Archive for the 'NCHC' Category

Three Things I Think: NCHC, Dec. 16

Tuesday, December 16th, 2014

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.

Kaskisuo pulled

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.

 

 

NCHC Weekend Preview, Dec. 12-13

Friday, December 12th, 2014

With a 36-17-2 record, the NCHC has the best non-conference record among all Division I conferences (the ECAC a distant second), but much more important this weekend in the NCHC, aside from Minnesota-Duluth’s intriguing trip to Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, is which league teams can separate themselves from each other in three big conference showdowns.

Denver (9-4-0, 3-2-0 NCHC) hosts North Dakota (12-3-2, 5-2-1 NCHC):

The potential storylines for this monumental series in Denver this weekend abound, with both teams enjoying exceptional first halves of the season. North Dakota is coming off a sweep of Lake Superior State, while Denver split a two-game set in Ithaca, N.Y., last weekend against Cornell. The amount of high-level explosive talent on the ice at any given time in this game will be enjoyable to watch and at times may seem like an NHL futures exhibition — from the league’s top two scoring rookies (Denver’s Danton Heinen and UND’s Nick Schmaltz), to two of the most accomplished groups of defensemen in the country, to two of the top 10 power play units in the nation.

Both defensive corps are known to contribute offensively, and indeed, each team has three defensemen in its top eight point-scorers, including dynamic blue-liners Joey LaLeggia (Denver) and Jordan Schmaltz (UND). The key to the series, though, may be whether the visiting North Dakota can limit the output of Denver’s top trio of forwards, which includes Heinen in addition to senior Daniel Doremus and sophomore Trevor Moore. Playing on the Pioneers’ top line for most of the time lately, these three lead Denver in scoring, and Doremus enters the weekend with an eight game point streak that has produced four goals and nine assists. All three are typically deployed in power play situations as well, and this weekend they’ll face a North Dakota power play that has killed 21 consecutive opponent chances, a feat of course made possible in part by steady play from reigning NCHC goaltender of the week Zane McIntyre. For Denver, it was rookie Tanner Jaillet who picked up the one win at Cornell last weekend, but I’d expect sophomore Evan Cowley to start the weekend in goal for the Pioneers. Prediction: A weekend split (Denver wins Friday, North Dakota wins Saturday).

Nebraska-Omaha (8-4-2, 4-3-1-1 NCHC) hosts St. Cloud State (6-7-1, 2-3-1-1 NCHC): Like Denver and North Dakota, the net balance for the season’s first few months has been positive, but it didn’t feel like that late Friday night last week, after the Mavericks lost for the third time in five games and did so drastically, 8-2 at Miami. On Saturday, UNO showed its ability, as a young team that has three freshmen and two sophomores comprising its top five point scorers this season, to quickly respond to adversity — and it was a performance that bodes well for UNO’s stretch run following the holidays. Just 24 hours after Friday’s shellacking, UNO toppled Miami 5-2, behind strong goal efforts from Austin Ortega and Jake Randolph, both of whom had registered dismal minus-3 ratings a night earlier.

The Saturday evening showing was notable for its reflection of maturity, despite relative inexperience, and has undoubtedly given the Mavericks some confidence as they welcome an up-and-down St. Cloud State team that, when we last saw them two weeks ago, had split a pair of contests at Bemidji State. The talented Huskies have been in search of building some week to week momentum, the kind that teams like Miami and Minnesota-Duluth have been able to develop recently. Back to back overtime losses to start November (at Minnesota, vs. Minnesota-Duluth) really seemed to set St. Cloud back, but simply put, the Huskies’ top forwards need to be better defensively in front of sophomore goaltender Charlie Lindgren, who is still getting used to playing back to back games every weekend. Prediction: A weekend split (St. Cloud wins Friday, Omaha wins Saturday).

Western Michigan (5-8-1, 1-6-1-1 NCHC) hosts Colorado College (3-10-0, 0-7-0 NCHC): This matchup pits the smallest NCHC school (in terms of enrollment), Colorado College against the largest, Western Michigan. The Tigers’ long road stretch continues, and “long road” is the appropriate term for this CC team that hasn’t yet won a road game (0-8-0), is in the midst of a brutal stretch of 13 out of 14 NCAA games away from Colorado Springs, and is still looking for its first league win of the season. As the records above indicate, however, the Broncos haven’t fared much better in NCHC play this season and look to build on the momentum they generated with back-to-back blowout wins at the Shillelagh Tournament in South Bend, Indiana, just after Thanksgiving.

That weekend, better play from netminder Lukas Hafner and a 5-of-10 performance on the power play propelled Western Michigan to an 8-2 win over defending national champion Union. A subplot this weekend is the individual matchup between the Stoykewych brothers — both defensemen, Peter is CC’s senior captain, while the freshman Paul has played four games for the Broncos this year so far. This week, Peter told Joe Paisley of the Colorado Springs Gazette, “We’re playing for bragging rights over Christmas. Not many people get to play hockey against your brother at this level. It definitely adds to the excitement for this weekend.” Prediction: A weekend split (CC gets its first league win of the year on Friday, WMU rebounds on Saturday).

And in non-conference action:

Michigan Tech (12-2-0, 10-2-0 WCHA) hosts Minnesota-Duluth (11-5-0, 7-3-0 NCHC): UMD is 8-1 in its last nine games and it’s not just because of freshman goaltender Kasimir Kaskisuo. This year’s Bulldogs are deeper in terms of offense, more committed in terms of shot-blocking and limiting opponent opportunities, and have found productive roles for players like junior defenseman Andy Welinski (contributing six goals from the blue line) and freshman Karson Kuhlman (five goals already as a rookie). Simple adjustments have allowed UMD to move from a middle-of-the-pack offensive team last year into the No. 12 highest scoring team in the nation this season. They’ll be tested though this weekend at Michigan Tech in this matchup of two of the top three teams in the KRACH ratings and two of the top five in the early volatile Pairwise.

