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UMD hockey fans might be holding their collective breath as their favorite Bulldogs keep barreling through the toughest college hockey conference on the planet without a noticeable flaw. The Bulldogs have swept four consecutive series since losing their second game of the season, at Minnesota, and the eight straight victories not only has them leading the National Collegiate Hockey Conference but No. 1 in the country.
Meanwhile, the media seems to be lost in their never-ending quest for superlatives. When UMD swept at Notre Dame, the all-freshman third line of Jackson Cates centering brother Noah Cates and Tanner Laderoute had an impressive night, with both Cates brothers getting a goal and Kobe Roth scoring for the fourth line. Observers started saying that was UMD’s best line.
After a week off, the Bulldogs came home and beat Colorado College 3-0 as Hunter Shepard notched a shutout, and the so-called second line, with Justin Richards centering Cole Koepke and captain Parker Mackay led the way, with Richards and Mackay each getting a goal.
On Saturday night, UMD completed the sweep with a 5-1 victory, with the first line howling, as Nick Swaney scored twice and Riley Tufte had a goal, with the second line coming through for goals by Richards and Mackay.
The reason the Bulldogs defy the usual superlative evaluation is that all four lines, and the defensive corps, seem to rotate who gets to score, which is just fine with the players and coaches, and, presumably, the fans. At 8-1-1, check the breakdown by lines: Peter Krieger centering Tufte and Swaney on the “first” line have nine goals; Richards centering freshman Cole Koepke and Mackay on the “second” line have 11 goals; the Cates-Cates-Laderoute “third” line has scored 9 goals; the “fourth” line with Jade Miller centering Kobe Roth and Billy Exell has three goals; and the defensive corps has seven, with Nick Wolff (2), Dylan Samberg (2), Mikey Anderson (2) and Scott Perunovich (1).
That’s called balance, and while it would be flashier to have one sniper with 15 goals, the amazing balance of the Bulldogs leaves opponents in a complete quandary. Which line should we check?
That question falls to the Denver Pioneers this weekend, as they play host to the Bulldogs in the Mile High City, still stinging from a pair of 3-2 losses at St. Cloud State last weekend.
Obviously, it’s still very early, but if UMD stays hot and finds a way to sweep the Pioneers, it could knock Denver out of contention.
For what it’s worth, the eight consecutive sweeps are a standard for UMD that dated back 14 years. As for highlights, UMD’s power play is percolating along at 26.5 percent, with at least one power play goal in nine of the last 10 games. And the second period has been big for the often-slow-starting Bulldogs, as they’ve outscored foes 17-6 in all their second periods - the most of any NCAA Division 1 team.
UMD Women back from long break
The UMD women’s hockey team has had a designed long break, while key players went off to play in the Four Nations Cup in Canada. It was time well spent for Maddie Rooney, the ace Team USA goaltender who rotated with two other goalies before coming back to beat Canada in the Gold Medal game.
Meanwhile, winger Sidney Brodt made her first Team USA venture indelible by scoring a couple goals and contributing a couple key assists on the top line, centered by Brianna Decker, and former Bulldog Sidney Morin also whistled in a goal from the point to solidify her stature on the team.
Sweden’s goaltender was Emma Soderberg, Rooney’s understudy at UMD.
The Bulldogs have to get the cobwebs out in a hurry this weekend, with a huge trip to Ohio State looming. The Women’s WCHA has gotten more competitive, but the top pair of Wisconsin and Minnesota remain constant. UMD has high hopes to move up into their plateau, and played well against both of them, but the Bulldogs are fourth, behind Wisconsin, Minnesota and Ohio State.
The Buckeyes are a solid third, and could turn the WCHA into a distinct upper half and bottom half if they can beat the Bulldogs. UMD, on the other hand, must set its collective sights on the Buckeyes if they want to truly become a contender.
Big Ratings Weekend for UMD Fall Teams
While the UMD men command the No. 1 rank in the U.S. College Hockey Online poll going into the Denver weekend, they are not the only one tryi - Texas A&M-Commerce in a 1 p.m. game.
The UMD volleyball team, which emerged from a tie with Northern State for the NSIC championship to win the league playoff title last weekend, goes to Kearney, Nebraska, home of the top-seeded Nebraska-Kearney team, and will take on Central Missouri State Thursday in the Division 2 region quarterfinals. A victory there would send UMD into the semifinals against the winner of Northern State and Washburn.
The UMD hockey team’s No. 1 rating leads an impressive showing by the NCHC, as St. Cloud State is No. 2 and Denver No. 7. Also, MSU-Mankato is ranked No. 3 as the standard-bearer for the WCHA.