We’re heading to a quiet stretch in the schedule, following a weekend where CHN Team of the Week Nebraska-Omaha made a big statement with its sweep of St. Cloud State. Western Michigan also performed well, taking an overtime win and a shootout win over a desperate Colorado College team still looking for its first NCHC win of the season.
Instead of looking at UNO’s or WMU’s reasons for success, here’s a closer look at three teams who suffered defeat this past Saturday night.
Sure, the Finnish freshman didn’t have the best start on Saturday evening against Michigan Tech, allowing two goals on four shots in the first five minutes of the contest, especially as the second goal came as the result of a weak rebound that followed a mis-play by the netminder. Still, it may have surprised some that UMD coach Scott Sandelin pulled his star goaltender, who had been awarded multiple weekly and national accolades throughout his 14 consecutive starts from the upstart Bulldogs. Kaskisuo was pulled in favor of junior Matt McNeely, who earned a shutout win over Notre Dame at the start of the season. McNeely played regularly as a freshman and only sporadically as a sophomore before giving way to Kaskisuo this year. It was a great decision by Sandelin on Saturday to switch to McNeely for many reasons — above all, it prevents Kaskisuo from being too comfortable as the designated No. 1 starter, reinforcing the need to be sharp at all times and to avoid the sometimes natural letdown the night after a big road win (UMD, of course, beat Michigan Tech a night earlier). McNeely is also a veteran who was able to weather the storm until the Bulldogs tied the game in the third period. Michigan Tech did win late, on Mike Neville’s game winner — his first goal of the season — with less than 20 seconds to play, but the decision to pull Kaskisuo, to wake up a sluggish team on the road, is the type of calculated decision that could pay dividends later in the season.
St. Cloud’s struggles
The memory of St. Cloud’s (6-9-1 overall, 2-5-1 NCHC) back to back wins over Union and Minnesota seems a lot more distant than the reality that those wins came less than two months ago. Now, the Huskies have lost three straight, and four of five, coming off a sweep in Omaha. Yes, the offense has been surprisingly (given the talent) erratic, but more concerning has been the defensive play of St. Cloud’s top lines. On Saturday, like Friday, St. Cloud led heading into the second period and again gave up the lead en route to a 5-3 loss. Saturday was an up-and-down night for the Huskies’ line of Jimmy Murray, David Morley, and Patrick Russell, a line that’s second in scoring on the team and that tied the game on Saturday at 3-3 in the third period. However, the trio was on the ice for four of Omaha’s five goals, in many cases missing defensive opportunities to limit goal-scoring opportunities. Many of St. Cloud’s forwards — particularly their top six — are exceedingly talented. This year, for whatever reason, they’ve given up a ton of goals. Leading scorer Jonny Brodzinski, for instance, has 3 even-strength goals but is a minus-7. Brodzinski also has seven power play goals, and indeed the Huskies have played well in man-advantage situations. The key to turning things around seems to be a need to improve their defensive effort and efficiency in front of goaltender Charlie Lindgren.
DU line change
Friday, Denver earned one of its biggest wins of the season, a 4-1 win over North Dakota in a game where, simply, the Pioneers showed just a bit more poise than UND in what was a physical series all weekend. UND returned that favor on Saturday, then used a couple of creative stretch plays to defeat Denver 3-1 and split the weekend series. Friday, three of Denver’s four goals came from defensemen, and coach Jim Montgomery changed up his top two lines for Saturday, switching Danton Heinen and Ty Loney’s spots on the right wing and thus breaking up the top line of Heinen/Daniel Doremus/Trevor Moore — the top three scorers this season for the Pioneers. Certainly, it seemed like a brilliant move by Montgomery, a surprise change that could give the North Dakota coaching staff more to think about with its defensive pairings and matchups on the road. But neither line produced a point on Saturday, in part because of a more physical and defense-oriented game overall. Also, it was the new Heinen line (paired with Quentin Shore and Zac Larraza) that got caught in a bad second period line change, allowing a quick transition play for North Dakota that culminated in Nick Schmaltz converting a 2-on-1 rush. So, the move may not have worked quite as planned, but it was a bold decision by Montgomery, as we rarely see major lineup changes the night following a big win. Perhaps Montgomery realizes that some periodic changes may help prevent the offense from becoming too stagnant, a problem that the Pioneers have had in the past (though not this year). DU continues to have the luxury of offensive-minded defensemen who can provide goals even when the forwards struggle; four of Denver’s 5 goals this weekend came from the blueline.
Coming soon: On Friday, we’ll preview the only NCHC games (and in fact, the only NCAA Division I games, period) of the upcoming weekend, when Nebraska-Omaha hosts Alabama-Huntsville for a two-game nonconference series.