The Huskies have won all but two games this season, but those two were against the WCHA’s other top team, Minnesota State, who split with UMD earlier in the season. Michigan Tech’s only other nonconference opponent before this weekend was a Michigan team early in the season that hadn’t yet found its top form, so for the Huskies, this is a big test to see if they are deserving of the hype that their record has generated. Tanner Kero and Alex Petan have produced consistently for Michigan Tech, typically playing on a line together, and will likely be the focal point of the Bulldogs’ defensive efforts. Prediction: Minnesota-Duluth wins Friday. Tie on Saturday.

Coming soon: Check CHN for features on Denver and North Dakota next week following this weekend’s series.

Three Things I Think: NCHC, Dec. 9

Tuesday, December 9th, 2014

North Dakota (a weekend sweep of Lake Superior State) and Denver (a split with Cornell) added to the NCHC’s nonconference success this year. The NCHC is 36-17-2 against non-conference opponents, and that .673 winning percentage leads all Division I conferences.

Each team (yes, even Colorado College and Western Michigan) has at least three non-conference wins this season.

Czarnik’s assist

For the first three seasons of his Miami career, Austin Czarnik’s assist totals have outweighed his goal totals by a greater than 2-to-1 margin, but still, the senior forward is more than an accomplished goal-scorer, with three consecutive double-digit goal seasons entering this winter. This season, Miami has been rolling behind a well-balanced offense that hasn’t needed Czarnik to score goals, but he’s been more than valuable with 17 assists, leading the nation, and allowing his teammates to find success on an almost nightly basis. Still, as the senior skated in towards an empty net late on Friday night, with the RedHawks already up 7-2 over Nebraska-Omaha, most watching might have anticipated that Czarnik would slide the puck into the net for the first goal of his senior season. But that’s not what happened at all. The Washington, Mich., native and NHL free agent instead passed (as he has many times this year) on the opportunity, for his 16th assist of the season, allowing junior defenseman Michael Mooney to score the first goal of his career. Mooney was clearly thrilled, and it’s that kind of gesture by Czarnik, Miami’s captain, that reflects the way coach Enrico Blasi has his team playing this year. Blasi has long talked of Miami’s concept of the brotherhood, and its manifestations on and off the ice. Czarnik has seemed to represent that more than ever over the past few weeks and has Miami in position for a successful spring sprint to the playoffs.

Poolman stepping up

Speaking of players buying into a team concept, North Dakota freshman defenseman Tucker Poolman was called upon to move up to forward on Friday night, while UND found itself trailing against Lake Superior in Grand Forks. North Dakota had lost two forwards, including National Player of the Month Drake Caggiula to injury early in the game, creating the opportunity for Poolman, who then scored two power play goals late in the 2nd as UND engineered a comeback. Poolman’s second goal tied the game 4-4, after UND had trailed 4-1 just 10 minutes earlier. UND coach Dave Hakstol was able to use the strengths of his team to his advantage, rearranging the lineup to allow for the comeback. And Poolman, the physically imposing rookie who has shown strong offensive instincts all season, made those decisions look even better. It showed impressive versatility for a freshman, reflecting — like Miami — the depth of North Dakota this season.

Rough stretch for CC

It’s hard not to feel for Colorado College, winless in seven NCHC league games and 3-10-0 overall. A rough fall schedule hasn’t helped matters much, as the Tigers are in the midst of the most grueling road stretch of any team in the country, having to play 10 of 11 games on the road. Their one home game in that stretch, against Wisconsin on the Friday night before Thanksgiving, was CC’s only win since the season’s first weekend (a sweep of Alabama-Huntsville, also in Colorado Springs). Still, at the end of the day, there are minimal expectations here, despite preseason insistence to the contrary from head coach and former Stanley Cup winner Mike Haviland, and any reason for optimism lies in the fact that all the lessons learned from this stretch — the need to be much more resilient defensively, the need to play even stronger on the shifts after scoring goals — could pay off later in the season. From mid-January to the end of February, CC will play 10 of 13 games at home, including at one point nine straight games in the state of Colorado. Even at that point, it’ll be a tough task for the Tigers to take points away from a strong league top to bottom this season, but they’ll be better prepared to do it.

Coming soon: I’ll be at Magness Arena for North Dakota’s trip to Denver this weekend. Check CHN next week for features on both teams.

NCHC Weekend Preview, Dec. 5-6

Friday, December 5th, 2014

Six of eight NCHC teams are in action this weekend, with Nebraska-Omaha and Colorado College both facing noteworthy tests as they travel to Oxford, Ohio, and Duluth, Minn., respectively — in both cases, trying to avoid extending slumps against a pair of teams (Miami and Minnesota-Duluth) that had great Novembers.

Miami (10-4-0 overall, 6-2-0 NCHC) hosts Nebraska-Omaha (7-3-2 overall, 3-2-1-1 NCHC)

Arguably no goaltender in the country had as satisfying a November as Miami junior netminder Jay Williams, who was undefeated (5-0-0) while starting all of Miami’s wins in the month (classmate Ryan McKay, meanwhile, started the RedHawks’ two November losses). Williams won only five games total, in 16 appearances, in a forgettable 2013-14 season, and the strong goaltending has been one of the many reasons for Miami’s success so far this season. The RedHawks have had two weeks off since a weekend sweep of Western Michigan and welcome a UNO team that, despite playing well a week ago, left Grand Forks, N.D., with a tie and loss against front-running North Dakota. Uncharacteristically, UNO’s top line of Dominic Zombo, Jake Guentzel, and Austin Ortega was held scoreless last week — an anomaly for the trio that’s combined for 30 points this season already. Clearly, stopping that line has been the key to success against UNO, and although that’s far from an easy task, one wonders if coach Dean Blais has considered splitting the three up, much like Miami coach Enrico Blasi has done in the past with star forwards Austin Czarnik and Riley Barber. Prediction: A weekend split.

