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It would be easy to say there was nothing of redeeming value for UMD’s hockey team when the two-time defending NCAA champion Bulldogs lost 4-1 and 3-1 to Minnesota State-Mankato on Thanksgiving Weekend at AMSOIL Arena.
Easy, but misleading.
If the Bulldogs come back to make their patented second-half run at the NCHC championship, and the glory of post-season tournament play after that, they might look back at the sweep at the hands of the Mavericks as a significant turning point for them.
The Bulldogs take great pride in outworking opponents, particularly along the boards, and in adhering to fundamentals so intensely that they often win by making fewer mistakes than there opponents. But MSU-Mankato came to town as the No. 1 team in the old WCHA — considered a league of “leftovers” after the Big Ten teams departed and the so-called elites left to form the NCHC — and also the No. 1 team in the nation with a 10-1-1 overall record. Maybe there was a feeling that the Bulldogs had battled then-No. 1 and then-undefeated
Denver to an overtime tie and a victory that beating another No. 1 would be their rightful place.
But MSU-Mankato gave the Bulldogs a dose of their own medicine, and beat them at their own game, right here on their home rink. The Mavericks broke the scoreless game open with three goals in the second period of the first game, as Mark Michaelis, Parker Tuomie and Josh French got the goals. All three are seniors, which is a key element of Mankato’s success. In the third period, freshman Nathan Smith scored on a two-man power play for a 4-0 lead. Kobe Roth’s goal, midway through the third period, was also on a power play.
In the second game, Jake Jaremko scored in the first period for Mankato, but Justin Richards tied it for UMD in the third, only to have Lucas Sowder and Jaremko follow with the winning and clinching goals. Reggie Lutz assisted on all three Mankato goals. The key to both games, however, was that MSU-Mankato simply didn’t make enough mistakes for UMD to capitalize on them.
It is possible that Nick Wolff, UMD’s co-captain and 6-foot-5 resident sheriff, was injured at 1:58 of the first period of the first game on a check from behind by Tuomie. Wolff was knocked out with a possible shoulder injury, and his departure left the Bulldogs in more disarray than should have happened. Wolff pairs with Scott Perunovich on one defensive unit, and when they’re on the ice, usually the only goals that are scored are at the far end. But take Wolff out of the equation and no matter how well Perunovich plays, the chemistry is gone from the whole defensive unit. Maybe the rest of the defense needs to turn up their intensity, but shortening up the defensemen disrupted the whole team’s play.
But it also was good for UMD fans to get a look at how another team from another league can waltz into Duluth and force its will on the Bulldogs. Sophomore goaltender Dryden McKay had almost all the answers to UMD’s offense, which now must regroup to face those other Mavericks in Omaha this weekend.
Coach Mike Hastings has his Mankato outfit on top of the college hockey world at 12-1-1, but there’s no room to rest. No. 2 is Cornell (9-0), 3. is North Dakota (12-1-2), No. 4 is Denver (9-3-2), and No.5 is Clarkson (10-3-1), followed by 6. Penn State and 7. Ohio State. UMD slips to No. 14, and if coach Scott Sandelin likes to be able to bring his Bulldogs along by improving through the second half, they now have mapped out the course they must follow, which is to clean up their defensive zone and get back to the slick-functioning offensive pressure they showed in sweeping Colorado College a week earlier.
UMD women face test
The UMD women’s hockey team played its best hockey to beat Minnesota 3-2 in double overtime, and losing by only 4-3 in the second game. The Bulldogs, who succeeded in helping knock the Gophers off the No. 1 national ranking, must now come back from splitting two games at the Nutmeg Invitational last weekend to take on the new No. 1 team at Wisconsin.
Concluding the Badger series will give UMD a clearer picture of where they stand in the Women’s WCHA, and how their chances look to overtake Ohio State and challenge the top-run Badgers and Gophers.
Meanwhile, UMD’s two basketball teams both look primed to make a run at contending in the Northern Sun Intercollegiate Conference race. The men made their intentions clear by whipping St. Cloud State 95-74 at Romano Gym Monday night, after the women knocked off the Huskies 71-59. Brooke Olson tossed in 20 for the Bulldogs and was named NSIC offensive player of the week.
The UMD men appear to have more depth than any time in the last decade. Brandon Myer, a senior now from Superior, continues to hold up my claim that he is the best basketball player to come out of a Twin Ports high school to play at UMD since Roger Hanson, a star guard on the undefeated Duluth Central state champions of 1961. Myer has been welcoming support from transfer Alex Illikainen, from Grand Rapids by way of Division I Wisconsin. With Illikainen at 6-9 and Myer at 6-7, the Bulldogs also have a stronger bench than in recent years.
Against St. Cloud State, Myer hit 10 of 14 shots and scored 25, while Jack Middleton scored 16 and Drew Blair and Illikainen both added 12. The Bulldogs were able to use their wealth of reserves through much of the second half. For example, Ethan Youso, a 6-8 redshirt freshman from Virginia, got n for only the final 1:24, but flung a long 3 from the left side, and added a twisting layup underneath for 5 points on two shots.
Both the UMD men and women are at home Friday in a doubleheader against Minot State. and Saturday against Mary as the NSIC races get serious.
Not to be forgotten, the UMD volleyball team is No. 2 seed in the regional tournament this weekend where they will try to get back to their winning rhythm in their opener against Central Missouri.