The first games of any season are always a time for veterans to prove themselves and for rookies to show their worth. This weekend’s Ice Breaker Tournament in South Bend, Ind., was exactly that for the No. 20 Bulldog men’s hockey team. With so many new faces on the team and plenty of veteran players who were looking to get back on track, there was plenty of that to be seen in their loss to University of Minnesota on Friday and their 3-0 victory over Notre Dame Sunday.
Perhaps the player with the most to prove was junior goaltender Matt McNeely. With freshman Kasimir Kaskisuo hot on his heels for the starting position, McNeely had a lot to play for on Sunday when the Bulldogs faced off against Notre Dame in the consolation game of the tournament after falling to Minnesota Friday.
McNeely answered the call between the pipes against the Fighting Irish with a 23-save shutout — the second of his career. As if that wasn’t enough, McNeely also tallied an assist on Alex Iafallo’s second-period, power-play goal.
The power play was a point that head coach Scott Sandelin made clear about on multiple occasions prior to the opening weekend, and it was something that needed to improve. That message appeared to ring clear for the Bulldogs this weekend as they scored three goals with the man advantage, including one of forward Dominic Toninato’s trio this weekend.
The sophomore forward scored his first goal of the weekend on the power play Friday night in UMD’s attempted resurgence. After a rough start that led to two goals in the game’s first six minutes, UMD mounted a comeback effort starting with Toninato’s first goal of the afternoon to bring the score to 3-1. He would also score the final goal of the game early in the third period for a final score of 4-3.
Toninato looked primed to avoid the sophomore slump and fellow sophomore Iafallo would also add a goal to Sunday’s score on the power play. But it wasn’t all underclassmen who showed up over the weekend.
Junior defenseman Andy Welinski added a goal of his own and played well in the defensive zone through both games. He’s expected to take on a heavy load on the blue line again this season after eating up the most minutes on the team’s back end last season. Welinski was joined by Tony Cameranesi in the scoring department for the junior class in South Bend as the forward tallied UMD’s game winner Sunday, also on the power play.
The freshman class was left off the scoreboard. However, they were pushing through the games with players like Karson Kuhlman registering five shots and two blocked shots while goaltender Kaskisuo gained composure in his start Friday.
The Bulldogs look ahead to a home-and-home series with Minnesota State University-Mankato this weekend. UMD will play at home on Friday at 7 p.m.
BY NICOLE BRODZIK Sports Editor