UND treading waterTwo teams that don’t really care for each other got together last weekend in the Mile High City. And while a split on the road against the 10th-ranked team in the country is usually not a bad thing, UND did leave a point or two on the table, and that IS a bad thing.
By: Mark Schuttenhelm For the Sun, The Jamestown Sun
Two teams that don’t really care for each other got together last weekend in the Mile High City. And while a split on the road against the 10th-ranked team in the country is usually not a bad thing, UND did leave a point or two on the table, and that IS a bad thing.
And even a complete domination by UND over the Denver Pioneers on Saturday could not totally erase the bad taste left from Friday’s sloppy performance. One or two soft goals against, a poor power play and penalty kill, and some generally untidy play resulted in a 5-4 Denver win. Even with all that, at least one point was there for the taking.
Pioneer goalie Juho Olkinuora, who did everything but stand on his head out there, saved the day for Denver. UND’s revolving goaltending situation continues, just as it was looking like freshman Zane Gothberg had secured the starting job. Friday’s game was Gothberg’s fifth start in a row, but he was yanked after allowing Denver’s third goal, a bad-angle shot I’m sure he’d like to have back. Coach Hakstol had the goalie on a pretty short leash, and he pulled Gothberg in favor of Clarke Saunders with no hesitation.
Coming in cold, Saunders played well enough to earn the start the next night. The scoring in Saturday’s 6-1 UND win was kicked off by yet another DU power play goal, and at that point Denver was 3-for-6 with the man advantage on the weekend. North Dakota then broke out, tallying three goals on just eight shots in the first period and chasing Olkinuora from the net.
Meanwhile, UND got more aggressive on the penalty kill. The adjustments paid off as Denver was scoreless on its last six power plays. The 6-1 final was DU’s worst home loss in over five years. Saunders played well in goal, and I would expect him to be in the net for the series opener vs. Bemidji State. Scoring was spread around pretty well, with Danny Kristo, Rocco Grimaldi, and Carter Rowney each netting two on the weekend. After a rough stretch on the schedule, it’s time for North Dakota to make some hay at home against Bemidji this weekend before finishing up with a road trip to Minnesota State. UND is still sixth in the PairWise rankings, looking pretty safe for an NCAA tournament bid.
Around the WCHA
St. Cloud State didn’t exactly help its MacNaughton Cup hopes with a 4-3 loss at Colorado College on Friday. The Huskies came back the next night, tightening things up and holding the explosive CC squad to just 19 shots on goal in a solid 5-2 win. Minnesota, after a win on Friday, couldn’t complete the sweep of upstate rival Minnesota-Duluth, settling for a tie on Saturday. As a result, the Gophers picked up just one point on St. Cloud. Minnesota’s top ranked power play was just 1-of-9 on the weekend. Duluth played the Gophers tough in both games, and quite frankly, I don’t know what to make of the Bulldogs. I’ve seen them twice in person and 2-3 times on the tube this season. Either I’ve caught them on some good nights, or Duluth is the best 10-17 team in the country. St. Cloud leads Minnesota by two points, while UND and Nebraska-Omaha trail by just three. Denver has pulled even with Wisconsin for the crucial 6th spot in the standings.
Hockey East Roundup
The standings in Hockey East continue to be tightly packed, with the five top teams separated by just two points. A young Providence team, dressing 10 freshmen for much of the year, has propelled itself right into the mix with a sweep of Northeastern. Providence has quietly put together a seven-game unbeaten streak. UMass-Lowell swept a home and home series against reeling Boston University. After a slow start, Lowell is 14-2-1 in its last 17 and has moved up to 11th in the PairWise. BU, on the other hand, has fallen to 22nd and is in serious jeopardy of missing the NCAA tournament. New Hampshire managed a win and tie against a scrappy Vermont team at one of the great old style ‘barns’ in college hockey — the Gutterson Fieldhouse in Burlington, Vermont. Boston College had a huge 2-1 OT win at Merrimack, as Parker Milner made 43 saves for the defending national champions.
