Bulldogs men, women swept in hockey showdowns

John Gilbert

 Denver goaltender Tanner Jaillet got a break when UMD's Justin Richards and Nick Swaney (obscured) got the puck past him - but not in during Denver's 1-0 victory. Photo credit: John Gilbert
Denver goaltender Tanner Jaillet got a break when UMD's Justin Richards and Nick Swaney (obscured) got the puck past him - but not in during Denver's 1-0 victory. Photo credit: John Gilbert

UMD’s athletic teams have pretty much had things their way in recent years. There have been a few bumps here and there, but overall, the Bulldogs are at or near the top in athletic success among all Northern Sun, NCHA and WCHA teams.
But not last weekend. Maybe it was a slap to alert, but UMD teams played very competitively and well in almost every case, but didn’t find their usual success.
The always-reliable UMD volleyball team went off to Marshall, Minnesota, for the Central Regional NCAA Division II tournament. The Bulldogs were seeded fifth and took out No. 4 Northern State in three straight sets, then they knocked off host team and No. 1 seed Southwest Minnesota State 3-0 right in front of Southwest’s home fans. That sent UMD against Concordia of St. Paul, and the Bulldogs couldn’t pull off the hat trick, losing 3-1.

It is a testimony to how good the NSIC is in volleyball that Concordia, the No. 2 seed in the conference tournament, went off to Pensacola this week to be the nation’s No. 1 seed when they take on New Haven in the NCAA Division II tournament.
UMD’s women’s hockey team has tended to play up to stronger competition, but that apparently doesn’t include No. 1 ranked Wisconsin. The teams met in Madison, and the Badgers whipped the Bulldogs 5-1 and 3-1 for a sweep that sends UMD off to Minneapolis to face Minnesota this weekend in another tough test.

 Denver's Jake Durflinger eluded Jared Thomas's backcheck and chipped a shot past Hunter Shepard for the game-winning goal in Saturday's 2-1 Denver victory. Photo credit: John Gilbert
Denver's Jake Durflinger eluded Jared Thomas's backcheck and chipped a shot past Hunter Shepard for the game-winning goal in Saturday's 2-1 Denver victory. Photo credit: John Gilbert

Meanwhile, UMD’s men had the showcase series against No. 1 ranked Denver, the team that beat the Bulldogs in a 3-2 NCAA championship game last spring. Of course, there is no revenge of that variety in college sports, where players come and go and strength of teams varies. But it made for a lot of verbiage from the media.

In the first game, UMD skated and battled valiantly, but eased off after a hard-hitting first period, and when Denver got a goal from Logan O’Connor early inthe second period, that goal stood as the winner of a tough 1-0 outcome. Goaltender Tanner Jaillet made 28 saves for the shutout, although it was difficult to go back over the notes and find many “Grade A” scoring chances.

The UMD football team, feeling slighted after winning the North division of the NSIC but being left out of the NCAA regional, went to Missouri to take on Central Missouri in the Mineral Water Bowl — not a bad compensatory mission. The Bulldogs got up 28-17 and were looking good, despite a couple of injuries in the first half. But in the second half, Central Missouri got a 100-yard kickoff return for all the spark necessary, and 21 unanswered points later, the Bulldogs had fallen 38-28.

Back at AMSOIL Arena Saturday night, more of the same. The teams were scoreless through a tight-checking first period, when UMD outshot Denver 6-4. Outshot seems like an exaggeration, after the scant looks either side had at the opposing net. In the second period, only 21 seconds remained when Denver’s Jared Lukosevicius took advantage of a rare misplay behind UMD’s goal. A poorly executed back-pass resulted in a turnover, and Logan O’Connor darted out front and, instead of shooting, slid a pass across the crease that Lukosevicius had an easy goal against the helpless Hunter Shepard.

UMD goalie hunter Shepard blocked Colin Staub's scoring attempt in the first game. Photo credit: John Gilbert
UMD goalie hunter Shepard blocked Colin Staub's scoring attempt in the first game. Photo credit: John Gilbert

The 1-0 deficit loomed until midway through the third period, when Blake Young reached back for a pass from freshman Nick Swaney, and that reach caused him to follow through by spinning and putting a backhander through Jaillet for a 1-1 tie.
With five minutes left, UMD freshman defenseman Scott Perunovich moved in from the left point but was stopped. Then Denver made a hard rush, following the old, but somewhat boring, style of “getting pucks and bodies to the net.” Jake Durflinger broke to the crease just as the puck arrived and he got through the defense and got the puck through Shepard for the game-winning goal in a 2-1 victory with 4:04 remaining.

Flying pucks and volleyballs weren’t the only missiles sailing around. UMD’s men and women basketball teams hit the road for a pair of NSIC doubleheaders. First, at Bemidji, the UMD women beat Bemidji State 52-44. The UMD men took the court next, but lost 73-63 to the Beavers.
Next night, it was on to Crookston. Again the UMD women did the job, beating Minnesota-Crookston 74-64. Then the UMD men came on, but fell 98-90 to Minnesota-Crookston.
This weekend, the UMD men’s hockey team are off to Nebraska-Omaha, while the women go to Ridder Arena to face the Golden Gophers. But there is basketball!
UMD’s women take on Southwest Minnesota State Friday and Sioux Falls Saturday at Romano Gym at 6 and 4 p.m. respectively, followed immediately by the UMD men taking on the same foes at 8 and 6 p.m. respectively.

Olympic Hockey Question

Since the National Hockey League declared that nobody under NHL contract will be available to play for their countries in the upcoming Winter Games in South Korea, I have been eagerly waiting to see how the teams would be selected and how the games might go.
It occurred to me that selecting an all-star team of top college players might be the most competitive way for coach Tony Granato to take on the other countries and give the U.S. a chance to win something. Canada is essentially in the same predicament, but could take players form Major Junior, lacking the college competition.

Instead, USA Hockey worked out an arrangement to take ex-pros and veteran amateurs playing in Europe for the nucleus of the team. In a pre-Thanksgiving tournament, the U.S. took a sound thrashing, going 1-5. My plan doesn’t look so bad, now, eh?
Then on Tuesday, the blockbuster news hit: Because so many Russian athletes took government approved, if not sanctioned, methods to take performance enhancing drugs and then conceal the test by the elementary trick of switching urine bottles, the International Olympic Committee has decided that all Russian athletic teams will be banned from the 2018 games.

My opinion was that Russia would be the odds-on favorite to win the Gold because they have their own pro league, a bit less competitive than the NHL but still very strong and loaded with standout players. If they would be the favorite, the new ruling appears to knock them out of the games.
There is a way out, because athletes who have never been accused of doping might get to participate but without national affiliation. No anthems, or any of the things that make Olympics great.
If the Russians aren’t allowed to play hockey, looks like Finland against Sweden for the Gold!