BEMIDJI, Minn. — Greetings from the lovely Sanford Center in Bemidji, where No. 1 UMD and No. 15 Bemidji State meet, both trying to finish the pre-Christmas portions of their respectable schedules on a high note. UMD is done for 2016 after this game, off until Jan. 6. BSU will take Christmas weekend off before heading to Anchorage Dec. 30-31, and I can think of no better way to ring in the new year than traveling home from Alaska.
Friday’s 1-1 tie in Duluth was probably more of a win for Bemidji State. The Bulldogs were not sharp, but really turned on the pressure on Bemidji goalie Michael Bitzer in the second half of the game. It was, really, more the opposite of last year’s games, both won by BSU, in that the Bulldogs couldn’t wear down their Highway 2 rivals either time, getting outshot in the second half — so to speak — of both meetings.
This is a very important game for UMD. This team has aspirations of being a No. 1 NCAA Tournament seed, and it can ill afford too many more non-wins in non-conference play. After this game, UMD will have only the North Star College Cup in St. Paul remaining on its non-conference slate.
Grand Rapids native Avery Peterson will make his UMD debut as a center, three days after UMD coach Scott Sandelin said that was unlikely to happen. His size and strength in the middle could be advantageous against the Beavers, but it might take him a few shifts to kick off the rust that formed after a year of not playing in competitive games. Peterson told us Wednesday that upwards of 80 people would be here from the Grand Rapids area on his behalf. If that is anything close to accurate, he’ll have a loud cheering section (remember, Bemidji State students, like UMD, are on break now for the holidays).
Lots of changes for UMD with Peterson’s debut. Blake Young draws out (personally, I like a lot of his game right now, but he needs to better use his size and play more physical to become a regular). Adam Johnson moves to right wing after a half-season experiment at center. He played well enough there to where the coaches know they can put him back there if need be, but Peterson is in the middle to start.
By the way, here are updated faceoff stats for UMD through Friday. This is unofficial, based on compilations from final stat sheets. This list includes only players with at least 50 faceoffs taken.
Dominic Toninato 48.5 percent
Sammy Spurrell 39.8
Iafallo – Toninato – Johnson
Osterberg – Thomas – Mackay
Tufte – Peterson – Kuhlman
Miller – Spurrell – Exell
Soucy – Raskob
Pionk – Kotyk
Wolff – Molenaar
Miska – Deery – Shepard
Fitzgerald (Leo) – Fitzgerald (Gerry) – Harms
Marinaccio – Bauman – O’Connor
Dickman – Arentz – Fitzgerald (Myles)
Sjodahl – Roo – Heller
Beauvais – Billett
Baudry – Whitecloud
Muck – Janco
Bitzer – Wilkins