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Nobody can recall the incredible cold weather we’ve been having.
I mean, 65 below wind-chill?
So let’s turn up the heat and get going on a few details that need our attention. First, this year’s UMD men’s hockey team right now might be the best team in the country. Yes, St. Cloud State is ranked No. 1, and UMD is right there on the heels of the Huskies. But against Omaha last weekend at AMSOIL Arena, the Bulldogs were the best team in the country.
Can they win the NCHC title? We might find out this weekend when the Bulldogs play a series at Colorado College, and there are more tough games to come. But tell me where the Bulldogs have a weakness.
Hunter Shepard is as good a goaltender as there is in the college ranks. And maybe some of the pro leagues. The forwards have proven they can score, after a little flat spot. Nick Swaney scoring a hat trick Friday in the 7-2 romp over Omaha boosts him into the team goal-scoring lead, He now has 11 goals, and captain Parker Mackay has 10. But the fact nobody is a huge scorer might be a strength, because everybody can score, and as long as somebody does, the Dogs are OK. Every line can score, and different players lead the way game by game. Center Justin Richards has been the breakthrough forward on the team, scoring among the leaders and playing his two-way game that makes his line click. Freshmen Noah and Jackson Cates, Tanner Laderoute, and Cole Koepke all have played above projections.
On defense, you had to get a chuckle out of the big News Tribune story that claims that everybody is concerned that sophomore Scott Perunovich is not playing as well as last year. That was a ridiculous story, particularly when coach Scott Sandelin refuted every point attempted in the interview. And the story said Perunovich has “only” 3 goals and 17 assists going into last weekend, and last year as a freshman he had 4 goals and 17 assists at the same point. What a drop-off! The fact is, Perunovich’s partner, Nick Wolff, is scoring more, with 3 goals already, and in trade, Perunovich is playing much more effective defense. Also, the tandem of Dylan Samberg-Mikey Anderson is scoring more than last year, taking some of the pressure off Perunovich.
The big deal is that every time Perunovich touches the puck, it quickly heads toward the opposing goal, either with him rushing it, or because he made a pinpoint pass to a breaking forward. The UMD connection between the forwards and the defense is unexcelled in college hockey — quick transitions, quick-strike offense from every turnover.
If you think Perunovich is having a “bad” year, go stand in the corner. I will say that UMD should be promoting Scott Perunovich for Hobey Baker. It takes heavy duty promotion, and he deserves it.
The UMD women’s hockey team is capable of playing impressive hockey, but they’ll need it this weekend when they play a Saturday-Sunday series at No. 2 ranked Minnesota. Playing competitively with the best teams is great, but the Bulldogs need to beat the Minnesotas and Wisconsins to climb to the top echelon of the WCHA and NCAA. Otherwise, they will need to settle for hitting the road at playoff time, not as lucrative as playing at AMSOIL.
The UMD men’s and women’s basketball teams have risen to being strongly competitive now that we’re at midseason. Continued improvement can carry them into contention.
We need strong support for the emerging strength of the girls high school teams in the Duluth area, because they go into playoffs next week. The boys still have a couple weeks of regular-season play, and there will be some tournament-quality games coming up this weekend and next week. Get out and see them, they’re going by fast.
One of the predominate theories in hockey is that the players from 30 or 40 years ago couldn’t match the pace and skill of current players, in the pro or college game. I’m not so sure. Thinking about that 1978-79 University of Minnesota NCAA championship team, consider what the goal-scoring tally will be at the top of this year’s college teams. Now consider that those Gophers had some genuine snipers, with Neal Broten, Steve Christoff, Rob McClanahan, Tim Harrer, Steve Ulseth, Don Micheletti, Eric Strobel and Phil Verchota. You know who the leading goal-scorer on that team was? How about Christoff and Micheletti, tied with 36 goals apiece!