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UMD men's hockey: Bulldogs no longer in a giving mood heading into NCHC playoff series at St. Cloud State

While UMD has struggled to score goals at times this season, they've had no problem giving away goals to the opposition late in the year.

Minnesota Duluth faces St. Cloud State in final conference series of the season
Minnesota Duluth forward Koby Bender (11) skates with the puck against St. Cloud State forward Easton Brodzinski (26) on Friday, March 4, 2022, at Amsoil Arena in Duluth.
Clint Austin / Duluth News Tribune

DULUTH — Defensively, fifth-seeded Minnesota Duluth likes where it is at going into a best-of-three NCHC quarterfinal series against St. Cloud State at Herb Brooks National Hockey Center in St. Cloud.

The Bulldogs head into the 7 p.m. series opener on Friday and 6 p.m. games on Saturday and (if necessary) Sunday with the second-best scoring defense in the NCHC, having given up 2.33 goals per game in league play this season. UMD’s penalty kill is tops in the league at 84.9 percent.

Oh, and they have All-NCHC first-team goaltender Ryan Fanti. A finalist for NCHC Goaltender of the Year and a semifinalist for the Mike Richter Award, he has a .921 save percentage, 1.97 goals against average and four shutouts.

Offensively, the Bulldogs find themselves in trouble, having been shut out in two of their last three games. And they’ve been turning the puck over to the opposition for easy goals so many times that coach Scott Sandelin on Saturday dubbed his Bulldogs the “Christmas Team” for all the presents they’ve handed out.

“We've done a pretty good job against them, but if you look at the goals they've scored, some of those are gifts,” Sandelin said Wednesday. “Hopefully we can clean that up. It's hard enough against teams in our league, but to make it harder on ourselves by just turning the puck over or making bad plays or bad decisions — you got to make sure that you're not doing that. You got to limit those opportunities.”


Minnesota Duluth faces St. Cloud State in final conference series of the season
Minnesota Duluth forward Kobe Roth (10) looks for control of the puck against St. Cloud State forward Kevin Fitzgerald (28) on Friday, March 4, 2022, at Amsoil Arena in Duluth.
Clint Austin / Duluth News Tribune

The Bulldogs find themselves on the road this week for an NCHC quarterfinal series for the first time since 2014-15 because of a combination of turnovers and an inability to score last weekend against St. Cloud State at Amsoil Arena.

Half the Huskies goals last weekend came off UMD “presents” as SCSU was held to two goals each night. The week before in a 4-0 loss at last-place Miami, a pair of UMD turnovers resulted in a pair of RedHawks’ goals.

Meanwhile, UMD has just two regulation goals in its last three games, plus a 3-on-3 overtime goal from the 3-2 come-from-behind OT win last Friday against St. Cloud State.

“We just got to get the offense going. We’re never going to win games when we’re getting shut out,” UMD fifth-year senior wing Kobe Roth said. “Fanti has been great, our D have been great, (Stejskal) whenever he’s been in there has been great. I like where we are at defensively. Just offensively, we got to keep guys around the net more often and just bear down on our chances.”

When UMD says “get bodies to the net,” they really do mean “bodies” as in plural, senior captain Noah Cates said Wednesday while addressing the scoring woes. And those “bodies” need to work together in tandem as a team around the crease. They can’t have two forwards trying to do the same job out front, or try to execute two entirely different strategies, Cates said.

“We need one guy in front of the net for sure, but maybe (the other forward) getting lost or bring on the backside is what we need to work on,” Cates said. “It’s something we can take advantage of if we execute well.”

Minnesota Duluth faces St. Cloud State in final conference series of the season
Minnesota Duluth forward Jesse Jacques (18) gets the puck on goal against St. Cloud State goaltender David Hrenak (34) on Friday, March 4, 2022, at Amsoil Arena in Duluth.
Clint Austin / Duluth News Tribune

Cates said Roth — who scored the game-tying and game-winning goal last Friday against SCSU — is a player that’s good at “getting lost” in the eyes of defenders around the net, but it takes more than just being in the right spot at the right time.

“He’s a guy that does, but you got to find him or have a rebound squirt over to that side,” Cates said.


Sandelin said his forwards need to do a better job of not losing their hands and not losing their sticks in front of the net, and that sometimes his forwards are engaged in net-front battles they don’t need to be.

“You got to keep your hands so you can get a second puck, so you can tip pucks,” Sandelin said. “Sometimes it’s finding soft areas and pushing off, whatever it is. We want our guys to try and get underneath defensemen as much as they can, especially our forward at the net. Sometimes you can, sometimes you can’t.”

There’s someone else that has a say when it comes to the Bulldogs offensive woes, and that’s Huskies fifth-year senior goaltender David Hrenak, who after an up-and-down first four seasons, has found a level of consistency this year in goal for SCSU.

That’s especially been true against UMD, where in four games he’s stopped 110 of the 116 shots he faced for a .948 save percentage.

“He’s a confident goalie,” UMD sophomore wing Blake Biondi said. “You got to keep shooting pucks. Eventually they go in. If you keep moving, play the right way, stay the course and they’ll fall.”

Bulldogs named finalists for NCHC awards

College Men's hockey players compete on Olympic size ice sheet
Minnesota Duluth forward Tanner Laderoute (13) celebrates after scoring the first goal of the game against St. Cloud State on Tuesday, Feb. 8, 2022, at the Herb Brooks National Hockey Center in St. Cloud.
Clint Austin / Duluth News Tribune

Two Bulldogs were named finalists for NCHC individual awards on Thursday.

Fanti, the league's first-team goalie, is one of three finalists for Goaltender of the Year after posting a .918 save percentage and 2.13 GAA in 23 league games this season. North Dakota senior Zach Driscoll and Denver junior Magnus Chrona are also finalists.

Senior wing Tanner Laderoute is a finalist for NCHC Defensive Forward of the Year having played a leading role for the league's second-best scoring offense and top penalty kill. North Dakota fifth-year senior Connor Ford and Western Michigan senior Drew Worrad are also finalists.


The winners will be announced during the NCHC Award Show prior to the Frozen Faceoff on Thursday, March 17 at the Science Museum of Minnesota in St. Paul.

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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