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Turning point for UND?

By Mark Schuttenhelm, for The Sun

A 4-2 loss followed by a 3-2 win. Just another conference road split, right? Well, maybe.

Will we look back at the end of the season and call this past weekend the ‘turning point,’ the series that got UND headed in the right direction? Well obviously, it’s way too early to make that call. But we do know that in Sunday’s 3-2 win, the team overcame a lot of adversity, played together and played hard, and gutted out a huge win to snap a four-game losing streak. It had been almost seven years since a UND team lost four in a row.

The team made the trip minus three forwards. Colten St. Clair is out 4-6 weeks with a leg injury, Brendan O’Donnell and Adam Tambellini are both ‘week-to-week’ with undisclosed injuries. The result being some forward line combinations we’ve yet to see this season. And by Sunday’s third period, two more forwards were available only on a limited basis and defenseman Dillon Simpson was sick and unable to play. Essentially, UND was down to 10 forwards and 5 defensemen.

And while it’s true that North Dakota’s streak of 32 consecutive penalties killed came to an end on Sunday, the bigger story are the two huge kills that preserved the lead in the third period. In the middle of the period, UND killed a two-man disadvantage, not even allowing any good scoring chances. And North Dakota was shorthanded for the final minute thanks to a rather undisciplined play by Drake Caggiula, who threw a punch at the end of a scrum. With UNO’s goalie pulled, it was 6-on-4 for the final minute, which led to a wild final few seconds. Clarke Saunders, who got his first start in about a month, made a great leg save and got a little help from the goal post to hold off UNO’s frantic attempt to tie it up.

Saunders made 36 saves, and goaltending really was the difference in the game. UND’s first two goals, scored by Derek Rodwell and Michael Parks, were the result of poor play by Omaha’s freshman goalie Kirk Thompson, who was pulled after the Parks goal. North Dakota’s game-winner was a beautiful set up from Rocco Grimaldi to a hard charging Caggiula.

On the score sheet for the weekend, good to see Caggiula with a goal, Grimaldi with two assists, and freshman Luke Johnson scoring his first goal.

More questions abound. How bad is the injury situation? Will Saunders get more time between the pipes? Was Sunday’s game the beginning of a winning streak? We’ll start to get some answers Friday evening in Grand Forks.

Stat of the Week

The three youngest teams in Division I college hockey are Boston College, Michigan, and Minnesota, who have a combined record of 18-4-3.

Around the Country

The Minnesota-Notre Dame series certainly lived up to expectations. The Gophers suffered their first loss of the season on Friday’s TV game, 4-1. The game featured more physical play than I’ve seen in all of UND’s games combined this season. Saturday’s 5-4 Gopher win was a real barn-burner. Notre Dame fell behind early, scrambled back into it and tied it 4-4 with 2 seconds left in the second period, only to lose it in the third. All of Minnesota’s goals were scored by freshmen. Miami and St. Cloud State split the other high profile series.

In Hockey East, Providence swept Merrimack and New Hampshire swept Massachusetts, outscoring U Mass by a 13-1 combined score. Northeastern took a single game from U Mass-Lowell, and Boston College handily beat Boston U, 5-1.

In the ECAC, Quinnipiac, with a win and tie, and Clarkson, with two wins, continued their strong starts to the season.

In the WCHA, Ferris State swept Bemidji, while struggling Minnesota State needed overtime to salvage a home split against Bowling Green.

Surprises in the WCHA

The ‘new’ WCHA is loaded with surprises thus far, and most of them are pleasant. Ferris State is 7-2, 4-0 in the conference. Bowling Green is 5-3-2 and 3-1 in conference. Lake Superior State is 5-2-1, and both schools from Alaska are still over .500. Still struggling is preseason favorite Minnesota State, which continues to plod along at 4-4, 2-2 in the conference.

Lucia Deserves Credit

Minnesota lost a ton of talent to defections and graduations after last season. Coach Lucia’s latest recruiting class may wind up being the best in the nation. The Gophers are 6-1-1 and scoring over four goals a game, and that’s with a power play converting at only 14 percent. Three of Minnesota’s top four scorers are freshmen, Hudson Fasching, Justin Kloos, and Taylor Cammarata. With great goaltending from Adam Wilcox and holdovers like Kyle Rau, Sam Warning, and Seth Ambroz, this team could be headed for a Frozen Four appearance.

Minn.-Duluth/UND Preview

The UMD Bulldogs come to Grand Forks this weekend with a 4-3-1 record, ranked 20th in the country. The teams played only twice last year ... a 4-4 tie and a 4-3 overtime UND win. Duluth is coming off three consecutive splits, vs. Colorado College, Notre Dame, and Ohio State. Surprisingly, two freshmen lead UMD in scoring, Alex Iafallo and Kyle Osterberg. Talented holdovers include Austin Farley and Joe Basaraba. The goaltending duties are being shared by Matt McNeely and Aaron Crandall, and both have been playing well. Defensively, UMD is allowing only 1.88 goals and just 23 shots on goal per game. The Duluth power play is weak, clicking at just under 10 percent. UMD is 4-0-1 when scoring first, but 0-3 when its opponent scores first.

Games to Watch

Non-conference action steals the spot light this weekend. Wisconsin heads to Ohio to play a pair at Miami. Michigan travels west to face Nebraska-Omaha, and Minnesota State makes the short trip north to face Minnesota. The Gophers and MSU split four games last year, but MSU will need to bring its ‘A’ game up to Mariucci Arena to compete with the Gophers. Both games are on Fox Sports North. NBC Sports Network will broadcast Friday’s Merrimack at Notre Dame game, and the CBS Sports Network has a doubleheader on Friday with the Wisconsin/Miami game followed by the Michigan/UNO game.

Look at the Poll

UND drops to 13th in this week’s poll. Ferris State jumps up five places. St. Lawrence and Northeastern join the poll this week, replacing Minnesota State and Boston University. ECAC Hockey leads the way with six ranked teams.

Frozen Dozen

And my Frozen Dozen this week: 1) Minnesota, 2) Boston College, 3) Quinnipiac, 4) Providence, 5) St. Cloud State, 6) Michigan, 7) Notre Dame, 8) Miami, 9) Northeastern, 10) Clarkson, 11) Ferris State, 12) Rensselaer.

Mark Schuttenhelm’s column on college hockey runs each Thursday in the Sun