Both UMD Hockey Teams Can Use the Break
The Christmas break in the Division I hockey season is generally considered to be the halfway point in the season, but to both the Minesota-Duluth men’s and women’s teams, the break is like an oasis of safe-haven rest in the midst of a long, tough season.
The UMD men went off to Western Michigan last Friday and Saturday, and I had considerable concern about that series, just because the Bulldogs had gotten a bit off their game by losing twice at Denver, then they appeared to get it all back in a 5-0- rout of North Dakota, only to falter in the second game and lose 2-1 to a hustling Fighting Hawks team.
Northern Michigan has some good players, and a great goaltender, and in Andy Murray the Broncos have a coach with NHL experience who seems to like nothing better than taking on favored opponents and throwing a wrench into their geats. Sure enough, Western Michigan tripped the Bulldogs 3-2. There were some highlights, with freshman Jesse Jacques from Hermantown, who had been alternating at center, scoring his first college goal to tie the opener 1-1 with a minute left in the first period, and when Justin Richards scored late in the second, UMD had a 2-1 lead.
But the Broncos got a goal from Hugh McGing in the first minute of the third period, and a goal from Colt Conrad in the last minute of the third period, and swiped the game 3-2.
On Saturday night, McGing got Western Michigan going with a goal in the first minute, but UMD freshman Noah Cates tied it with a power-play goal late in the second, and it stayed 1-1 through a scoreless third period, and both 5-on-5 and 3-on-3 overtimes, before the Broncos won it on the third round of a shootout. Both teams register it as a tie, but Western gets an extra point for the shootout victory, and that is just enough to boost Western Michigan into second place behind St. Cloud State, while UMD slips to third. Both teams are 4-3-1, but that extra point is good for second for Western.
That means the Bulldogs can use the time off to regain the services of several injured players, but they also go into Christmas having won only one of their last four and two of their last six NCHC games. They next go to Glendale, Arizona, to play in a holiday tournament, where they face Minnesota State-Mankato first, on December 28. Neither Scott Sandelin nor MSU-Mankato coach Mike Hastings will be there, though, because Hastings is coaching the U.S. Junior National team in the World Junior tournament in Vancouver, and Sandelin is his assistant, and bringing along forward Noah Cates and defensemen Dylan Samberg and Mikey Anderson. So the tournament will pit skeleton teams from UMD and Mankato.
Meanwhile, back home in friendly AMSOIL Arena, the UMD women were trying to shake a 5-game losing streak when the Bulldogs went up against MSU-Mankato. Having played strong, competitive games, mostly, against a tough schedule, the Bulldogs figured to get healthy against the Mavericks, having beaten them nine of the last 10 times they met.
But former UMD star John Harrington has done an excellent job building the Mavericks into a tough opponent. In the first game, Ryleigh Houton scored late in the first period, and Anna Klein scored at 0:15 of the second to give UMD a strong start. But Abigail Levy was very tough in goal for MSU-Mankato, and midway through the third period, Brittyn Fleming scored on the rebound to cut the score to 2-1. At 13:45, Tristan Truax rifled in a shot from the left circle on Maddie Rooney to tie the game 2-2.
It stayed that way through overtime, although the Mavericks were coming on strong and not only outshot UMD 33-23, two of those shots were by Brooke Bryant, who got two breakaway chances in the last minute of OT.
In the shootout, Houston was sent out first. “Ryleigh is really good at shootouts,” coach Maura Crowell said. She skated in, made a neat move, and scored on Levy. Then nobody else on either team scored, so UMD gained the extra standings point for winning the shootout, but the game counts as a tie.
Houston said afterward that “I always do the same move I always do, I come in, cut to my right and then shoot 5-hole, but I always look for other openings.”
Crowell asked her PR staff to edit that out of the post-game video recording, so as not to tip anyone off. But too late.
“Just before the shootout,” Harrington said, “I told our goalie to watch out because Houston likes to make a move and then go 5-hole. Then she does exactly that.”
Just wanted to let Maura Crowell know that I wasn’t violating any classified information, because Harrington knew the plan already.
In the second game, UMD freshman Gabbie Hughes scored by jamming in a shot at the left pipe midway through the second period for a 1-0 lead, and Anneke Lineer scored late in the second for a 2-0 edge. Freshman goaltender Emma Soderberg from Sweden got the call for UMD, and she was working on the shutout right up until the final minute of play. At that point Corbin Boyd skated to the left edge of the crease, and when Brittyn Fleming shot from th eleft point, Boyd got her stick on it for a deft deflection to put it into the net. It was a very neat goal, but UMD held on through the rest of the final minute to win 2-1.
The Bulldogs now take a break for a month, and remain in a battle to get to .500 and set their sights on beating out Bemidji State for fourth place and the final home-ice playoff spot.