Minnesota-Duluth (9-5-0 overall, 5-3-0 NCHC) hosts Colorado College (3-8-0 overall, 0-5-0 NCHC)

Much like Miami, UMD enjoyed a bye week over Thanksgiving, while CC beat Wisconsin last week prior to a loss to local rival Air Force. The Tigers, perhaps not surprisingly for a young team, haven’t won a road game (0-6-0) so far this year and will certainly be tested this weekend against a deep Bulldogs team built from the goal out. Freshman goaltender Kasimir Kaskisuo was named the Hockey Commissioners’ Association (HCA) National Rookie of the Month after leading UMD to six wins in a tough November schedule that included a home-and-home sweep of Minnesota and a road sweep at St. Cloud State. The Finnish goalie had a .933 save percentage for the month and will be another tough test for CC this weekend. Kasiksuo has handled his work load well this year so far. We’ll see if he can maintain his level of play this weekend. After next week’s trip to WCHA-leading Michigan Tech, the Bulldogs will have almost a month before their next NCHC series (at North Dakota). CC, meanwhile, will look for the same form it showed against Wisconsin, in a 5-2 win, last Friday. The Tigers have had a tendency to give up quick goals in succession this year. It happened multiple times against Denver in a 8-1 loss in mid-November, and it happened against at Air Force last week when two goals in about 30 seconds late in the first period gave the Falcons a lead they wouldn’t relinquish. Against Wisconsin, though, when the Badgers scored in the second period to cut the CC lead to 2-1, the Tigers actually played even better for the rest of the period — perhaps a sign that things may be changing for the better, albeit slowly. Prediction: Minnesota-Duluth sweeps

And in non-conference action this weekend:

North Dakota (10-3-2 overall, 5-2-1 NCHC) hosts Lake Superior (3-13-0 overall, 3-9-0 WCHA): National Player of the Month Drake Caggiula (13 points in nine November games) leads UND into the program’s first meeting against Lake Superior since December 1973. The Lakers have won just one of their last five games and were outscored 10-0 in a two-game series against Minnesota State last week. Eight times this year, Lake State has scored 0 or 1 goals and will likely struggle against a proven North Dakota defense. Prediction: North Dakota sweeps.

Cornell (4-4-1 overall, 3-3-0 ECAC) hosts Denver (8-3-0 overall, 3-2-0 NCHC): The last time Denver and Cornell — two programs that split four national titles from 1967 to 1970 — faced off, the series (a sweep in Denver by the Pioneers) was punctuated by a controversial game disqualification penalty on Big Red forward and now-senior John McCarron, an incident that resulted in a one-game suspension for coach Mike Schafer after he criticized the officiating and called for neutral officials for all nonconference games. It’s been almost two years since that incident, and of course a change in coaching staff for Denver as well. Cornell has won three in a row, including a 3-1 win over Penn State at Madison Square Garden last weekend. The Big Red has needed timely offense to overcome early season scoring woes and will be tested again this weekend against Evan Cowley and a Pioneers defense that not only plays well in its own zone but that consistently contributes offensively as well. This is Denver’s first visit to Ithaca since December 1979, and the storyline to watch will be how the Big Red can respond to the Pioneers’ strong special teams play. In November, Denver went 9-for-26 (34.6 percent) on the power play, the best percentage in the nation for the month, while killing off 23 of 26 opponent power plays. Prediction: A weekend split.

Three Things I Think: NCHC, Dec. 3

Wednesday, December 3rd, 2014

It’s December already, which means that (generally speaking) all league teams have lighter game schedules this month around the holidays and exams — an opportunity to continue to evolve before the grueling stretch run begins in earnest in January. All league teams play just four games each in December, except for St. Cloud State (just two games) and Nebraska-Omaha (with a busy eight game schedule). The Mavericks, winners of just one of their last four games, have a challenging stretch coming up, starting with a trip to Oxford to play a hot Miami team, before hosting St. Cloud next weekend. UNO stays at home during the holidays, with non-conference series against Alabama-Huntsville and New Hampshire before 2014 ends. We’ll preview UNO’s trip to Miami here on Friday. In the meantime:

That Broncos Offense

Well, no, not that Broncos offense… Western Michigan entered last weekend’s Shillelagh Tournament in South Bend, Indiana, after scoring just six goals in a four-game stretch (three losses and a tie). Still, the Broncos had shown signs of their offensive ability earlier in the season — for example, with a 10-goal road weekend at Denver. It all came together, though, for Andy Murray’s team last weekend in South Bend, when WMU won the tournament by outscoring its opponents (Ohio State and defending national champion Union) by a combined 14-4 score. The Broncos stuck with Lukas Hafner in net, as the junior earned a fifth straight start in net over senior Frank Slubowski, but more notably, the offense came alive behind senior forward Justin Kovacs, who was named Offensive Player of the Week in the NCHC after compiling seven assists in the weekend’s two games.

Kovacs was second on the team in goals last year, but 13 of his 14 points this year have been helpers — no doubt reflecting a focus for the senior to jump-start his teammates, especially on the power play (9 of Kovacs’ 14 points have come in man-advantage situations, including four of his five assists on Saturday). Perhaps more importantly, all four lines got involved in the scoring for Western Michigan this weekend, reflecting a dynamic revival of a talented team that has underperformed for most of the season thus far. It’s also a reflection of impressive resiliency for a team that lost three one-goal games in November. The Broncos have an opportunity to keep their momentum rolling next weekend (Dec. 12-13) with a pair of home games against Colorado College.

