This past weekend, the University of North Dakota found out that they have a ways to go before they enter the playoffs. First, I want to give credit where credit is due — Minnesota-Duluth is very good. This past weekend, there’s no mystery who the better team was. The University of Minnesota-Duluth swept the homesteading Fighting Hawks (5-3, 5-0) in impressive fashion.
In laymen’s terms, the Bulldogs took the Fighting Hawks to the woodshed.
Second, watching this weekend’s series between the Bulldogs and the Fighting Hawks, I can say with great confidence that UND has a few kinks to work out this week in practice. No, the Fighting Hawks’ season isn’t over, but it won’t last long if they don’t clean up a few things. The Hawks have some work to do if they want to have a successful conclusion to their season. With this much parity in college hockey, anything could happen this season. Especially, in a one and done playoffs. All you have to do is make the tourney and get hot for four games. Easier said than done.
Having watched all of UND’s games this season, I can say with great confidence that UMD is one of the best Division I hockey teams that I have seen this season. It’s also my belief that the Bulldogs are the class of the National Collegiate Hockey Conference. Now, I am sure that I will get some push back with this assessment. Close behind the Bulldogs are the Denver Pioneers.
— RussHons (@russpi) January 21, 2017
The NCHC leading Bulldogs come at you in waves, they give the opposition very little time and space. UMD makes it tough to enter their defensive zone. Tenacious on the forecheck, the Bulldogs play on their toes and counter attack very well off of the opposition’s miscues. Fail to get a puck deep and it’s going back the other way. The Bulldogs are relentless and they break down opponents physically and frustrate them into taking undisciplined penalties. Translation, they’re a miserable team to play against.
All weekend long, the Hawks had trouble with zone entry and turnovers. After Friday night’s game, UND head coach Brad Berry broke it down.
“I thought early on, it was a big, hard, heavy… fast game,” coach Berry said. “We didn’t move pucks quick enough. We tried to get through the neutral zone and it was pretty tough for us to get through there.”
On Saturday night, it was the same story.
“It’s about breaking out with a method,” coach Berry said. “They (Bulldogs) came at us hard. There were some uncontested breakouts that we had that we didn’t do the details. They capitalized on them. That’s one area that when you are playing a big, heavy team, you have to be good at. We weren’t very good tonight. “There wasn’t a lot of time and space there. We didn’t get pucks deep and we turned it (the puck) over. Once we got it in the offensive zone it was tough to sustain a forecheck. They broke out pucks too easy on us.”
The Front of the Bulldogs’ Net is Nose Bleed Alley
To be successful against a team like the Bulldogs you have to get to the front of the net and cause havoc in the blue paint. You also have to take the goaltender’s eyes away. This past weekend, the Hawks had a hard time getting a lot of traffic in front of the Bulldogs’ net. The Bulldogs did a good job of cleaning up traffic in front of the net. Against the Hawks, the Bulldogs were very good at letting their freshman goalie Hunter Miska see the puck. When the series was over, Miska had an impressive weekend against the Hawks, he was 2-0-0 with a 1.50 goals-against average and a .943 save percentage.
On Friday night, sophomore forward Johnny Simonson gave his analysis of the Bulldog defense.
“Their D take pride in boxing out,” Simonson said. “We knew that going in, our coaches told us that and they did a good job of that tonight. It’s definitely not easy getting to the front of the net and I think we need to do a better job doing that tomorrow night.”
In four games against the Fighting Hawks, Miska is 4-0-0 with two shutouts. Against UND, Miska has been a brick wall giving up just five goals in four games. Statistically, Miska is ranked third in the NCHC in GAA (2.19) and save percentage (.923). Miska is the first goalie since Denver’s Marc Cheverie to blank UND twice in the same season.
Bulldogs’ Senior Dominated Defense
Again, as I mentioned earlier, we need to give credit where credit is due. The Bulldogs are very good defensively, they’re ranked eighth nationally giving up 2.12 goals per game. The Bulldogs are also a veteran D-Core that sports only two underclassmen. They rest of their defense is comprised of senior defensemen.
After the season, the Bulldogs will lose four defensemen to graduation. A fifth defenseman, sophomore Neal Pionk, is a free agent and could garner some attention from NHL teams. To his credit, Pionk has a cannon from the blue line and has scored five goals and 18 points. In league play, senior defenseman Carson Soucy tied for second the NCHC for points by defensemen with (3g-9p—12pts).