Third-period play, depth to be key for UMD The Bulldogs needed a sweep last weekend at Western Michigan if they had any hope of playing at home in the playoffs on Friday. However, with the split in Kalamazoo, Michigan, the Bulldogs will be shipping out to Denver University for the first round of NCHC postseason action.
With the most road wins in the National Collegiate Hockey Conference, the Bulldogs feel perfectly comfortable playing away from Amsoil Arena.
“Honestly last I think we would have rather played on the road,” senior forward Justin Crandall said after their last home weekend this season against Omaha. “I think we were a much better road team last year. This year, honestly, playing on the road or at home, it doesn’t matter. We’re not afraid to go on the road.”
Crandall is the team’s leading scorer against league competition, scoring 20 of his 22 points in NCHC games. The Bulldogs will rely on scoring from all parts of the lineup when they take on the Pioneers at the end of the week.
Last season Andy Welinski was the only Bulldog defenseman to contribute a goal, scoring five on the year. Not only has Welinski been scoring more this season – eight times – but six other defenseman scored this season as well, for a total of 11 goals from the blue line, more than twice as many as the previous season.
The Bulldogs will need to continue to find success from the back end in order to match up well with one of the more mobile offenses in the NCHC. Crandall went so far as to say the Pioneers had the best back end in college hockey.
A theme throughout the season has been getting scoring from all lines as well, not just a small number of playmaking forwards. There are 10 UMD forwards that have registered 10 or more points; everyone from leading goal scorer and first-line center Dominic Toninato to third-line center Cal Decowski.
As far as scoring goes, the Bulldogs match up fairly evenly with the Pioneers. This year UMD has scored 106 goals while Denver has tallied 109. On the defensive side, the Bulldogs and Pioneers again differ by only a few goals as UMD allowed 85 this year to Denver’s 83.
UMD’s advantage comes in the third period, where they are tied for No. 4 in the country, scoring 44 total goals in the final frame.
Despite their success in the last 20 minutes, Head Coach Scott Sandelin is aware of the danger that poses.
“When you’re down and you’ve won some games where you battled back, I think that gives you confidence,” Sandelin said. “In this league, you can’t play catch-up hockey. If you play catch-up hockey too much, no matter who you are, it’s going to catch up to you.”
While the numbers might not seem all that different, it’s those few goals that could make the difference for either team in the NCHC’s first-round play.
Puck drop for the first game of playoffs is at 7:37 p.m. on Friday in Denver, Colorado.
BY NICOLE BRODZIK