Miami’s second period

Miami, after going 5-2-0 in November and having now won seven of its last nine games overall, is certainly in a much better position following Thanksgiving this year than the RedHawks were last year. At this time a year ago, Miami had just suffered through a 1-3-1 stretch that snowballed into a winter to forget, winning just three of its next 17 games. This year, as we’ve said repeatedly, Miami is more composed, poised,and resilient at both ends of the ice. The RedHawks have also had an offense that hasn’t relied on its big-name stars (amazingly, senior Austin Czarnik, a double-digit goal scorer each of his first three seasons, is still looking for his first goal of 2014-15).

Miami has been particularly strong this season in making adjustments heading into the second period. Able to rely on strong goaltending again from Jay Williams, the RedHawks have tended to play a strong physical game early and then start putting their opponents away in the second. In fact, Miami has has outshot its opponents 213-92 in the second period, and that shot ratio has (not surprisingly) been reflected into a roughly 2:1 goal ratio in that period as well (21-12). To put the Miami second period dominance into better perspective, consider that the +121 shot differential is by far the best for any NCHC team in any period (next best is Minnesota-Duluth’s +78 shot differential for the first period, then Denver’s +46 for the second period).

The WJC

Three NCHC players were invited yesterday to attend the U.S. National Junior Team training camp, two weeks from now in Boston, where a group of 30 players will be trimmed to 23 on Christmas Eve. Those 23 will take part at the World Junior Championship tournament in Canada in January. The three NCHC players looking to make the cut are North Dakota rookie forward Nick Schmaltz, Miami sophomore forward Anthony Louis, and Denver sophomore defenseman Will Butcher.

Schmaltz will almost certainly make the team provided he remains injury-free and plays at the camp as he has all season. Last week, teammate and UND leading scorer Drake Caggiula said of the Blackhawks first-rounder, “He’s got the best vision and the best hands I’ve ever played with.”

Despite a strong group of left defensemen invited to Boston, I would expect Butcher, a Colorado Avalanche draft pick, to make the team — not only for his sound defense (in Denver, as we know, he’s helped shut down opposing top lines in front of goaltender Evan Cowley) but also for his ability to score and for his experience. Butcher is looking to return to the team after he was part of Team USA’s defensive corps last year, when he averaged a point per game. Meanwhile, Louis has been a key player for Miami lately, with points in four of the RedHawks’ last five, and more importantly, he showed up in big games last year — with six points in Miami’s final four games of the season (culminating in the NCHC title game). Louis is a small, skilled forward, and it’ll be interesting to see whether he can make the team amidst a very talented group of left wingers invited to the camp.

Coming soon: Six NCHC teams will be in action this weekend, highlighted by a pair of big road trips for UNO (at Miami) and Colorado College (at Minnesota-Duluth), with each visiting team facing a tough task. Meanwhile, Denver heads to Ithaca, N.Y., to take on Cornell, and Lake Superior visits North Dakota. We’ll preview all the series here on Friday.

NCHC Weekend Preview, Nov. 28-29

Friday, November 28th, 2014

Half the league’s teams are in action this weekend (Denver, CC, Miami, and Minnesota-Duluth, meanwhile, enjoy the Thanksgiving week off).

Here’s a look at this weekend’s sole conference series, as well as St. Cloud State’s and Western Michigan’s non-conference forays:

North Dakota (9-3-1 overall, 4-2-0 NCHC) hosts Nebraska-Omaha (7-2-1 overall, 3-1-0 NCHC)

This is the NCHC’s best Black Friday deal — a matchup featuring two of the top three league offenses and two of the top three league defenses. UND and UNO are both coming off weekend splits a week ago (North Dakota against St. Cloud State, and Omaha against Minnesota-Duluth) and enter the weekend looking for an opportunity to distance themselves from the rest of the top league teams. Of course, the coaching staffs know each other well, with UNO coach Dean Blais returning to Grand Forks this weekend, where he resided as head coach of UND from 1994 to 2004, including four seasons with North Dakota head coach Dave Hakstol as an assistant. Hakstol’s teams have traditionally started slow and picked things up right around the Thanksgiving break. This year’s been different, led by a balanced offense and predictably strong goaltending from Zane McIntyre. Earlier this week, Drake Caggiula — UND’s leading scorer — offered his thoughts on why North Dakota has been better in the early stages of the season this year, compared to seasons past.

“We changed the way the way we started off our preseason,” Caggiula told me. “My first two years here, we did a lot of hard conditioning, and guys were getting tired heading into the season. So we made some adjustments off the ice in terms of that. I think that’s given us more of an opportunity to perform well on weekends. The biggest thing though is that we have a lot of returning guys to lead the way, and we know what it takes to be competitive.”

UND will have to deal with an equally strong Omaha team boasting a senior goaltender in Ryan Massa who has, simply, been outstanding so far. His .951 save percentage is second-best in the nation. Sophomores Austin Ortega and Jake Guentzel have led the way for the Mavericks’ offensive output, but freshman Tyler Vesel has emerged in recent games as well. The reigning NCHC Rookie of the Week, an Edmonton Oilers draft pick, had three points in last weekend’s split with UMD. This is usually the time of year that the top freshmen in the country prove themselves as able to produce consistently (yes, we know BU’s Jack Eichel has been doing that from day one) — with the type of game-to-game output that we see out of the veterans on these teams. UND freshman Trevor Olson, who scored the first two goals of his career last week, will be looking to do the same. Prediction: A weekend split

And in non-conference action:

Bemidji State (3-9-0 overall, 2-6-0 WCHA) hosts St. Cloud State (5-6-1 overall, 2-3-1 NCHC): Bemidji State is winless in its last six games as the Beavers prepare to host a Huskies that split its series with North Dakota last weekend. St. Cloud has the clear edge in this series, especially if they can limit Bemidji sophomore center Brendan Harms, who has a four-game point streak entering the weekend. That hasn’t been an easy task, though. Harms had two goals in the season’s first game, a win over North Dakota. St. Cloud comes in with the usual suspects (Jonny Brodzinski, Joey Benik, and the rest of its junior class) playing well in front of sophomore goaltender Charlie Lindgren. Curiously, the top lines have been prone to occasional defensive lapses, and that’ll likely be a focal point in the week of preparation for the Huskies. The aforementioned juniors are great two-way players, and they’ll be expected to play just as well defensively as offensively. Prediction: St. Cloud State sweeps.

