Duluth, MN –
Duluth, MN – It was a disappointing loss for sure for the NCHC leading Huskies on Friday vs the UMD Bulldogs. Let’s be honest about it. The Bulldogs were not at their best as admitted by UMD head coach Scott Sandelin in his post-game interview. He stated “Our best player was our goalie. When your team is not playing great your best player has to be your goalie.” Untimely turnovers by the Huskies defense undermined an otherwise strong outing by the SCSU forwards. Stellar goaltending by Hunter Shepard particularly in period one stopping at least seven shots between the dots led one to believe he was going to be tough to beat on this night. It was a physical, tactical game decided by mistakes, strong goaltending and a successful penalty kill unit. So yes, UMD deserved the win – they did enough of the right things to squeeze out a victory. But, that’s the history of these two teams when they face each other in Duluth. They are close, tightly fought games between two very successful and proud programs. For the Huskies they now regroup and concentrate on how to reverse things on Saturday.
Being ice side last night and in Pittsburgh last weekend was like night and day. Conference battles like this bring out the best in a team. Transition was quick, mistakes were taken advantage of and the play was very physical. For the Huskies, you have to be impressed by Blake Lizotte, returning from injury, who did not shy away from the physical play and showcased the talent and competitiveness built into his 5’8″ 175 pound frame. It’s a special thing to see how dominant he can be with the puck at times. Ryan Poehling, a 19 year-old junior, fresh off a MVP performance in the World Junior Tournament showcased how much he means to this team. He exhibited no lack of energy last night and is making believers out of those that questioned the Canadiens decision to select him in the first round. He was certainly noticeable out there last night. Brothers Jack and Nick show why they are a coaches dream. They excel at the most difficult and physically draining part of the game – battling for puck possession along the boards. They simply don’t let up – ever. The effort was there with extended periods of puck control in the UMD zone, were stronger on the puck overall and attempted 66 shots on goal.
However, let’s not dismiss the effort and importance of the Bulldogs on the penalty kill. It’s ranked tops in the country and shut out the Huskies in five man-advantage opportunities. That alone could have changed the course of this game.
Kevin Fitzgerald and Jacob Benson left the ice with injuries last night. Fitzgerald was crunched by UMD defenseman, Nick Wolfe and Benson hobbled off with a lower body injury. My guess is it’ll be doubtful to see them in the SCSU lineup tonight. But, injuries create opportunities for others that would not normally be in the lineup. This is a tight team, they’ll regroup and do their best to effect a different outcome in the series finale on Saturday.
One thing to be sure, the fans are certain to get their money’s worth.