FROZEN FOUR: Defensive depth keys Duluth run
EDITOR'S NOTE: This story was written before Thursday afternoon's game between Minnesota-Duluth and Notre Dame, which Minnesota-Duluth won. DULUTH -- Ten defensemen seemed excessive on a 27-player roster, but Minnesota-Duluth needed all but one t...
EDITOR'S NOTE: This story was written before Thursday afternoon's game between Minnesota-Duluth and Notre Dame, which Minnesota-Duluth won.
DULUTH -- Ten defensemen seemed excessive on a 27-player roster, but Minnesota-Duluth needed all but one this season on the way to the NCAA Frozen Four.
Stockpiling at the position has aided Duluth success through defection, injuries and recuperation.
As the Bulldogs face Notre Dame in today's semifinals they'll have two seniors, one junior, two sophomores and a freshman on defense. They've been paired the past five games in going 4-1. Leading to that stretch, UMD went 2-4-2 through March 5.
"That little roller-coaster ride was an eye opener for us," said senior defenseman and captain Mike Montgomery of Lino Lakes, Minn. "It showed what we needed to improve on. Overall, we're a pretty defensive group and our job is to make things difficult for the opposing team."
All of Duluth's defensemen have missed at least one game this season.
Injuries put junior Brady Lamb out for five games and sophomore Wade Bergman out for two. Freshman Justin Faulk, named to the Western Collegiate Hockey Association all-rookie team, missed three games while playing for the United States at the World Junior Championships. Senior Trent Palm, the first U.S. National Team Development Program player to come to Duluth, needed time to work into the lineup after nearly two years off because of hip problems.
Sophomore Dylan Olsen, 2009 NHL Entry Draft No. 1 pick by Chicago, dropped out of school and signed a professional contract Dec. 31.
That's allowed nine defensemen to get into the lineup as senior Chad Huttel, junior Scott Kishel and sophomore Drew Olson received playing time. Freshman defenseman Luke McManus was held out and will have an extra year of eligibility.
"We've been a decent defensive team all season. We stress limiting outnumbered rushes and breakaways, making hits to make plays and blocking shots," said Duluth coach Scott Sandelin, a former UND and professional defenseman. "We like to pressure the puck and control the puck on offense, but we also rely on solid goaltending and steady defense."
Montgomery was pursued by NHL teams as a free agent after last season, but chose to return to play for the Bulldogs and earn a finance degree. Faulk, from South St. Paul, was a No. 1 pick by Carolina in the 2010 NHL Entry Draft and may have an opportunity to sign with the Thrashers after the season. His play has been critical in Duluth's performance with eight goals (six on power plays) and 30 points in 37 games since arriving from the U.S. National Development Team Program in Ann Arbor, Mich.
They've been paired the past seven games.
"I was hoping to step in and make an impact right away. And right away I was put in a lot of situations, like on the power play, and I felt comfortable," said Faulk. "You're asked every weekend to play a particular role, maybe a shutdown role or an offensive role. Playing with (Montgomery) has been great because he's so calm and patient, and doesn't force plays. He's so steady."
In going 5-2-1 the past eight games, Duluth has allowed more than three goals just once. Junior goalie Kenny Reiter has been the starter during that stretch with a .923 save percentage and 2.36 goals-against average. At the East Regional, on March 25-26 in Bridgeport, Conn., Reiter watched his team block 41 shots and stop 14 of 17 power plays in wins over Union College 2-0 and Yale University 5-3. He was named the tournament MVP.
Montgomery likes what he sees on the blue line.
"Lamb has brought a physical presence and an improved defensive game; Palm and Olson have stepped up and solidified our lineup; Wade Bergman has such good poise with the puck and can work his way out of corners; and Faulk is more than what I expected. He's a young guy who is very mature," said Montgomery. "Our offensive players are more than capable of scoring goals. We just need to be smart, be solid and do what's best for the team."