Western Michigan (3-8-1 overall, 1-6-1 NCHC) at the Shillelagh Tournament: The Broncos are winless in their last four games and face an Ohio State team in South Bend this afternoon that, overall, has been struggling as well — though put together a nice game last weekend, a 3-0 shutout of Michigan State. WMU has yet to play well both offensively and defensively in a single game, struggling to score goals most of the time — and when they do, their defense and goaltending has let them down. Western Michigan will take on either Notre Dame or Union tomorrow. Prediction: WMU wins Friday, loses Saturday

Three Things I Think: NCHC, Nov. 25

Tuesday, November 25th, 2014

Seven of the NCHC’s eight teams — all but a struggling Western Michigan — head into Thanksgiving feeling thankful for experiencing at least one win (two each for Miami and Denver) this past weekend.

Now, a quick look back at three of the many take-home points from an eventful weekend:

Benik on the goal line

St. Cloud State and North Dakota played one of the more entertaining series in recent memory within league play, and it was fitting that this one concluded with a weekend split, with the Huskies taking the first game before UND rebounded to win on Saturday. Friday’s most memorable moment, for me, was the Jonny Brodzinski power play goal that put St. Cloud State up 3-1 in the third period — memorable most of all because of Joey Benik’s impressive goal-line stickhandling around the typically sure-footed Paul LaDue, UND’s sophomore defenseman. Benik drew two more penalty killers to him before sliding the puck across the top of the crease to a wide open Brodzinski, who one-timed the eventual game-winner past UND’s Zane McIntyre for his second of the game and team-leading seventh of the season. Benik continued to play well Saturday, despite the loss — again from the goal line, scoring over McIntyre’s right shoulder on an almost impossible short-side angle, pulling the Huskies at the time to within a goal. Benik seems to benefit playing on a line with Brodzinski and classmate David Morley, as the Andover, Minn., native is proving to be a critical component of St. Cloud’s offense. Benik has six goals thus far this season.

In this series, both goaltenders played well, but did so especially — strange as this may sound — in the games they lost. On Friday, McIntyre made several key saves to keep UND within striking distance of St. Cloud, and on Saturday, the Huskies’ Charlie Lindgren did the same. Saturday’s biggest save for Lindgren, arguably, came when he stopped a 3-on-0 breakaway featuring UND’s Michael Parks, Connor Gaarder, and Brendan O’Donnell.

Denver offense versatile

The Pioneers followed up their 8-1 win over Colorado College with a 7-0 drubbing of another in-state rival on Friday night, this time Air Force. DU then toppled Wisconsin, 3-2, on Saturday. Sure, the last three games for Denver have come against three of the worst teams in the country (a combined 7-23-2 and among the bottom in most statistical categories), but regardless, Denver’s offense has been notable not just for the sheer number of goals scored but also for the versatile manner in which they’ve been scoring. It’s clearly been a focus, too, to turn last season’s No. 6 league offense into what’s now the No. 1 offense in the league and the No. 4 offense in the nation (3.64 goals per game, trailing only Robert Morris, UMass-Lowell, and Boston University). One consistent part of the offense has been the ability for DU players to find room behind the net, below the goal line, and be able to keep their heads up to see open players streaking into the slot, or at the top of the crease. Combined with quick hands by its veteran forwards around the net, and lightning-fast passes in odd-man and power play situations, Denver has clearly found a nice rhythm in the offensive zone. It doesn’t hurt, either, when your players can make moves like Quentin Shore did on Friday (a toe drag around a helpless Air Force defender who was then used as a screen on a shorthanded goal) or like Daniel Doremus did on Saturday (a behind the back pass while lying flat on stomach, right to leading scorer Trevor Moore). Shore, an Ottawa Senators draft pick, was named the NCHC’s Offensive Player of the Week after amassing five points, including a natural hat-trick in the second period of Friday’s shutout win.

Sticking with one

Until this point of the season, we’ve seen a few goalie platoons on display in the league — for instance, Jay Williams/Ryan McKay (Miami), Lukas Hafner/Frank Slubowski (Western Michigan), and Tyler Marble/Chase Perry (Colorado College). Elsewhere, an anticipated rotation between Denver sophomore Evan Cowley and freshman Tanner Jaillet hasn’t come to fruition because of how outstanding Cowley (6-3-0 with a 1.85 goals-against average and .929 save percentage) has been so far — though DU coach Jim Montgomery is more than laudatory any time Jaillet’s name comes up. This weekend saw the Miami, Western Michigan, and Colorado College coaching staffs all stick with the goaltender who’s played better until this point in the season — Miami’s Williams, WMU’s Hafner, and CC’s Perry — with each getting both weekend starts.

The move worked for Miami, where Enrico Blasi (despite historic tendencies to suggest otherwise) may be forced into sticking with Williams, who’s been in net for all 10 of the RedHawks wins this season. Unfortunately for CC and Western Michigan, the votes of confidence didn’t go as smoothly — especially for the Broncos, who lost both their games at Miami with Hafner in net each time. Perry, meanwhile, earned a win on Friday over Wisconsin — a game that showed improved effort from the Tigers as a team — but lost Saturday to Air Force. In Miami’s case, they seem to have found their No. 1 for the season, while the search has been less clear for Western Michigan and Colorado College.

As an aside, the other four teams in the league have had a clear-cut No. 1 established starter, and all have been successful in the early going this season (Kasimir Kaskisuo for Minnesota Duluth, Zane McIntyre for North Dakota, Charlie Lindgren for St. Cloud State, and Ryan Massa for Nebraska-Omaha).

