UMD Men’s Hockey aims to repeat their winning formula
The Bulldogs were not supposed to be in last year’s National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) tournament. They lost to Denver in the National Collegiate Hockey Conference (NCHC) semifinals and then lost to North Dakota in the third place game.
The NCAA uses a formula to determine which at-large teams will end up being in the tournament. During conference championship weekend, the Bulldogs needed each of the conference finals games to go their way in order to have a chance of making the NCAA tournament.
All the games ended up going their way and the Bulldogs beat out the University of Minnesota by .0001 points in the formula that allowed them to reach the tournament. Coincidentally, it was Notre Dame’s win over Ohio State in the Big Ten tournament championship that catapulted the Bulldogs over the Gophers.
“Once you barely get in like that, that’s where I could see ‘Okay, now things are lining up,’” associate head coach Jason Herter said. “We just got our butts kicked in the Frozen Faceoff, and I think the guys, when they got in like that, they felt like they were rejuvenated, and they got a second chance. Even our practices were ten times better.”
Last year they had the excuse of being a young team and sneaking up on teams that were surprised at how talented they were. Now, they are ranked number one if the preseason poll, and they know that they now have a target on their back.
First year assistant coach Adam Krause said the team cannot hide anymore. Every team in the NCAA knows who they are and that it is on everyone to elevate their games.
Statistically, the Bulldogs were one of the more balanced teams in the conference. They were in the top half of every major statistical category offensively and defensively, with the exception being scoring offense where they ranked fifth.
Krause highlighted that scoring opportunities and puck possession were the areas that needed to be improved. Defensively is where the Bulldogs shine, having the number one scoring defense in the conference last year. They allowed the fewest goals per game, thanks to second team All-NCHC goaltender Hunter Shepard, Shepard was named as the second best goalie in the conference.They were also third in penalty kill percentage.
Although the Bulldogs were fifth in scoring, it wasn’t just one person doing all the work. Herter thinks the balanced scoring is what makes them a dangerous team.
“When teams look and try and match lines and you’ve got a balanced lineup, they don’t know who to play against who,” Herter said. “When we can get our fourth line guys playing against the other team’s first line guys, it gives our guys a rest. It’s a big deal to them because not every team is set up that way.”
The season is sure to be a battle each game, as 33 of UMD’s 34 games are against preseason top 25 teams or teams that have received votes to be ranked in the top 25. Herter believes that the rankings, as of now, do not matter because of how much parity there is in college hockey, meaning that a lot of teams within college hockey have roughly the same level of talent. Herter also thinks that if the NCAA tournament were played ten more times, that there would be ten different winners.
“Anyone can beat anyone any given night,” Herter said.
The season begins Oct. 6 against the University of Minnesota Golden Gophers, and the players have been practicing since the start of the 2018 fall semester. It’s been a long month, according to Herter, but the coaching staff is making sure that the players don’t get too high or too low.
“Since I’ve gotten here, we [the team] haven’t mentioned one time about our national championship,” Krause said. “So you probably wouldn’t know we’ve won it here.”
However, Coach Herter thinks the team is ready to go come next Saturday.
“The guys are chomping at the bit,” Herter said. “I think they’re tired of practicing. They want to play.”