Monday, February 15, 2016

Roses and Thorns: It's Been a Long Time Coming

NCHC Standings:
T-1) UND, 13-4-1-1 -- 41 points; T-1) SCSU, 13-4-1-1 -- 41 pts;
3) DU, 11-5-2 -- 35 pts; T-4) UNO, 8-9-1 -- 25 pts;
T-4) UMD, 7-8-3-1 -- 25 pts; 6) 6-10-2-2 -- 22 pts;
7) WMU, 4-13-1-1 -- 14 pts; 8) CC, 4-13-1, 13 pts.
November 4-5, 2011.

Since that weekend, this blogger has earned a degree from his beloved University of North Dakota, moved from Grand Forks to the Twin Cities, gotten married and welcomed his first child, Emma, bringing her and the Daddy Dump and Chase blog, into the world.

Since November 4-5, 2011, college hockey has crowned four separate national champions, has expanded, adding two teams and realigned conferences across the NCAA.

Since November 4-5, 2011, the UND men's hockey team has played 33 road series and until this weekend, had never been swept in those 33 series.

That all changed in 120 minutes against Denver University as the Pioneers took two from the Green and White, 6-4 and 4-1 from Magness Arena in Denver.

UND, tied going into this past weekend for first in the National Collegiate Hockey Conference with St. Cloud State with two games in hand, had a chance to stake it's claim to the driver's seat in the race for the Penrose Cup as NCHC regular season champions. However, Denver took all six conference points and with three regular season series left, the chase for the Penrose is still deadlocked.

And for the first time since the birth of the DDC, here's your Roses and Thorns column following a series that saw UND get no points on the road.


No. 1 -- Back to Health

UND welcomed back three players to their lineup after missing the last handful of games. Hobey Baker Award candidates Drake Caggiula and Nick Schmaltz rejoined freshman Brock Boeser to reassemble the vaunted CBS line. Freshman Chris Wilkie also came back from injury on Saturday. The CBS line was good on Friday night, notching six points, including goals off the sticks of Boeser and Schmaltz. On Saturday, UND's top line failed to register a point for the first time as a grouping. While the results certainly weren't what the Green and White faithful were looking for, getting healthy is absolutely a welcomed sight with the stretch run firmly in place.

No. 2 -- It's February

Pairwise Rankings:
1) QU; 2) SCSU; 3) UND; 4) BC;
5) Prov; 6) Michigan; 7) ND; 8) DU
9) UNO; 10) Yale; 11) BU; 12) Harvard;
13) UM-L; 14) PSU; 15) SLU; 16) Minn.;
17) RPI; 18) Cornell; 19) MTU; 20) Miami.

Pardon the Kelly Green colored glasses, but hey, at least it's only February. There's not a lot of positive to come out of this weekend. 1) UND lost its chance to clinch home ice advantage in the first round of the conference playoffs for the 15th straight season. 2) The Green and White also gave up the opportunity to put a strangle hold on the NCHC standings with just three weeks left to go. 3) UND got swept against arguably its biggest rival in the conference. With all that said, the Green and White are still firmly in place for a shot at the national tournament, still ranked No. 3 in the Pairwise and are still tied for first in the NCHC with St. Cloud. A good run in their last six games, UND could very well welcome back the Penrose to the Ralph for another year. While it certainly is frustrating to have to point these things out, it's still important to do so. A good showing at home against Minnesota Duluth should cure all ills.


No. 1 -- Flying Friday

Again, while the result wasn't what UND fans wanted to see, Friday night's game had a big fight feel. Denver was embarrassed by the Green and White in Grand Forks in December in a sweep, and the Pioneers played with a tremendous pace this weekend. UND was game and matched DU stride for stride. The rust showed in many aspects for the Green and White and a couple big defensive miscues lead to a Pioneers 6-4 win. In the long run, UND may need to turn up the volume and play with the kind of speed that DU showed, so while the loss stings, it'll be important to remember this kind of play.

While it wasn't a great result for UND, Friday's heavy and fast-paced game
against DU will certainly show the Green and White the kind of game they
need to bring down the stretch. (Photo Credit: Grand Forks Herald.)

No. 2 -- No Bounce Back

Senior Captain
Gage Ausmus following
UND's 4-1 loss on Sat.:
"It's not acceptable for our program
to lose two games in a row, no matter
where we're at or what team we play,
so it doesn't sit well with us.
We got outplayed both nights.
It's something we need to learn from quick
or it's going to hurt us in the end."

Over the last month or so, UND has seen a trend of their opponents' top line lighting it up on Friday, but the Green and White wholly shutdown each top group the next night. This wasn't the case this weekend. DU's top line of Danton Heinen, Dylan Gambrell and Trevor Moore torched UND for 11 points (3 goals, 8 assists) on Friday night and added seven more on Saturday (3g, 4a). In UND's home sweep of Denver in December, that trio had zero points on the weekend. That's was the clear difference in Denver.

No. 3 -- Defensive Lapses

UND came into this weekend's match up sporting the NCAA's second best goals allowed average, with the best statistical goaltender in Cam Johnson between the pipes. Ten goals allowed and two losses later, the Green and White are looking for reasons to answer what happened. The Green and White had several lapses defensively in both games that led to goals for the Pioneers. Whether it was set plays off faceoffs or wide open slot chances for DU's top line, UND didn't live up to its defensive billing this weekend. Giving players the likes of Moore, Heinen and Gambrell free reign in the slot is never a good thing. It's hard to blame Johnson for many of the goals he gave up, but the sophomore didn't make many big saves on those point-blank chances, either. UND has prided itself all season as a tenacious, heavy forechecking and high compete level defensive team, but showed little of that against DU. UND will need to get back to this type of game and bring back those active sticks and high energy level if they plan to repeat as Penrose Cup champs.

That's it. Come back later this week to see what's in store for UND as the come back home to take on the Minnesota Duluth Bulldogs. It's crunch time.

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