Coming soon: Check CHN before this weekend’s games for feature articles on North Dakota’s Drake Caggiula and Miami’s Sean Kuraly. And on Friday, we’ll preview the North Dakota/Nebraska-Omaha series, Western Michigan’s trip to South Bend for the Shillelagh Tournament, and St. Cloud State’s upcoming two-game series at Bemidji State.

NCHC Weekend Preview: Nov. 21-22

Friday, November 21st, 2014

Minnesota-Duluth has received plenty of attention on CHN over the past two weeks, with back-to-back Team of the Week honors, Nicole Brodzik’s look at the offensive contributions of the Bulldog defense, and Kara Hille’s look back on UMD’s sweep of Minnesota last week.

This weekend, with all NCHC teams in action on both nights, the Bulldogs go on the road for the third consecutive week, this time carrying a five-game winning streak into a two-game set at UNO (5-0-1 in its last six games) in a matchup between two of the top teams not just in the NCHC, but in the country.

Nebraska-Omaha (6-1-1 overall, 2-0-0 NCHC) hosts Minnesota-Duluth (8-4-0 overall, 4-2-0 NCHC)

Both teams have enjoyed timely offenses this season, each squad averaging over three goals a game and led in each case by a sophomore forward — Omaha’s Jake Guentzel, who’s bounced back nicely from an injury earlier in the season, and UMD’s Dominic Toninato. But the matchup to watch this weekend will be between the goaltenders. Duluth’s freshman netminder Kasimir Kaskisuo of course backstopped the Bulldogs to their sweep over Minnesota last week. The reigning NCHC Goaltender of the Week only had to make 41 saves all weekend, reflecting strong defensive play in front of him — but the saves he did make, in many cases, were huge, including a memorable handful on Gopher power play opportunities. He’ll face the more experienced senior Ryan Massa, who for the Mavericks is fifth in the country in goals-against average and a big reason Omaha has a penalty killing percentage approaching 90 percent. The other players to keep an eye on this weekend are a pair of Minnesota natives who play for the Mavericks — freshmen Jake Randolph (a Minnesota Wild draft pick) and Avery Peterson. The rookies, who play on different lines, combined for 9 points in Omaha’s sweep of Ohio State last week and have fit in nicely to coach Dean Blais’ offensive scheme. As a result, the Mavericks have three lines who have been scoring consistently, as opposed to two lines for UMD. That sets the stage for a chess match between veteran coaches Dean Blais and Scott Sandelin. Prediction: Nebraska-Omaha wins Friday, Minnesota-Duluth wins Saturday.

St. Cloud State (4-5-1 overall, 1-2-1-0 NCHC) hosts North Dakota (8-2-1 overall, 3-1-0 NCHC)

Last season, the Huskies and UND battled all season for the regular season title, and St. Cloud’s 3-1-0 record against North Dakota proved to be the difference in the Huskies taking that inaugural regular season crown in the NCHC. Last week, UND split with Miami, while St. Cloud followed a win over Western Michigan with a shootout loss the next night. Both teams enter this weekend with strong special teams play. The focus, for St. Cloud and sophomore goaltender Charlie Lindgren, has to be on stopping UND’s potent top line that has been difficult for opponents to contain so far this season. Junior forward Drake Caggiula, the NCHC Player of the Week after 5 points last weekend, centers the line, and he’s tied for the nation’s lead with 16 points so far. His linemates are seniors Michael Parks and Mark MacMillan (MacMillan returned from a wrist injury last weekend). The trio has combined for 40 points and is a combined plus-18. They also play in all situations, contributing four power play goals and five shorthanded goals so far this season. Last weekend, St. Cloud coach Bob Motzko, on the heels of a three-game losing streak, switched up his defensive pairings, most notably splitting up Ethan Prow and Andrew Prochno. No matter the combinations this weekend, the focus clearly will be on UND’s top line. Meanwhile, St. Cloud’s offense will look to get going, particularly juniors David Morley and Jimmy Murray, who as part of the Huskies’ exceptional junior class are off to slow starts so far. Prediction: North Dakota wins Friday, st. Cloud State wins Saturday.

Miami (8-4-0 overall, 4-2-0 NCHC) hosts Western Michigan (3-6-1 overall, 1-4-1-1 NCHC)

Lately, even in last Saturday’s loss at North Dakota, Miami has started games well, typically scoring first and earning the opportunity to play with the lead. Combine that with very few mental mistakes, and the RedHawks look unrecognizable compared to last season’s team. As we’ve mentioned here repeatedly, the success has come from Miami’s balanced offense. Check back next week for a feature we’ll have on junior forward Sean Kuraly, who is tied for the nation’s lead with nine goals (including, somewhat remarkably, six game-winners). Kuraly has been a force, along with Blake Coleman and Alex Wideman, who have helped shoulder the load for a Miami offense (obviously that also includes Austin Czarnik and Riley Barber) that puts plenty of shots on goal. On the other end, junior Jay Williams has been exceptional in goal. Ryan McKay, now winless at 0-3-0, started last Saturday and although he didn’t play terribly, we have to wonder if Miami head coach Enrico Blasi will stray away from his rotation and stick with Williams, who seems to have earned a pair of starts this weekend. Western Michigan dominated Miami (4-0-0) last year but have struggled with consistency this year. Still looking for consistent offense, another problem for the Broncos has been their goaltending, with junior Lukas Hafner outplaying senior Frank Slubowski so far. The two have alternated starts. I’d expect a Hafner/Williams matchup to kick off the series tonight. Prediction: Miami sweeps

And in non-conference action:

