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Ill-advised penalties hurting North Dakota

Mark Schuttenhelm For The Sun

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Let’s discuss penalties for a moment.

Specifically, offensive zone penalties. Never welcome, usually avoidable, offensive zone penalties drive coaches up the wall. Where am I going with this? Last Friday at Boston University, an injury riddled North Dakota team committed no fewer than five offensive zone penalties. Add in a rather unlucky “too many men on the ice” infraction, and you have the recipe for a 3-1 loss.

Two BU power play goals were the difference in the game. Period. Admittedly, a couple of those calls were pretty weak, as were some of the penalties called against BU. But still, there’s no excuse for playing such undisciplined hockey.

And I don’t throw in the injury situation to make excuses. But when a team is playing a defensman (Keaton Thompson) who has seen little action and starting two defensemen (Gage Ausmus & Andrew Panzarella) as forwards on the fourth line due to injuries, the last thing it needs to do is commit ill-advised penalties, especially against a team with a 21 percent power play. There’s not a lot of margin for error here. You’ve got to play smart hockey.

The loss overshadowed a great effort by Rocco Grimaldi, who was all over the ice creating havoc for the Terriers. Grimaldi’s hard work finally paid off with a goal in the third period, but it was too late for the depleted UND squad.

UND welcomed Brendan O’Donnell back to the lineup on Saturday, and he, along with Stephane Pattyn, Drake Caggiula, and Adam Tambellini, were big contributors to North Dakota’s hard working effort. UND had a solid advantage in shots on goal and face offs won, but had to settle for a 3-3 tie.

O’Donnell was just starting to make some noise offensively when he got hurt, so getting him back in the lineup is big. His great pass to Tambellini set up the go ahead goal in the third period. Pattyn got right in goalie Matt O’Connor’s grill three times in the first period, and he set the tone for UND. Pattyn was penalized for running O’Connor early, but was able to harass him a few more times while avoiding the penalty box. Physical play without the bad penalties ... that’s the key.

And one note on the officiating, specifically the ridiculous slashing penalty called on O’Donnell late in Saturday’s 3-3 tie. The BU players stick broke in half, yes, but O’Donnell clearly had nothing to do with it. How a referee can see a broken stick and call a slashing penalty late in a tie game without actually seeing the slash, is beyond me.

Clarke Saunders started on Friday. Zane Gothberg on Saturday. Each played well. Which goalie is number one at this point is probably not answerable. UND’s power play struggled a bit, going 1-for-9 on the weekend. Still, the PP is clicking at a respectable 19 percent for the season. The PK killed 11-of-14 on the weekend.

UND is allowing 3.25 goals and 33.5 shots on goal per game, and I mentioned last week that those numbers were just too high. Here’s a look at the numbers for some of the better teams in the country. Michigan-1.82/31.8 ... Minnesota-2.17/29.2 ... Quinnipiac-1.60/19.9 ... BC-2.38/29.8 ... UMass-Lowell-1.79/30.6 ... Providence-1.92/30.7.

Stat of the Week

The UND roster includes 15 NHL draft picks, more than any other Division I college hockey program.

Around the Country

Connor Hellebuyck stopped 74-of-75 shots as UMass-Lowell swept Notre Dame. Lowell has won 9-of-10. In the other big Hockey East series, Providence and UNH split a pair of tight games. Maine upset Boston College, 5-1. Ferris State is unbeaten in nine after sweeping Alaska. Minnesota-Duluth was able to salvage a split at Minnesota thanks to some great special teams play. UMD was 4-for-7 on the power play and also notched a shorthanded goal in the 6-2 Sunday win. Nebraska-Omaha, the NCHC pre-season coaches pick for last in the conference, swept the pre-season favorite, Miami. Omaha, St. Cloud State, and Denver sit atop the conference standings.

A Goalie’s Life

A goalie’s life is not an easy one. We’ve seen coach Hakstol pull UND goalies Saunders and Gothberg a few times this season already, but consider the plight of Michigan goalie Steve Racine. After winning the starting job late last season as a freshman, Racine began this year as No. 1 for coach Red Berenson. Racine was injured against UNH in mid-October and in stepped an unknown freshman named Zach Nagelvoort. The freshman from Holland, Mich., has gone 5-2 with an 1.48 goals against and a stellar .950 save percentage. Racine has been available for five games now, but has played just once, and it appears the job belongs to the freshman ... at least for the time being.

UND/St. Lawrence Preview

St. Lawrence University, from Canton, N.Y., visits Grand Forks this weekend. The Saints, out of the ECAC, are 7-5-2. They’ve lost 3-of-4 after a hot start to the season. This is a team that scores a lot, 3.86 goals a game, but also allows a lot, 3.64 goals a game. Predictably, the power play is excellent at 28 percent, but the penalty kill isn’t great at 76 percent. Should we expect some high scoring games? I wouldn’t bet against it. Senior forward Greg Carey has been battling BC’s Johnny Gaudreau for top scorer in the nation. Carey has 24 points in just 14 games. His brother and linemate, Matt, has scored well over a point a game also. Keep an eye on these two high scoring defensemen, senior Justin Baker (13 pts), and freshman Gavin Bayreuther (11 pts). Matt Weninger has been handling the brunt of the goaltending duties, and as you might expect, his numbers aren’t great. St. Lawrence usually plays in front of about 2,000 fans, so there’s certainly a chance they’ll be intimidated by their surroundings.

Games to watch

All eyes around the country will be on the Wisconsin-Minnesota series. About a month ago I mentioned that the Gophers were heading into a rough 10-game stretch, and it concludes with this series against the Badgers. The impressive Gophers have gone 5-2-1 against BC, Notre Dame, Minnesota State, and Minnesota-Duluth. Friday’s afternoon game will be on ESPNU, and Saturday’s 5 p.m. game is on Fox Sports North.

Look at the poll

UND is unranked for the first time since the poll of Nov. 28, /2011. Ferris State and UMass-Lowell, thanks to weekend sweeps, made big moves up, while Miami and Notre Dame took big hits. Nebraska-Omaha joins the poll this week. Overrated this week: St. Cloud State & Yale. Underrated: Cornell and UNH.

Frozen Dozen

Cornell and UNH replace Miami and Union in my Frozen Dozen: 1) Minnesota, 2) Providence, 3) Quinnipiac, 4) Michigan, 5) U Mass-Lowell, 6) Ferris State, 7) Boston College, 8) St Cloud St. 9) Cornell, 10) Clarkson, 11) Notre Dame, 12) UNH.

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