Team of the Week: Minnesota-Duluth
by Joe Meloni/Senior Writer
Neither November or December were particularly kind to Minnesota-Duluth. The Bulldogs headed into their final game of the first half with a 6-8-1 record, losers of three straight and two of eight. That night, freshman forward Alex Iafallo scored a game-winning goal in the third period to lift UMD to a 4-3 win. Iafallo and the Bulldogs turned a corner that night, and they've kept right on through the second half.
UMD took both games from Western Michigan in their latest meetings last weekend to jump back in the National Collegiate Hockey Conference playoff race. The wins earned UMD College Hockey News' Team of the Week.
UMD coach Scott Sandelin recalled that win against the Broncos in mid-December as critical point of the season for his club. Some strong efforts preceded a few dismal performances, but the win to end the first half gave way to a strong start to the season's final few months.
"We got a big win against Western right before the break after a difficult weekend with St. Cloud," Sandelin said. "I thought we played well in the Friday (against St. Cloud), but then we got thumped pretty good on Saturday. We talked at Christmas about where we wanted to be, and I think we've been better."
Last Friday, the Bulldogs scored three times in the third period to turn a 2-2 tie into a 5-2 road win. Sandelin was pleased with his club's effort through the first 40 minutes. The third period goals, capped off by a Justin Crandall empty-net goal to seal the win, were the reward for a positive effort throughout.
"I liked our effort throughout the games," Sandelin said. "On Friday night, I thought we played well through two periods even though we were tied. Western's a tough team, and it's not an easy place to get wins."
In the middle of Friday's win was freshman Kyle Osterberg. He scored two goals and assisted on two others. Sandelin expected to rely on his rookies this season, and the group has improved and contributed throughout the season. Iafallo leads UMD in scoring (10 goals and nine assist), and Osterberg's recent performances have only added to the class' success.
At the back, freshman defensemen Carson Soucy and Willie Raskob have been as promising.
"Alex, obviously, is having a great freshman year," Sandelin said. "It's been important for all of those guys to jump right in for us. We're a young team, and the freshmen have been great. Whether it's Alex and Kyle up front or Carson and Raskob at the back, they've had good years. For defensemen, it's a tough position to be as freshmen, but they've contributed."
The wins at Western Michigan last weekend put UMD within three points of first place in a close NCHC race. Currently, the Bulldogs are in fifth with Denver, North Dakota and Nebraska-Omaha all tied for second place. Hosting Colorado College this weekend, Sandelin hopes his team can continue its strong play despite some troubling home results earlier in the year.
"We need to be better at home," Sandelin said. "Winning games on the road is important, of course, and we've been a good road team the last few years. I've always thought it's important to take care of business at home and play well on the road to get where we want to be, in the top half of our league."
The Bulldogs are 3-5-2 at home in 2013-14. Most recently, Denver came into Amsoil Arena and earned a win and draw. An 8-4-0 record away from home is a positive, but championship teams win games at home. Even with Colorado College's struggles this season, Sandelin knows to expect two difficult outings from the Tigers.
"Colorado College was off last weekend, so they're going to be chomping at the bit," he said. "They got a big win against Miami, which obviously isn't an eay team to play. A lot of their losses have been in close games, and we're expecting a great effort from them.
"We have more familiarity with the teams from our old league, but Colorado College isn't an easy win. They play a bit differently than Western. We've seen opponents that play different styles, and I've liked the way we've played against each of them."