Denver hosts Air Force, Wisconsin: The Pioneers are going to face a tougher test Friday night against the Falcons than they did against Colorado College last week (when Denver beat CC 8-1). Denver enters the weekend after hearing advice from Washington Capitals coach Barry Trotz, who visited the team’s practice on Wednesday prior to standing behind the bench for the Caps 3-2 win over the Avalanche the following night. Trotz stressed that success on the NHL level is all about keeping a focus on the details, and maintaining that focus for more than just two or three weeks. This 2014-15 Denver team has shown it can do that already, and it’s started with the play of sophomore Evan Cowley in goal, whose strong start has allowed the Pioneer defensemen to jump into more offensive rushes and complement a strong group of forwards, led again in scoring by Trevor Moore (12 points in nine games). Denver faces an Air Force team that has played three consecutive overtime games and then a Wisconsin team that is winless (0-6-0) to start its season. Prediction: Tie on Friday, Denver wins Saturday

Colorado College hosts Wisconsin, visits Air Force: Friday’s matchup is one between two teams desperate for a win. The old WCHA rivals have struggled mightily so far. CC lost 8-1 at Denver last week in a rivalry matchup and is 2-7-0 this year, losing seven straight after a pair of wins over Alabama-Huntsville. The Badgers, meanwhile, haven’t had much go right so far. Wisconsin has scored just seven goals in six games, all losses, while allowing four or more in four of those six games. Similarly, the Tigers have scored just a pair of goals over their last three games and have allowed 35 goals over six games. Only Niagara (1-9-0) has allowed more goals this season. The Tigers defense, simply, has to be better. I’d expect Chase Perry to get the start in goal for CC tonight. Prediction: CC wins Friday, loses Saturday

A look back at UMD’s sweep against Minnesota

Tuesday, November 18th, 2014

Over the weekend, reigning CHN Team of the Week Minnesota-Duluth continued its red hot play with a two-game sweep against Minnesota. CHN’s Kara Hille was there, and here she takes a look back:

UMD dominant in in-state rivalry matchup against Minnesota

By Kara Hille

With an in-state rivalry like the one between the University of Minnesota Golden Gophers and UMD Bulldogs, there’s a demand for high-energy play from the moment the puck drops. Though the Gophers were 134-73-17 against UMD, the Bulldogs were the first to get on the board Friday night at Mariucci Arena in their 225th match against “The U.”

Bulldogs sophomore Austin Farley scored just over two minutes into the first, putting UMD on trend for a possessive period, outshooting the Gophers 15-7.

“They obviously come out flying right away,” said Gopher forward, Justin Kloos following the game. “There’s a lot of Minnesota kids in that locker room, so I think they have this one marked on the calendar.”

Facing the Bulldogs without key players, the Gophers looked to fill gaps left by defenseman Brady Skjei and forward Travis Boyd, both players suffering lower-body injuries earlier in the season.

The series opener was without a doubt a battle of the goaltenders, pitting Gopher senior Adam Wilcox to UMD newcomer, Kasimir Kaskisuo. By the end of the second, Wilcox faced just nearly twice the shots as Kaskisuo, making an additional nine saves as sophomore defenseman Dan Molenaar scored his first career goal for the Bulldogs halfway through the period. UMD kept their opponents on their heels through the end of the second period – causing Minnesota’s frustration to boil over in the third.

In the third period, the Bulldogs were able to capitalize on another Minnesota penalty. Scoring his eighth goal of the season, Dominic Toninato, a second-generation UMD forward, put the Bulldogs up 3-0, which would remain the score until the 60 minutes of play were over.

The final period saw four Gopher penalties including a five-minute boarding major for senior Christian Isackson shortly following Toninato’s goal. UMD registered two minor penalties while Minnesota racked up 17 penalty minutes in total.

“I was really disappointed, I had not seen that, I’m embarrassed with some of those penalties at the end,” said head coach Don Lucia. “That’s not the way we play, that’s not the way we coach.”

In the first game of the series, the Bulldogs outshot the Gophers 38-17. Though Wilcox made a season-high 35 saves, UMD handed Minnesota its first home loss in 17 games – since they last played Minnesota Duluth on Nov. 24, 2013.

“For the second time in two years, we didn’t match their intensity and we had a similar outcome,” said Kloos on Friday night. “It’s really disappointing right now, but we get to get some revenge tomorrow.”

The revenge would have to wait.

Much like Friday night, the Saturday tilt played at Amsoil Arena in Duluth opened with an early Bulldog goal from Toninato at only 28 seconds into the game. The first period finished 2-0 as freshman Karson Kuhlman scored his fourth goal of the season and the third UMD power play goal of the series after Hudson Fasching was sent to the box for slashing.

Shortly thereafter, UMD’s Justin Crandall was handed a five-minute major for kneeing as well as a game misconduct. In a scoreless second period, Minnesota’s AJ Michaelson received five minutes for checking from behind as well as a game misconduct.

In front of a record crowd of 7,424 at Amsoil, Leon Bristedt was the first and only Gopher goal of the series, finding the back of Kaskisuo’s net with under nine minutes left in the game assisted by Seth Ambroz and Jack Glover. The rally, however, was too little too late for Minnesota, and the score remained 2-1 until the end of regulation.

By the end of the third, UMD outshot Minnesota for the second night in a row, this time 34-25. Though the Gophers were able to put more pucks in front of Kaskisuo, Wilcox kept them in the game with numerous show-stopping saves.

In true rivalry fashion, the series finished in a flurry of penalties. Four minors were assessed for unsportsmanlike conduct, shared by UMD’s Carson Soucy and Alex Iafallo as well as Minnesota’s Michael Brodzinski and Leon Bristedt.

Minnesota Duluth swept Minnesota for the first time since 2009.

Though the all-time record now stands at 134-75-17 in Minnesota’s favor, there’s no doubt they’re still looking for revenge. There’s a possibility the teams could meet in late January as part of the North State College Cup at the Xcel Energy Center.

For now, Minnesota Duluth will travel to face Nebraska-Omaha (6-1-1) this weekend while the Gophers take on the US Under-18 team back at Mariucci on Friday night.