There’s a new rivalry heating up in the northeast. ECAC foes Quinnipiac and Yale, separated by just 11 miles, have got something good brewing in the state of Connecticut. Quinnipiac made the most of its national TV exposure, beating Yale for the second time in three weeks. A tie against Brown made for a three-point weekend, keeping the Bobcats on top of all the polls and rankings. Up and down Union lost to both Cornell and Colgate. Dartmouth and RPI, with splits on the weekend, are 12th and 15th in the PairWise and definitely in the NCAA tournament hunt. Another ECAC team playing under the radar is St. Lawrence, 16-12-4 on the season and 8-2-2 in its last 12 games. The Saints are tied for 17th in the PairWise.
Third-ranked Miami opened up its lead in the CCHA standings by sweeping a pair of one-goal games at Lake Superior State. Western Michigan and Notre Dame played to a pair of ties at WMU. Alaska settled for a disappointing split at home vs. Michigan State, but the Nanooks are tied for 17th in the PairWise rankings and still very much alive for an NCAA tournament bid. Ferris State, Northern Michigan, and Ohio State have all failed to make any kind of a move. Making some noise in the conference tournament is probably the only hope these three have of making an NCAA tournament appearance.
NCAA Tournament Watch
What’s the problem at Boston College? CBS analyst Dave Starman still thinks BC is the team to beat this year, but I don’t quite see it that way. Last season’s veteran defense corps are gone, and BC has been starting four freshmen on the blue line all season. Exacerbating the situation is the knee injury suffered by BC’s best defenseman, senior Patch Alber. Since the injury on Dec. 29th, BC is just 7-6-2 and has allowed almost three goals a game. Netminder Parker Milner’s goals-against average, a sparkling 1.66 last year, has ballooned to 2.46. Am I writing Boston College off? No, that would be foolish. But the Eagles are beatable. Does that make the Gophers the frontrunner? Possibly. Minnesota has it all — size, speed, all kinds of talent, and great goaltending to boot. On the other side of the ledger, the Gophers are just 4-3-2 since the Saturday tie against UND on Jan. 19, and just 7-5-2 for the season vs. the top half of the WCHA. Those are not dominant numbers. What about Quinnipiac? The way senior goalie Eric Hartzell is playing, anything is possible. The Bobcats hope to ride Hartzell’s coattails to a Frozen Four appearance, much like Union did last year with Troy Grosenick. North Dakota has shown it can play with anybody. Inconsistent goaltending could be an issue though. New Hampshire and St. Cloud State can also skate with anybody in the country. UNH is just 1-2-3 in its last six while St. Cloud has been playing well for about two months now. I’m watching Miami closely. Could this be the year Miami redeems itself for the incredible disappointment of 2009? In the championship game of ‘09, Miami had a 3-1 lead with time running out against Boston University. Coach Jack Parker pulled goalie Kieran Millan and the Terriers scored with a minute left. Millan went back in for the face off at center ice. He was pulled again and BU scored another goal with 18 seconds left to force overtime. Boston U scored a fluky goal in the 1st OT period to take the championship away from a stunned Miami team. The RedHawks are on a 9-2 run and are solid in all areas of the game.
Look at the Poll
With the NCAA tourney approaching, the PairWise rankings are our main focus the rest of the way. The national polls are nothing more than fodder for conversation at this point. In the new uscho.com poll, Boston U falls 4 spots. Providence is in, and Union is bumped out for the 2nd time in 3 weeks. And my Frozen Dozen for this week looks like this. 1) Quinnipiac, 2) Minnesota, 3) Miami, 4) New Hampshire, 5) Minnesota State, 6) North Dakota, 7) Boston College, 8) St. Cloud State, 9) WMU, 10) UMass-Lowell, 11) Denver, 12) Notre Dame.
Mark Schuttenhelm’s column on college hockey runs each Thursday in the Sun