MEN'S HOCKEY: Sandelin hopes Bulldogs can get to Cam Johnson this time
There's one sure thing about this Minnesota Duluth men's hockey season: Scott Sandelin will never want his team to be picked to win a league title again.
There’s one sure thing about this Minnesota Duluth men’s hockey season: Scott Sandelin will never want his team to be picked to win a league title again.
For the second time in program history, the Bulldogs were picked to win a regular-season title this fall. And for the second time, they followed up the lofty expectations with a perplexingly average season.
Instead of contending for a league championship with three weeks to go, Minnesota Duluth will come to Ralph Engelstad Arena this weekend (7:37 Friday, 7:07 p.m. Saturday) hoping to position itself to finish in the top half of the league and make a late-season run to earn a spot in the NCAA tournament for the fifth time in eight years.
The situation isn’t all that different from 11 seasons ago.
The Bulldogs were picked to win the Western Collegiate Hockey Association in 2004-05 after they returned 73.5 percent of their scoring along with their starting goaltender from a team that went to the NCAA Frozen Four the previous season.
But they never got on track that season, finished sixth of 10 teams, got hammered twice in the first round of the WCHA playoffs and missed the NCAA tournament.
This season, the Bulldogs returned 85 percent of their scoring and their starting goalie from a team that was just a goal away from reaching the Frozen Four.
But things haven’t gone as planned right from opening day.
A power outage forced the Bulldogs to postpone their first game of the season. The next night, they traveled to Bemidji and lost to the Beavers. Minnesota Duluth hasn’t been more than a game above .500 since October.
Ranked opponents have been the Bulldogs’ undoing.
They are 1-9-4 against teams that are ranked in this week’s USCHO poll and 10-3-1 against unranked teams.
But Sandelin hopes his team can write a different ending to the script than the 2004-05 team.
Although the Bulldogs are at No. 23 in the Pairwise, there’s a big opportunity for them to shoot up the rankings in the next two weeks playing North Dakota and St. Cloud State, which are ranked Nos. 3 and 2 in the Pairwise.
Because of road bonus points in the Pairwise -- and both series are on the road -- there’s a big opportunity for the Bulldogs to move up.
“The pressure is on them, it’s not on us,” Sandelin said of this weekend’s series. “We’re not expected to go in there and beat them, quite frankly. They just lost two games. They’re tough in their own building. They are battling for a league championship. The pressure is on them not to lose three or more games in a row.
“I think in December, we probably put too much pressure on ourselves.”
Sandelin was referring to the early December series between the teams in which UND won back-to-back 3-0 games. Fighting Hawks goalie Cam Johnson stopped all 78 Bulldog shots on the weekend.
“We have to find a way to solve Johnson,” Sandelin said. “Denver did last weekend. Saw a few weaknesses in his game. Hopefully, we can exploit some of those.”
Sandelin also wants his team to play loose this weekend and without some of the pressure that the preseason favorite tag seems to add.
“We’ve got to go in there with the right mindset as far as relax and play,” Sandelin said. “Don’t go in there feeling pressure to have to win a game. If we can do that, we’ll give ourselves a good chance.”
UND, Duluth coach Selman to be honored
Former UND coach Bill Selman will be honored by the Hobey Baker Award Foundation as the 2016 Legend of College Hockey.
Selman, who played for North Dakota for three seasons from 1960-63) and served as head coach for two (1966-68), will be honored as part of the Hobey Baker Award ceremony at the NCAA Frozen Four in Tampa, Fla.
Selman also served as head coach at Minnesota Duluth, St. Louis University and Lake Superior State.
- If either North Dakota or St. Cloud State win a game this weekend, both teams clinch home ice for the first round of the NCHC playoffs. The Huskies travel to Nebraska Omaha.
- Ralph Engelstad Arena guaranteed that the 50-50 raffle pot will be at least $50,000 for each game this weekend against the Bulldogs, which means the winner is guaranteed to get at least $25,000.