NCHC Weekend Preview: Nov. 14-15

Friday, November 14th, 2014

A few hours from now, as part a yet another intriguing slate of games involving seven of the eight NCHC teams this weekend, Denver hosts in-state rival Colorado College in the continuation of college hockey’s most frequently played rivalry — a rivalry that, in the past, has included plenty of drama beyond just the closely contested games and a pair of passionate fan bases. For example, a game in the 1960’s involved such as massive on-ice brawl that CC students got involved; that led to the cancellation of the season series for a year. And a game in the mid 1970’s resulted in CC goaltender Eddie Mio getting knocked unconscious by a chicken — yes, a frozen chicken — thrown at him by a Denver fan during a game.

Separated by just over 60 miles on Interstate 25, the two private schools have combined for nine national titles, 24 Frozen Four appearances, and 13 Hobey Baker Award finalists (including three combined Hobey winners since 2003). They’ve seen plenty of each other since their first meeting in January 1950, and for the last four seasons, they’ve alternated possession of the “Gold Pan” trophy (an ornate bragging right to the winner of the season series), with CC winning it last year.

Tonight, as long and dramatic as the history between the programs might be, the focus is very much on the present and future. It’s the first meeting between coaches Jim Montgomery (in his second year, of course, with the Pioneers) and Mike Haviland (who, in his first season with the Tigers, gets his first taste of the rivalry tonight). CC has lost six straight games overall, allowing 30 goals over that stretch. Freshman goaltender Chase Perry played well last Friday in a 3-0 loss to Miami, and played well in stretches the following night too until the RedHawks blew the game open with rapid-succession power play goals late in the second.

The defensive lapses, combined with a struggling offense, has understandably led to plenty of problems for this young CC team, and things aren’t getting any easier as they travel to Magness Arena tonight. Denver has played well overall, although allowing 10 goals in its weekend series split with Western Michigan last weekend was somewhat uncharacteristic for its typically robust defense. Ty Loney and Joey LaLeggia played particularly well in last Friday’s win — just two of many offensive weapons the Pioneers boast this year. The key tonight, as in most rivalry games, may be which team handles the early game emotion the best. Puck drop is at 7:37PM mountain time. I’ll be at Magness for this one tonight and will have thoughts from the game posted here over the weekend. Prediction: Denver wins.

The other NCHC series this weekend:

North Dakota hosts Miami: UND is unbeaten in eight games, and Miami has won seven of nine, in the matchup of two of the top teams in the country. As we mentioned in this space earlier in the week, Miami’s success this year seems to stem from a renewed commitment to defensive accountability, combined with timely lineup changes that have off-loaded the RedHawks’ two undisputed stars (Riley Barber and Austin Czarnik). They’re still averaging a point per game, but coach Enrico Blasi, who in the offseason was candid about the fact that he had to take an honest look at his team and the coaching staff’s approach, has moved Alex Wideman to the top line to play with the Barber/Czarnik duo. In doing so, he moved Cody Murphy off that line to play on the wing with center Blake Coleman, and placed Sean Kuraly with Anthony Louis on a line that’s both quick and physical. As a result, three lines that are scoring proficiently. All of North Dakota’s games thus far have come against teams currently below .500 — including the winless Wisconsin team that UND swept in Madison this weekend. This is easily North Dakota’s toughest weekend opponent yet (especially now that freshman Nick Schmaltz will be out of the lineup due to injury), and I wouldn’t expect anything close to the 9-2 UND win the last time the two met in Grand Forks. This is the first meeting since Miami stunned North Dakota in the NCHC semifinals last March. Prediction: Miami wins Friday, North Dakota wins Saturday

Western Michigan hosts St. Cloud State: The Broncos and Huskies both enter the weekend at 3-5-0 overall. WMU split it series with Denver last weekend, while St. Cloud suffered a sweep at home against Minnesota-Duluth. For St. Cloud, the memory of back-to-back wins against Union and Minnesota (last season’s national title game participants) seems a distant memory now after three consecutive losses. The surprising downfall over that stretch has been an inability to score 5-on-5. The Huskies’ last even strength goal was over 125 minutes of game time ago — a surprising fact considering the offensive talent St. Cloud boasts, especially in its junior class. For Western Michigan, the Broncos are looking for more consistent netminding from its duo of Frank Slubowski and Lukas Hafner. The offense, fortunately, has been better lately. Junior center Nolan LaPorte and defenseman Kenney Morrison both enter the weekend with three-game point streaks, while sophomore center Sheldon Dries scored goals in both games against Denver last week. The Broncos and Huskies also have two of the best power play units in the country, but it’ll still likely be the team that can score 5-on-5 that gets the edge this weekend. Prediction: Western Michigan wins Friday, St. Cloud State wins Saturday.

And finally, in non-conference action:

Minnesota-Duluth at/vs. Minnesota: Minnesota-Duluth was named CHN Team of the Week after sweeping St. Cloud State last week, and our Nicole Brodzik took a look at the new-found success of the Bulldogs’ offensively-minded defensive corps. This weekend, obviously, represents an enormous test for Scott Sandelin’s club, in its home-and-home with arguably the best team in the country. The Gophers 7-1-0 overall (their only hiccup coming against St. Cloud) and have enjoyed early season success from all of the expected contributors. Seniors Kyle Rau and Sam Warning (12 points and 6 points, respectively, in 8 games) have played well out of the gate, as have sophomores Taylor Cammarata, Justin Kloos, and Hudson Fasching. Defensively, Mike Reilly not only has helped out his goaltender Adam Wilcox, but has already contributed 11 points (tied for second-most on the team). Needless to say, the weekend presents a great challenge for the Bulldogs’ rookie goaltender Kasimir Kaskisuo. Prediction: Minnesota wins Friday, Minnesota-Duluth wins Saturday.