Duluth Adjusting Well
Penalty Kill Helps Bulldogs Early; Handed Notre Dame Its First Loss
by Nicole Brodzik/CHN Reporter
They say defense wins championships, and if the Minnesota-Duluth penalty kill so far is any indication, the Bulldogs are headed in the right direction.
The blue line was a concern for the Bulldogs coming into the 2013-14 season; they lost key players in Drew Olson, Chris Casto and Wade Bergman to graduation and professional contracts. One of the biggest areas where UMD was expected to feel that void was on the PK, but many of the young Bulldogs have stepped up in a big way.
“This group listens, they’ve really responded to a lot of things we’ve asked of them,” head coach Scott Sandelin said of his team that, through six games, has allowed only three goals on 40 penalty kills.
“We’re building on a young team here. Sometimes you don’t take big leaps, you take single steps. If you do the right things you’re going to give yourself a chance to win every night.”
Facing off against Notre Dame last weekend, a much less experienced UMD team knew they’d have a tough weekend on their hands against an Irish team boasting several offensive weapons. Friday night, the Bulldogs took enough penalties to give Notre Dame 11 power play chances, something coaches and players alike agreed was something that needed to change. Fortunately, UMD allowed only one goal on those 11 opportunities.
Top Bulldog penalty killer Justin Crandall was forced to sit out of Saturday’s match up due to injury, but his young teammates stepped in nicely to fill that void. Freshmen Dominic Toninato and Alex Iafallo logged plenty of time on the penalty kill, while Carson Soucy was paired with sophomore Andy Welinski on the back end.
“I think our penalty kill is really big right now,” freshman forward Dominic Toninato said. “We’ve been taking a lot of penalties unfortunately, so it’s got to be big.
“I think we’re doing a great job with it. I think our goalies are playing excellent. They’re one of the biggest parts of the penalty kill.”
Senior Aaron Crandall got the call between the pipes last weekend for UMD and after a shaky season last year, stepped up for the Bulldogs. The Lakeville, Minn., native allowed Notre Dame only four goals all weekend. And he came within seven minutes of the shutout on Saturday night before Notre Dame’s Austin Wuthrich scored his team’s lone power play goal of the outing.
Said Sandelin, “[Crandall] was outstanding for us. I didn’t like giving up the shutout, but that seems to be how it always happens. You do a great job all weekend and then you give them opportunities at the end. Aaron certainly deserved the shutout because he played extremely well.
“Sometimes your goalie is your best penalty killer, and he was a big part of that this weekend.”
Minnesota-Duluth is, of course, still adjusting to the new college hockey landscape as well. It had its first taste of league play in the new NCHC with a split at Colorado College two weekends ago. CC, however, was a usual opponent in the old WCHA; UMD has yet to play a conference game against either of its new conference rivals, Miami or Western Michigan — which won't happen until Dec. 13.
This weekend, the Bulldogs play a pair of non-league games at Ohio State.
In another good sign, freshman forward Kyle Osterberg was named the first-ever NCHC Rookie of the Month for October. He has 2-2—4 in six games, with a plus-4 rating.