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If the UMD Bulldogs had gone down to Omaha, and gone down easy to the Nebraska-Omaha Mavericks, it would have been logical to write off the Bulldogs as far as contending for the first year National Collegiate Hockey Conference goes.
But the Bulldogs captured one of the biggest sweeps in Scott Sandelin’s coaching tenure instead, riding the spectacular goaltending of Aaron Crandall and a timely assortment of goal scorers to beat the Mavericks 3-2 last Friday, and 3-1 on Saturday.
Crandall? Once the forgotten man in the UMD rotation, Crandall made 38 saves in the first game, and a personal-best 52 saves in the second, when the Bulldogs were outshot rudely by a 53-13 margin.
UNO coach Dean Blais, of course, is the man who brought Sandelin in as assistant and pretty much paved the way for him to become a head coach. Blais missed Game 1 because of a weird bit of off-ice stuff. A player had an expensive watch stolen from the hockey arena dressing room, and when there was no solution from the school, Blais reimbursed the kid for the lost watch. That, of course, is a special no-no in the NCAA’s eyes, and quite logically at that. What intrigues me is why the college, or the college’s or arena’s security didn’t have insurance to come up with the money. It was an embarrassment to the school that the thievery occurred, but it should be more embarrassing to the school that it couldn’t cough up the reimbursement.
At any rate, the fourth game of the Blais suspension came last Friday. Blais, the former International Falls and Golden Gopher star who came back from pro hockey to establish himself as the top coach in the country at North Dakota. He tried the pro game, then came back to start the Fargo junior franchise in the North American League. Next he got the chance to take over the UNO program, and while his expertise is evident, it hasn’t been a smooth road to any NCAA titles for the Mavs. Yet.
But they went into the weekend 5-2-1 in NHCH play, and stood second only to St. Cloud State, while was 3-5, back in sixth. Under Blais’s firm hand, the Mavericks threw everything at UMD in Game 2. Caleb Herbert got a goal, and assisted on two goals by Joe Basaraba, but the Mavericks stormed the net at the other end - outshooting UMD 23-7 in the second period. That wasn’t enough, so they turned up the wick in the third period, outshooting the Bulldogs 18-2, but Crandall was magnificent. With the final tally at 53-13, it seems like pure thievery for UMD to swipe that victory.
That knocks UNO down to 5-4-1, where North Dakota could pass the Mavericks for second, and Denver could rise up and tie them for fourth. UMD, meanwhile, is suddenly 5-5, and in a fifth-place tie with Western Michigan.
All of that sets up a huge weekend for UMD, coming home to AMSOIL Arena to face Denver Friday and Saturday. At 5-4-1, Denver doesn’t look that imposing to UMD’s 5-5. The Pioneers, though, smacked first-place St. Cloud State 5-2 Saturday for a split of their series, or the Bulldogs would already have passed the Pioneers.
The Denver series is the only time UMD plays at home between the December 13-14 split with Western Michigan, and the February 7-8 set with Colorado College. That means it’s been over a month since UMD was home for an NCHC series, and after this weekend, the Dawgs hit the road for the big State of Minnesota Tournament at Xcel Energy Center.
For those hockey fans not yet accustomed to looking closely at other NCHC results, the league already has attained one of its prime objectives -- to make every weekend, every series, every game as tough and intense as playoff hockey. Consider that while St. Cloud State has only two losses, North Dakota, Nebraska-Omaha, Denver, UMD, and Western Michigan all have either 4 or 5 losses while manning the second through sixth positions. Colorado College and Miami of Ohio both have 7 losses, and, in case you’ve forgotten, Miami was picked as preseason league champion!
In other match-ups this weekend, Nebraska-Omaha is at Miami and Western Michigan invades St. Cloud.
WOMEN ALSO SURGE
The UMD men can’t have all the headlines. The UMD women, who played as though not seriously interested in contending through the first half, the Bulldogs went from a November 29-30 series against Wisconsin until last weekend’s January 10-11 games against MSU-Mankato - the span of six weeks.
Fortunately for the Bulldogs, they got strong goaltending from Kayla Black and beat the Mavericks both nights. The sweep lifts UMD to 9-6-3, just one point behind North Dakota, which is in third place. Fourth place is the final home-ice playoff spot, and the little surge by UMD has put some distance behind them.
Once again, for those not scrutinzing things closely, the league is dominated by Minnesota, but the Gophers lost to eighth place -- last place - Ohio State 3-2 in a shootout after beating the Buckeyes 6-0 in the first game.
Actually, the Gophers women are a lot like the Gophers men, who lose but don’t lose. After a tie and an overtime, a shootout determines the winner, but it has become trendy for teams to celebrate all victories, in regulation, overtime or shootouts, but to trumped that they got a tie whenever they lose in a shootout. Technically, it stands as a tie, but when the Gophers lost to Colgate in their own Mariucci Classic tournament, it was in a shootout to determine the finalist for the title game.
The beauty of shootouts to me is that I hate ties. I’d rather see an outcome, then go home, even if it means my home team or my favorite team has to absorb a loss now and then. But the trendy thing is to declare shootout losses as ties, as if you can avoid facing up to the fact that you got beat.
But when last-place Ohio State sprung the shootout victory over Minnesota last Saturday, it again proved how much parity has come to the women’s WCHA. There was surprisingly little information seeping out, and what did come out was that it was a tie, ignoring the shootout.
The UMD women are also at home this weekend, playing Ohio State in a Saturday-Sunday series at AMSOIL.
MORE WOMEN’S HOCKEY
The “other two” women’s hockey college teams in the area collided Tuesday, and Wisconsin-Superior stunned high-flying St. Scholastica 2-0 at Mars-Lakeview Arena. Shanley Peters got the shutout, and it was an extremely intense battle throughout.
There also was a lot of physical play. Regardless of the “no checking” rules of women’s hockey, there was plenty of hitting all game. That made it a little odd when the officials let things go all game, then stuck the Saints with three penalties in succession over the last two minutes. So much for any comeback try.
A focal point of that game was to watch the Waidacher sisters perform. Nina Waidacher and Isabel Waidacher play on the same line, with Michelle Fischer centering, while Monika Wadacher centers another line, with former Denfeld star Nikki Logergren on one wing.
Against UWS, nothing was clicking. It may not have been that the Saints were flat, so much as UWS hustled so hard all game that it prevented the usual slick plays from the Saints. Late in the game, coach Jackie MacMillan put Monika out on a line with her sisters during some power plays.
But Peters was acrobatic in preventing any St. Scholastica goals.