Dodge City

A Close One

This year’s Dodge Holiday Classic wasn’t necessarily loaded with national powerhouse teams, but it did provide some interesting perspective.

Thursday featured one barnburner and one blowout. Massachusetts-Lowell and Canisius battled down to the wire before the River Hawks took a 5-4 win. But if you didn’t know which team had won, talking to the two head coaches would have given you the wrong impression.

Blaise MacDonald of UML was reflective, almost somber about his team’s play.

“I didn’t expect this type of game,” MacDonald said of the freewheeling, high-scoring duel, acknowledging that the Golden Griffins brought more speed to the contest than he anticipated.

Although the River Hawks have suffered through a tough first half after being picked high in the Hockey East preseason polls, one might have expected UML to handle Canisius more easily.

The Griffs were energetic, and head coach Dave Smith liked at least some of what he saw — though not necessarily his defensive play.

“[Goaltender Max Buetow] did his part,” said Smith. “I think we put our goaltender in a tough position at times.”

Smith, of course, is in a program-building mode, trying to get the team past the bad news of last year. That news cropped back up recently, when three players were dismissed for undisclosed violations. If a housecleaning is necessary, Smith doesn’t seem afraid to be the one to pull the trigger.

“We’re trying to get to a good place for Canisius,” said Smith Thursday. He was speaking in the context of that night’s game, but the comment had broader applicability.

Ring Rust

All four teams had been off for a while before the Classic started, and not surprisingly, all four coaches made mention of it at some point. Heck, the sentiments were similar enough to make you wonder if the head coaches got together beforehand to plan what to say.

Of the four teams Thursday, Minnesota looked the least affected by the layoff. The Golden Gophers, whose last homestand was an embarrassingly one-sided sweep at the hands of Wisconsin, throttled Union in the late semifinal, dominating in every way imaginable — offense, defense, special teams.

After the 8-0 finish, Dutchman head coach Nate Leaman was disappointed, but hardly surprised.

“Our scouting report on them was exact,” he said of his preparations for the Gophers. “We tried in practice to work on angling their ‘D.’ … Every time we turned the puck over at the blue line, they [capitalized].”

The Dutchmen didn’t dwell on the loss, though. Friday’s consolation game was a sort of Bizarrowurld spectacle, as Union did to Canisius almost exactly what the Gophers had done to them. The only difference, really, was on the scoreboard, where the Dutchmen didn’t capitalize as effectively as the Gophers had the night before.

Still, what they did do was good enough for a 2-0 win.

“We wanted to put them [Canisius] back on their heels, and I think we did that,” said Leaman.

One element notable in its absence for Union was special teams. Despite nine power plays, the Dutchmen did not register a goal on the man-advantage.

“I think we’re still young on the power play,” said Leaman. “We’ve struggled on the power play on the road mainly because we’ve got freshmen out there, and they’re not confident.”

They Are The Champions

On Thursday, Minnesota didn’t have to worry about much, starting fast and ending the same way as the Gophers dominated Union 8-0. Friday’s championship game was a different matter, as the hosts dug themselves a three-goal hole before methodically rallying with a goal late in the first period, another in the waning minutes of the second, and three more in the third to beat Lowell 5-4 for their seventh straight Dodge Classic tournament title.

Minnesota head coach Don Lucia downplayed the notion that the game should have been easier for the Gophers, considering the River Hawks’ struggles in the first half.

“Hey, any time you play, you can lose,” said Lucia. “Lowell plays in Hockey East. They’ve beaten BU — they know how to play the game.

“There are no gimmes.”

On Thursday, Lucia said that the River Hawks were the team the Gophers wanted in the final. After
Friday’s win, he reaffirmed those sentiments.

“The tournament was set up for us to play Lowell in the championship,” he said. “We wanted to play a Hockey East team.”

The Minnesota win advanced the Gophers’ all-time record against Lowell to 8-1-0, but Friday’s meeting was the teams’ first since March 27, 1994, when the Gophers and the River Hawks faced off at Munn Arena in East Lansing, Mich., in the NCAA quarterfinals. Minnesota won that game, 2-1 in double overtime, to advance to the Frozen Four.

At least one player who was on the ice that day was present Friday: Minnesota Wild goaltender Dwayne Roloson, a former Massachusetts-Lowell player who made 45 stops in the quarterfinal loss, chatted with UML head coach Blaise MacDonald downstairs as the coach prepared to meet the media.

“If we could only get some goaltending!” MacDonald joked after his netminder, Peter Vetri, made 44 saves, including several of the highlight-reel variety early while Lowell built a 3-0 lead.

“It’s always our fault, isn’t it?” quipped Roloson.