Minn. Duluth seeking redemption at Colorado College
DULUTH — A series between the top-ranked team in the country and a seven-win squad that's last in its league would typically garner little attention. It will evade the radar for most.
But not this week, not for No. 1-ranked Minnesota Duluth. The Bulldogs are out for redemption this week after that last-place team — Colorado College — left Duluth with four league points in early January via a tie and win at Amsoil Arena.
UMD (18-5-5 overall, 12-4-2 NCHC) slipped to second place in the NCHC during its bye last week while Denver (20-6-4, 12-3-3) moved into first by a single point with three weeks remaining in the regular season. The slim margin shows how every point over the next six games is sacred and how costly every lost point — like those four against the Tigers (7-19-2, 3-13-2) in January — can be.
"Going into this weekend, we owe those guys," UMD senior defenseman Willie Raskob said ahead of the games against the Tigers at 8:37 p.m. Friday and 8:07 p.m. Saturday at World Arena in Colorado Springs, Colo. "If you look back at our season, that could be the weekend that we look at and go, 'We really messed up there.'"
The Tigers tied the Bulldogs 2-2 (with UMD getting an extra point via a 3-on-3 goal) on Jan. 6 before beating the Bulldogs 2-1 the next night. Tigers freshman goalie Alex Leclerc stopped 69 of the 72 shots he faced from UMD in the series, which was one reason why the Bulldogs got beat on their home ice.
The other reason, according to third-year Colorado College coach Mike Haviland, was his team's ability to clog up the neutral zone and "maybe frustrated them a little bit."
"I thought we did a real good job in the neutral ice of taking away their transition," Haviland said. "They are extremely good at it. They have a ton of skill guys, even on the back end."
UMD coach Scott Sandelin said his team didn't have enough respect for Colorado College back in January and that the Tigers were the hungrier team that weekend. The Bulldogs didn't respond very well to the clogged-up neutral zone either, Sandelin said.
The Bulldogs will likely see a similar game plan from the Tigers this weekend in Colorado Springs, though the wider Olympic-sized ice sheet of World Arena could open things up, something Haviland noted.
Despite the extra space, Sandelin said his team still needs to be patient and take what's given to it. The odd-man rushes his Bulldogs love will still be few and far between.
"We have to do a better job of supporting the puck, coming out of our zone cleaner. They forecheck very hard with their two forwards and they take the walls away," Sandelin said. "If we get in the zone we can do some things, but we've got to find ways to get inside the (faceoff) dots and get some traffic and get some opportunities in those areas."
UMD senior captain and center Dominic Toninato of Duluth said the Tigers out-competed the Bulldogs back in January. Colorado College won the puck battles and got two big games from its goalie, he said.
But the big ice sheet — which is 15-feet wider than Amsoil Arena's NHL-size sheet — could change things. The Bulldogs are 10-1-0 in their last 11 games on Olympic ice sheets, having beaten the Tigers 5-0 and 6-0 last year in Colorado Springs.
Toninato said his team enjoys the larger rinks. The few extra feet "makes a huge difference." it allows UMD to use its speed more while also creating more time and space.
The most important thing this weekend is to start on time, though, according to Toninato. UMD can't spot the Tigers leads like it did last time and expect to fight its way back through a clogged neutral zone.
"We don't want to spot them a few goals and we don't want to get shocked into playing," Toninato said. "We know they are going to come hard and we just got to make sure we match it or play better than that."
The UMD men will get back sophomore forward Parker Mackay this weekend in Colorado Springs after he missed the last six games with an upper body injury. Junior defenseman Nick McCormack is out with a lower body injury.