Minn. Duluth hockey confident in ability to kill penalties, win games

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Minnesota Duluth coach Scott Sandelin said publicly the amount of time his Bulldogs have been in the penalty box this season is not a major cause for concern, or at least no more than normal, even though his team has taken four majors in the past four games.

That doesn’t mean his players are getting off the hook, though.

“[Sandelin] is harsh on the discipline side of the hockey,” UMD sophomore wing Kyle Osterberg said.

“I’ve taken a couple myself which is usually not my game. It’s definitely something we have to start to worry about because we can’t be giving teams 5-minute power plays consistently every night out.”

PUPS IN THE POUND
Penalties 44
Penalty Kill Percentage 82%
Penalty Minutes 140
Penalty Minutes per Game 23.3
Major 4
10-min Misconducts 1
Game Misconducts 4

Heading into the weekend’s games against No. 10 Miami (Ohio), no team in the country has been penalized this season more than No. 19 UMD. The Bulldogs lead the country in penalty minutes per game — 23.3 minutes — and their 140 total minutes are 26 more than Bentley, the second-most penalized team in the NCAA.

The Bulldogs are tied for the second-most penalties taken, four back of the nation-leading 48 taken by NCHC rival North Dakota. The Bulldogs’ minutes top North Dakota’s though because of the four majors and four 10-minute game misconducts that come with the calls.

Osterberg on Oct. 17 against Minnesota State-Mankato and fellow sophomore wing Sammy Spurrell last Friday against Denver were both called for checking from behind; senior defensemen Derik Johnson was tossed with less than two minutes to play in the Oct. 18 contest in Mankato for kneeing; and junior wing Austyn Young was ejected for facemasking on Saturday against the Pioneers.

Sandelin said the major penalties are not a concern for him because, in his opinion, “a couple of them weren’t majors,” but he’s always looking for his team to play a more disciplined style of hockey.

“If you look at our league, we’ve had a lot of [penalties] in general. It’s not just us,” Sandelin said. “I thought our guys did a much better job this weekend. The last three games we’ve been a more disciplined team and that’s what we need to continue to be.”

In the first six NCHC games this season featuring Denver, UMD, North Dakota, Colorado College, Nebraska-Omaha and Western Michigan, eight major penalties have been called including four for checking from behind. Half of the eight came in the Denver-UMD series — both teams were given majors on both nights — while the Oct. 18 game between North Dakota and Colorado College saw three majors handed out.

Nationally, four of the top 10 most-penalized teams are from the NCHC with Denver third and North Dakota and Western Michigan tied for eighth. Additionally, 14 of the 50 most-penalized skaters are from the NCHC with Atlantic Hockey second with 12.

The last three games we’ve been a more disciplined team and that’s what we need to continue to be.
— Scott Sandelin

NCHC Director of Officiating Don Adam said the NCHC is emphasizing the same rules the rest of the NCAA is this season, with checking from behind and contact to the head once again on the list despite hockey’s efforts to curb the dangerous plays for a number of years. The hits from behind seem to be the biggest issue the league is dealing with so far, Adam said.

“These kids are gung-ho to get the season started. They always come out fired up, they play hard, they skate hard and maybe there is a little bit more aggressiveness to start,” he said. “Typically as the season goes, our hopes are those numbers decrease as the players become a little bit more familiar and a little bit more disciplined with what it is that we’re asking.”

Despite having to kill the second most penalties in the country — North Dakota is first with 37 — the Bulldogs haven’t suffered severely on the penalty kill, allowing a goal only 17.6 percent of the time. Of the six power-play goals given up, three have come during the major penalties and one of those three came with the Bulldogs down two men. On two occasions, UMD has scored a short-handed goal during a major penalty — one into an empty net — and has four total short-handed goals this year.

“We’ve done pretty well on [majors] so far,” Osterberg said. “Sometimes they’re great because you can gain a lot of momentum out of them. Sometimes if you give up one or two, it can really kill your team.

“Sometimes it can be tiring because the same guys are going out, but now [Sandelin] is using more guys.”

The Bulldogs penalty kill will need to continue to be on this weekend against the RedHawks, who haven’t taken as many penalties as UMD, but are not saints either.

Miami is 14th in penalty minutes per game (15.2), ninth in total penalty minutes (91) and 16th in penalties committed.

The RedHawks are killing only 76.9 percent of the 26 power plays they’ve given up, but are finding success when it has a man-advantage, scoring once on every four of their power-play opportunities thanks to the potent offensive trio of Blake Coleman, Riley Barber and Austin Czarnik.

“I look at their top five forwards as being as good as anybody’s in our league,” Sandelin said. “Two of them, certainly Czarnik and Coleman, decided to come back for their senior year when they could have signed [professionally].”

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