Going to be a quicker blog than usual, as I’m staring at a longer-than-usual Saturday with the trip up to and back from Bemidji.
This home-and-home series began in Duluth Friday, and as expected it was a grinder. Parker Mackay banked a shot in off a Bemidji State defender in the third period to lift UMD to a 1-1 tie against the Beavers.
(BSU freshman Zach Whitecloud scored a three-on-three goal that literally counts for nothing. It was purely an exhibition, and probably a good thing for UMD to be involved in, as the Bulldogs have yet to see overtime in an NCHC game.)
Nothing was a surprise. Clean plays are hard to come by, and UMD missed a few chances on quick plays. Sometimes, that was a product of trying to do things too quickly, sometimes it was execution that wasn’t where it needed to be.
What appeared to be poor ice conditions — from the sounds of it, the ice got really chippy because the building actually was too cold (weird, eh?) — played a role in some of UMD’s problems, but the Bulldogs also struggled to establish a forecheck. Bemidji State also won a lot of races and a lot of puck battles, which can’t be put on the bad ice. As you saw in the third period, UMD was able to possess the puck more effectively, but it still couldn’t really generate great scoring chances.
It can be easy to forget because the Bulldogs have been so dangerous in transition this season, but this is still — at its core — a possession team. Puck management is a key. There were too many situations where UMD didn’t do a good job with the puck and set up BSU for transition opportunities. The Beavers are known for their defensive prowess, starting with standout goalie Michael Bitzer (33 saves on Friday), but they are a sneaky-good team getting up the rink, and they made that clear on Friday. I thought UMD adjusted defensively and improved its work back up the rink, but turnovers were undoubtedly an issue Friday and it’s an area the Bulldogs must clean up.
There is a lot UMD can improve on from the series opener. It won’t be easy going to Bemidji’s building, but if UMD is markedly better in a few areas, there’s no reason the Bulldogs can’t get out with a victory.
Saturday will be the much-hyped debut of forward Avery Peterson. It’ll be interesting to see how UMD chooses to line up on Saturday. Scott Sandelin and staff have plenty of options.
This is PURELY A GUESS AND SPECULATIVE AND OPINION AND CONJECTURE AND I DIDN’T ASK ANYONE THEIR THOUGHTS, but here’s how I think I would go:
Iafallo – Toninato – Kuhlman
Osterberg – Johnson – Mackay
Tufte – Thomas – Peterson
Miller – Spurrell – Exell
Few thoughts on the reasoning:
- I thought Tufte was very good when he was put back with Thomas on Friday. UMD started generating more offensively once Kuhlman went on the Toninato line, Osterberg back on Johnson’s line, and Tufte with Thomas. Miller is a good fit with Spurrell and Exell, as we saw last weekend in Denver, and this is a great chance to reunite what was a very effective fourth line.
- The size of that third line is intriguing, isn’t it?
- I don’t see Peterson going top six. Sandelin basically ruled that out on Wednesday, saying he’d start where he starts and would have to work his way up.
- With Peterson obviously having to shake off rust, the other option is keeping Miller with Thomas and Tufte and putting Peterson on that fourth line. From a skating standpoint, however, I like the fit with Thomas and Tufte more. No matter what, someone has to play the off wing among the “bottom six” forwards, because there’s an extra left-handed wing.
That’s about it for me. Hope you can join us at 6:30 Saturday from Sanford Center. UMD didn’t go up Friday, choosing instead to make the trek Saturday afternoon. Hard to argue with the philosophy, especially with finals having just concluded on campus. Let the guys sleep in their own beds. Go win Saturday, then head back home and we’ll see you in January.