I miss Mike Sertich. Long before UAA joined the WCHA "Sertie" was one of only a few coaches of quality teams that would visit Anchorage for a series. He was the kind of guy that always had something interesting to say. He put together some hellaciously nice seasons in his first years at Duluth and then the Bulldogs spent the next 13 out of 14 years struggling to repeat that early-80s success. Scott Sandelin matched that success for the Bulldogs in his 4th year (03-04) when the Bulldogs went 28-13-4 and made a run to the final four. Coincidentally, it was UMD that ended UAA's mini-run in the WCHA Final Five that year. Since that time Sandelin has lead the Bulldogs to an overall record of 52-80-21.
Every Duluth fan worth his/her salt distinctly remembers the next year clearly. They were bringing back tons of guys who'd now been to the Frozen Four and everyone believed they'd contend. They finished 15-17-6. After a debacle with USA Hockey and word out that he'd mismanaged the Junior team talent he was duly labeled as a coach who couldn't manage talented players. In that sense, this will be a very illuminating year for Scott Sandelin; because he now has the most talented Bulldog roster in place since 04-05.
The Bulldogs two main strengths are up front and between the pipes. Proven goal scorer MacGregor Sharp returns and has 4g-3a in UMD's 4 games. 5 guys have 2 goals each and 4 other players have nabbed one each. Amongst those are two rookies called Connolly; Mike and Jack. They aren't brothers but they are both talented hockey players. They are both 5'8" tall. They both "tore it up" in juniors. Regular readers will recognize that I tend to stay away from "touting" freshman as a practice. My mention of them here is significant then eh? 6 of the players that have 1 or 2 goals so far this season are among the 11 upperclassmen on the roster. Michael Gergen is always a threat.
Alex Stalock is one of the most athletic goalies in college hockey. He gets up and down as quickly as anyone. He's got a great glove hand and quick feet. He handles and distributes the puck like an extra defenseman. So far this season he's given up 9 goals on 99 shots. Former UAA goalie Kevin Reiter's little brother is the back-up to Stalock and I'm hopeful out of respect for that association that Kenny gets a start this weekend. One less night of Stalock can't be a bad thing for the Seawolves.
The Bulldogs return a mostly experienced set of blueliners with 2 seniors, 1 junior, 2 sophomores and 2 freshman. Josh Meyers is overrated based on what I've seen of his play over the last three years. He's a 7th round pick of the LA Kings but he's not particular swift on his skates and has been prone to errors in his own zone. Trent Palm and Jay Cascalenda are probably the more dependable defensive defensemen. Meyers is going to get some points because he has learned how to sit on the blueline and crank off a decent shot on the power play. Don't expect to see him in the NHL without a lot of work in the AHL first. Evan Oberg and Chad Huttel are the puck moving defensemen for the Bulldogs. Outside of those mentions I think it's a fairly mundane group.
Coming from the little rink to the big rink Coach Sandelin could have little choice but to give his forwards the green light to try everything they can to get the best use out of the extra space. The addition of Connollys dictates it. So I think UMD will be looking for some pond hockey this weekend. They'll want to dictate the tempo when they can. They know they've got a goaltender that is way above average when it comes to performing one-on-one so they're a team that can feel comfortable about taking a risk or two offensively.
Put it all together and it is a team that is going to provide a difficult test for the Seawolves. The biggest questions in my mind are:
Can the Seawolves match the tempo?I'll answer those questions (and maybe pose some others) in my next post.
How do the Seawolves get the puck past Stalock?
Can the Bulldogs deal with the Seawolves size?