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For a sports fan, it’s a like going to a feast and filling your plate with steak, lobster, barbecued ribs, pork chops and a rack of lamb, and after devouring it all, noticing platters of grilled halibut, and roast duck.
That’s what this week is like, with so many attractions fighting for attention. We can debate which is more fun to watch, baseball at the time of Major League division playoffs, or football at a time when the Minnesota Vikings are acting like championship caliber and UMD is rolling up points and victories in the Northern Sun. And then comes volleyball, where UMD won two enormous victories on the road last week – beating Concordia and Minnesota State-Mankato both in five-game matches.
But just when those sports are all at or near a climax, along comes hockey. And I don’t mean NHL hockey. Both the UMD men and women opened their seasons last weekend in AMSOIL Arena, and things couldn’t have gone better. The men had a tough opening challenge, from Michigan Tech of the WCHA, and they swept both games, with a rousing 6-0 opener backed up by a nail-biting 4-3 rematch, not decided until the Bulldogs got their first and only lead of the day in the final 15 seconds.
The UMD women, meanwhile, were probably the biggest surprise in the nation. Facing a Boston College team that was not only NCAA runner-up last year, but went 40-0 until Minnesota ruined the perfect season in the national championship game. Ranked No. 3 in the country, BC came in heavily favored, but Ashleigh Brykaliuk had other ideas – counter-punching after all three BC goals with a hat trick that gained a 3-3 tie in Friday night’s opener.
On Saturday afternoon, Brykaliuk’s teammates seemed to realize the season had started, and she only needed to score one goal as UMD stunned the Eagles 5-2. Racing to a 5-0 lead through two periods, the unranked Bulldogs held on for a 5-2 victory when BC scored two power play goals in the last six minutes. Winning and tying against BC shook up the ratings, although you’re got to appreciate how much. UMD’s 1-0-1 weekend vaulted the Bulldogs from nowhere to No. 6, while Boston College’s 0-1-1 weekend dropped the Eagles to fifth. That’s right, voters decided the two should be listed consecutively, but they put the vanquished AHEAD of the victor! So much for validity.
The UMD women stay home this week to face MSU-Mankato, and then things get very interesting with next week’s trip to Minnesota.
The biggest show in town, of course, remains the UMD men’s hockey team. Highly regarded going into this season, the Bulldogs had to replace some key players, primarily sophomore goaltender Kasimir Kaskisuo, who signed a pro contract and left early. Coach Scott Sandelin decided to go with Hunter Miska as his freshman of choice, and Miska didn’t disappoint as Saturday Night Special.
Parker Mackay deflected in a right point shot by Neal Pionk during an extended 5-minute major poweer play, and Blake Young made it 2-0 after one period. Willie Raskob connected on a power play shot from the right point to open the second period, and Kyle Osterberg flew in to score on a power play after Miska fed a long pass up the rink to Karson Kuhlman, who sent a smooth feed across to Osterberg breaking into the clear.
Adam Johnson broke in to score with a power-play feed from Mackay to make it 5-0 after two periods. And Jake Miller was the recipient of a slick feed by Jared Thomas to open the third period and close the scoring of a 6-0 rout.
Tech coach Mel Pearson, always classy, said, “They were quicker, competed harder and better than us all around – offensively, defensively, power play, penalty kill. We need to find out where we are, and we did.”
Miska, after his first-game shutout, said, “It was awesome. The guys played real good in front of me. I knew we were going to be good. We had great team defense.”
It figured to be a tougher test in the second game, Sunday afternoon. Tech stormed out and jumped ahead 2-0 in the first nine minutes, passing the puck and generating better chances by then than they did all through the first game.
But the Bulldogs struck back when Osterberg, stationed in the slot with his back to the goal, deflected Dan Molinaar’s shot from the right point through his own legs and into the goal at 19:31 of the first period. But the Huskies regained a 2-goal lead when Joel L’Esperance sniped one past Miska for a 3-1 edge.
Late in the second period, the Bulldgos got a 2-man power play for 1:44, and Pionk scored from the left point on that opportunity to trim the lead to 3-2. That put it all on the third period, with the Bulldogs playing well but Tech trading chances with them in quest of a split.
A mad scramble in front found fourth-line wingers Blake Young and Billy Exell crashing the net. Exell, on the left, found the puck and snapped it in off Tech goalie Devin Kero’s right leg pad to tie the game at 11:35.
Pionk was penalized for hooking later, but the Bulldogs killed it, and as the last minute ticked away, we were informed that, being a nonconference match, the game would feature an overtime period, and then a 3-on-3 sudden-death shootout.
Apparently nobody told the players about the possibly dramatic finish, and the Bulldogs didn’t wait to find out. Alex Iafallo broke toward the net from the left just as Pionk’s sent a shot or a pass on goal. Iafallo deflected it cleanly in, and UMD won the game 4-3 with 15 seconds remaining.
“It was a broken play, but Neal made a nice little pass there,” said Iafallo.
“To be honest,” said Pionk, a sophomore from Hermantown, “I didn’t see him. The puck came off the boards and I just tried to get it deep and get it on net. It was a big character win for us.”
Coach Sandelin said, “I knew it would be that kind of game. You beat a team like this and I knew they’re be better than what they showed last night.”
The Bulldog men hit the road this week, going to Mass-Lowell for another nonconference series. The competition and the schedule might be close to perfect for UMD, as they follow next week by returning home to face Notre Dame, another quality nonconference foe. After that, a game against the U.S, National Under-18 team gives UMD seven quality starts before it’s circle-your-calendar National Collegiate Hockey Association series October 28-29 against North Dakota at AMSOIL Arena.