prediction for the first season of the National Collegiate Hockey Conference was that there would be no easy games, and when UMD split their series at AMSOIL Arena that was clearly evident. The two games were oddly even, in a manner of speaking, and little things like forward line adjustments made the difference both nights.
n underlying factor in the series was that with both teams going into the weekend tied for last place, it was the chance for one to get a jump on the other. Instead, they wound up advancing from a two-way tie for seventh and eighth to a three-way tie for sixth, seventh and eighth, with Miami of Ohio joining the two 3-5 teams. There were enough good things to send both coaches, Scott Sandelin of the Bulldogs and Andy Murray of the Western Michigan Broncos, into the holiday season in good spirits. On the other hand, there were enough bits of frustration to provide both with a few humbugs, as well.
One of UMD’s ongoing dramas is in goal. Sophomore Matt McNeely and senior Aaron Crandall have both looked impressive enough to earn the starting slot, but not for long, and they have spent the first half of the season pretty much alternating. The Western Michigan series was no exception. The previous weekend, McNeely made only 14 saves while losing 4-2 to St. Cloud State, while the Bulldogs as a team played inspired enough to outshoot the Huskies 38-18. Crandall, the next night, was the victim more than the problem as the Bulldogs sagged and the Huskies romped 5-1.
So McNally was back in against Western, and he did a good enough job as the Bulldogs took a 2-1 first-period lead. The second period, however, was a nightmare -- a stretch of hockey fans could love but coaches struggled with rising blood-pressure. Western’s Jordan Oesterle, at the right side of the goal, one-timed a feed from Justin Kovacs past McNeely at 2:29 of the middle period for a 2-2 tie. At 3:59, Justin Crandall made a deft move rushing up the slot, and fed ahead to freshman Kyle Osterberg who made a quick move and scored into the left edge of the net on Lukas Hafner to regain a 3-2 lead for UMD.
At 5:00, Kovacs scored himself for a 3-3 tie. And at 6:58, Colton Hargrove loped into the UMD zone, shot from long range, then ducked around a defenseman to knock in his own rebound. That put Western ahead 4-3, and concluded a 4-goal outburst in the span of 4:29. McNeely, who gave up the four goals and made only eight saves, was brought to the bench by Sandelin, who dispatched Crandall to stop the surge.
Crandall was sharp, and as quickly as the goal-splurge happened, it was shut down. There was scarcely a stirring threat after that, for the remaining 33 minutes, on either side. The only goal Crandall allowed on 13 shots came at 13:29 of the third period, when Hargrove broke free and came in alone to score the clinching goal in a 5-3 Broncos triumph.
“He came in and made a move to his backhand,” said Crandall. “I bit on it, and he got it back and shot. I can’t believe I bit on it.
“It’s never fun to go in like that in a game,” added Crandall. “It means the other guy has let some goals in, and it can happen both ways. I’ve got to prepare every game as though I’m going to play.”
The Crandall brothers from Lakeville both had big games. Aaron’s junior brother Justin made the slick play to set up Osterberg in the second period after scoring the first goal of the night. “Toninato made a no-look pass to me and I missed the first try,” said Justin Crandall. “I figured I better score on the second try..”
On the other side, Murray, who has experience as an NHL coach, is not accustomed to the bother of listing his four lines and three sets of defensemen for the media line chart -- a luxury colleges afford that the NHL doesn’t. So Murray wrote down the names Mike Cichy at left wing, David Killip at center and Aaron Hadley at right wing. None of the three had scored a point this season in Western’s first 16 games -- the only three forwards on the team without a point. But at 15:51 of the first period, all three gained their first point on Western’s first goal, for a 1-1 tie.
Hadley in the right corner threw a pass to cichy in the slot, and when McNeely blocked his shot, Killip moved in and stroked the rebound high into the right corner of the net. Maybe McNeely should have had the shot, but surely somebody else could have been in the same time zone as the unbothered Cichy.
“I wrote those three down first, although I didn’t start them, but that’s the way they came into my head,” said Murray, who wondered if he violated protocol by not starting the line he listed first. “They’re foot soldiers who have done a lot for out program.”
The next night, Sandelin decided to change his lines a bit. He moved Osterberg up to join center Tony Cameranesi on the first line, and just like that, Osterberg scored at 0:12 of the first period. Cal Decowski and Justin Crandall followed, and the Bulldogs raced off to a 3-0 first-period lead. Josh Pitt scored in the second period for Western Michigan, then he scored again in the third and Justin Kovacs tied the game 3-3 at 6:51. But at 9:36, Alex Iafallo scored a power play goal, the sixth goal of the season for the prolific freshman, and more importantly the winning goal in a 4-3 battle of survival.
The two home weekends in succession were UMD’s first two series in NCHC play, and brought the Bulldogs home for the first time since October 26. But now they break again, and won’t play until January. It may not exactly be visions of sugar plums, but at least they can take that last victory into the break.