For all the on-ice festivities associated with Hockey Day Minnesota, one of my favorite things is the atmosphere around the state. Given the Minnesota Wild 's recent and very public
pants-pooping....struggles...that atmosphere may be a bit more frustrated in 2016.
That same frustration runs deep through the University of Minnesota - Duluth locker room. Since getting off to a hot start in 2015, the Bulldogs have only 3 wins in 2016. It's been a struggle for many members of the team, including Carson Soucy , whose play has been impressive at times, while at others leaving me wondering where his next gear is. At the same time, Austin Farley and Kasimir Kaskisuo have bolstered the Bulldogs throughout the year, providing consistent offense and even stronger goaltending.
Kaskisuo's resurgence in the Duluth nets has really been a breath of fresh air for a team that has often needed him to steal games and make big saves to keep them in it. He's an elite talent in the NCAA and should be a point of focus for both squads as they look to continue the climb out of the basement of the NCHC.
Elsewhere on the Bulldogs roster, look for Tony Cameranesi and Dominic Toninato to continue their lamp-lighting ways. Cameranesi and Toninato's 19 goals, along with Farley's 11, account for nearly half of the Bulldog's tallies on the year. If they're unable to get things going on Friday or Saturday, it will be a big challenge for the Bulldogs to stay competitive against a Colorado College that will be looking to shut the door early. This, of course, assumes that the Bulldogs' depth scorers don't start coming alive this weekend, which is a real possibility, albeit an unlikely one.
While the situation in Duluth isn't nearly as dire as it is in St. Paul, things could be better. There's a lot of promise on the Bulldogs roster, but it's a matter of unlocking it. In any case, UMD will be glad to know the dark clouds that have followed the Wild around since the turn of the year will be nowhere near them this weekend. That'll be fortunate as they look to fend off the NCHC's bottom-feeding Colorado College.
Colorado has followed the opposite trajectory of UMD, trending steadily upward since a miserable start of the season. Okay, sure, it's hard to claim that a .500 record over the past dozen games is much to be proud of, but after an 0-13 start to the season, any wins are good wins.
Despite their stronger record of late, their matchup against the Bulldogs may be a bridge too far. So many of the Tigers' losses this season have been characterized by a lack of offense. Without taking leads early in games, the Tigers have allowed opponents to control play and dictate the structure and rhythm of the game. This in turn leads to lifeless comebacks and games that end well before the final horn.
For the Tigers, UMD may be just the wrong matchup to continue improving their standing in the NCHC. Kaskisuo's been strong lately, despite his team's struggles, and CC's anemic offensive strategy doesn't appear to pose much of a challenge to the confident goaltender. They'll be relying on early, greasy goals to knock him off his game.
For both teams, this weekend's series should be a chance for the players to rewind the clock a bit and find energy and enthusiasm for a game that has seemed like a chore throughout the season. It will be the same chance the rest of the State of Hockey deserves. It's a minute to sit back and enjoy the game for what it is and watch it unfold. There are winners and there are losers. Sure, too often, the Wild and our favorite teams have been losers. But at the end of the day, Frozen Four champions, Stanley Cup champions, and every other team play the exact same game. And every new game starts with the same 0-0 score. So, yeah, momentum suggests things are too far gone or many teams, but when it's 0-0, it's still anyone's game. It's a good thing we love that game.
So, tomorrow, when the pucks drop one after another, instead of launching into a tirade on twitter about who must go and who must stay. There's plenty of time for that on Monday and even more time for that in the offseason. Instead, grab a drink, grab a snack, and join us @hockeywildernes (and me on @Real_JackVT and @HWCollegePuck) and celebrate everything about the game that makes us care way, way too much about a 3-inch galvanized rubber disc on a 3/4" sheet of ice.