In a normal season, having one less day to prepare for the next set of games might be cause for concern. But 2020-21 is not a normal season, by far.
“It’s a good week for our guys. They like shorter weeks — less practice,” Sandelin said Sunday night. “They want to get back playing.”
Sandelin’s players got accustomed to short weeks with little to no practice in December during the NCHC Pod in Omaha, Nebraska, when UMD played nine games in a span of 19 days. The Bulldogs’ longest “week” in between games in December was the three days off prior to playing the RedHawks twice in three days, winning 5-3 and 4-2.
The four days in between last weekend’s series with Western and the 6:05 p.m. game Friday and 4:05 p.m. game Saturday at Goggin Ice Center in Oxford, Ohio, now seems like an eternity.
“We haven’t had a normal week of practice. We haven’t had a Monday through Thursday yet,” Sandelin said Wednesday during his weekly press conference. “Next week — knock on wood — we get back from Miami it will be our first normal week. Hopefully that starts a good rhythm for us and stays that way the rest of the year.”
The Bulldogs are scheduled to play the RedHawks again — their fifth and sixth meetings of 2020-21 — on Feb. 5-6 at Amsoil Arena before heading back to the airport the following week, Feb. 12-13, for a trip to Western Michigan.
The Bulldogs lit up the Broncos offensively last Saturday and Sunday at Amsoil Arena, but also stymied them defensively in the 5-1 and 4-1 wins, limiting Western to only 43 total shots on goal between the two games.
“Anytime you give up two goals on a weekend you feel pretty good about what you’ve done defensively,” Sandelin said. “We tried to be a little bit more aggressive down low, which is still a little bit of a work in progress, but I thought our guys did a good job and goalies made the saves when they had to.”
UMD’s team defense ranks second in the NCHC to North Dakota, giving up an average of 2.20 goals per game. The average of 25.27 shots on goal allowed per game ranks third in the league.
Team defense has been one of the Bulldogs’ most consistent areas from the start of the season until now, Sandelin said, but there were always some details that needed to be cleaned up.
Back on Dec. 6 and 8 against Miami, poor communication was a hurdle the Bulldogs said they needed to overcome, as it was leading to turnovers and odd-man rushes. Two new faces in goal, and double that on the blue, was to blame and that time would solve that problem, they said. Sure enough, it has.
Miami goaltender Ludvig Persson (32) makes a save against Minnesota Duluth forward Kobe Roth (10) in the second period Tuesday, Dec. 8, at Baxter Arena in the NCHC Pod in Omaha. (Tyler Schank / email@example.com)
“That’s something that just comes with the more you play later in the season,” said UMD senior defenseman Matt Anderson. “At the beginning of the year, there’s gonna be less chemistry and the more we practice, the more we play, (communication) comes with that.”
Team defense isn’t just the responsibility of those on the blue line. It’s a five-person job and against Western, UMD was working as a five-man unit, Sandelin said. The structure was good and the forwards were getting back to help, though the exits after the break up of plays still needed some work, the coach said.
There’s always something that needs a little work.
“Our forwards this weekend were great, but I think, too, in the defensive zone we’re closing faster, eliminating plays and squashing stuff early,” said UMD junior defenseman Hunter Lellig. “We talked about wanting to do a better job of that than the previous (series) against St. Cloud State.
“But like everyone said, we can always work on stuff right? It’s a work in progress.”
Minnesota Duluth at Miami
6:05 p.m. Friday and 4:05 p.m. Saturday
At Goggin Ice Center in Oxford, Ohio
Live stats: Updates from Miami Sports Information
Online streaming: NCHC.tv (subscription required)
TV: My 9 Sports Network
Radio: KDAL 610 AM/103.9 FM