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UMD men's hockey: Bulldogs look to find some offense with Miami visiting Amsoil Arena

A struggling Bulldogs scoring offense takes on a struggling RedHawks scoring defense in NCHC play in Duluth.

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Minnesota Duluth forward Casey Gilling (37) shoots the puck on goal against Minnesota State goaltender Dryden McKay (29) on Thursday Dec., 30, 2021, at Mayo Health System Event Center in Mankato. Clint Austin / File / Duluth News Tribune
CLINT AUSTIN

DULUTH — The last time Minnesota Duluth coach Scott Sandelin checked, you can’t win a hockey game unless you score a goal.

Yes, his team technically scored a shootout win in the NCHC standings against Colorado College following a 0-0 overtime tie on Nov. 13 at Amsoil Arena, but those are not the kind of “wins” his team will need to climb the NCHC standings and stay in contention for a seventh consecutive NCAA tournament berth.

The Bulldogs — sitting fourth in the NCHC and seventh in the Pairwise rankings — host Miami in conference play at 7:07 p.m. Friday and Saturday at Amsoil Arena. UMD is 1-5 in its last six games, having been shut out twice in that span.

Over the last 11 games, UMD has been held to two or fewer goals seven times (going 1-5-1 in those seven) and held to a single goal or less in six games (1-4-1).

Sandelin said he’s hopeful his team can start putting the puck in the net because UMD has shown it can this year, scoring three-plus goals in 10 games (8-2) and four or more in seven games (6-1).

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“The biggest thing for me is, we've got to find some offense. We've got to start scoring some goals,” Sandelin said. “When you don't score, there's not a lot of positivity on the bench. And that's not guys being negative. It just doesn't create a lot, right? When you score, it creates life and some energy and we've got to find a way to manufacture that.”

Defensively, the Bulldogs have been solid this season. They rank third in the NCHC, giving up an average of 2.20 goals per game; and the penalty kill is second in the league at 89.3%. On top of that, junior goaltender Ryan Fanti has a .934 save percentage and 1.62 goals against average — both tops in the NCHC — which is why the Bulldogs are 10-3 this season in games where they score at least two goals.

UMD’s scoring offense enters the weekend seventh out of eight teams in the NCHC at 2.60 goals per game while the power play is last at 15.4 percent.

READ MORE: Jacques, linemates finding offensive touch as NCHC play resumes

Sandelin said what’s plaguing his offense right now — whether it’s 5-on-5 or on the power play — is an inability to get shots on goal. The Bulldogs rank toward the bottom of the league in that statistic as well, averaging 28.6 shots on goal per game. They’ve been held to fewer than 30 shots on goal in 12 of 20 games this year, including the last four. UMD has lost three of those four games, averaging 25 shots per game in each.

“If pucks don’t find their way to the net, you’re never going to score,” Sandelin said. “We have to find some ways to manufacture shots and create those opportunities. Whether it’s 5-on-5 or 5-on-4, we have to be a little bit hungrier around the net. Hopefully you get some second chances. Sometimes one goes in off a shin pad or skate, I don’t care, but you have to get pucks there.”

Scouting the RedHawks

Minnesota Duluth senior center Casey Gilling will play his former team, the RedHawks, for the first time since transferring from Miami to UMD in the offseason for his fifth season.

Gilling played 131 games at Miami over four seasons from 2017-21, totaling 26 goals and 51 assists. Twenty of the 28 players he was with a year ago in Oxford, Ohio, remain on the team, though none of his fellow seniors came back in 2021-22.

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Miami, in its third season under head coach Chris Bergeron, comes to Duluth this weekend dead last in the NCHC having won just one of its first 10 league games — 4-3 at Nebraska-Omaha to open league play on Nov. 5.

Offensively, the RedHawks are just ahead of the Bulldogs at sixth in the league averaging 2.95 goals per game. Defensively, however, the Miami is at the bottom allowing 4.10 goals per game.

Miami’s special teams aren’t any better, with the power play sixth at 20.3% and penalty kill seventh at 84.3%

Averaging just 23.45 shots on goal per game this season, the RedHawks are being led offensively by senior Derek Daschke (two goals, team-high 14 assists) and Matthew Barbolini (team-high seven goals, five assists).

Sophomore goaltender Ludvig Persson — an NCHC all-rookie and second team pick last year — has seen his strong freshman numbers take a hit this year with his save percentage dropping from .925 to .882 and goals against average climbing from 2.62 to 3.81.

COVID-19 hitting NCHC hard

Last week, the Bulldogs' series with St. Cloud State was one of two NCHC series to be postponed by COVID-19 along with Denver at Nebraska-Omaha.

Now this weekend’s series between the Bulldogs and RedHawks in Duluth is the only original series left on the NCHC schedule as more teams fell victim to COVID-19 outbreaks like UMD and Omaha did a week ago.

Three out of four NCHC series were postponed this week due to COVID-19 outbreaks at North Dakota, Colorado College and St. Cloud State, resulting in the NCHC reworking the next four weeks worth of scheduled games, “in an effort to complete a 96-game NCHC slate,” the league wrote .

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Miami and UMD were the only two schools not impacted by the schedule changes, at least not directly. The Bulldogs and Huskies were looking to make up last weekend’s series on Feb. 4-5, however, the NCHC postponed three of this weekend’s series to that first weekend in February.

That means UMD and SCSU will have to find mid-week dates that work.

Part of the NCHC’s restructured schedule for this week included scheduling Omaha to travel to Denver this weekend for games on Saturday and Sunday. The two teams were supposed to play in Denver on Feb. 25-26, but will now play in Omaha that weekend.

Co-host of the Bulldog Insider Podcast and college hockey reporter for the Duluth News Tribune and The Rink Live covering the Minnesota Duluth men's and women's hockey programs.
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