Minnesota-Duluth hopes another young team doesn’t fall victim to inconsistencies

Tony Cameranesi scored 14 goals as a freshmen for Minnesota-Duluth (photo: Bradley K. Olson).

Streaky might be the best word to describe the 2012-13 Minnesota-Duluth Bulldogs. Inconsistent would be another.

After opening last year with series splits against Ohio State and Notre Dame, the Bulldogs went 1-4-2 before closing the first half strong with four wins and a tie in six games.

After going 3-1 in January, the Bulldogs hit their nadir in February, with a 0-6-2 stretch before winning their last four of the regular season. They were then swept by Wisconsin in the first round of the WCHA playoffs.

“I didn’t think we had a ton of offensive depth up front, and goaltending, too,” Bulldogs coach Scott Sandelin said. “We lost Kenny Reiter. We had Aaron Crandall back, but at the end of the day with Matt McNeely being a freshman goalie who played a majority of the games, we were young in certain spots.”

Such streaks of inconsistent play might be expected for what was a young team. The Bulldogs had seven seniors on last year’s squad, but only one, Mike Seidel, was counted on to score. Seidel led the team in scoring, tying with freshmen Austin Farley and Tony Cameranesi, while defenseman Wade Bergman finished with 17 points.

The bad news is that if youth leads to inconsistency, the Bulldogs are even younger this year, sporting only four seniors and five juniors. They might be hard-pressed to improve an offense that ranked only 35th nationally with 2.61 points per game, and a defense that was 38th nationally in allowing 2.87 points per game.

“I think we are younger this year, freshmen- and sophomore-wise, just based on our numbers,” Sandelin said. “I think we have 17 or 18. In terms of underclassmen, we are pretty young. … It is how it is, and a lot of teams are going through it.

“It was hard to pinpoint last year. It’s tough when you struggle to score goals. Our power play was certainly big for us last year, and when you score 41 of your 99 goals on the power play, certainly that’s great, but we need to be a little better five-on-five. I think there were a lot of little things that led up to some inconsistencies.”

The bright spot for the Bulldogs is at forward. Cameranesi and Farley, who finished 17th and 25th, respectively, in the WCHA in scoring as freshmen and were tied for the team lead in points with Seidel, return. Also back and looking to step up as a junior is Caleb Herbert.

“We didn’t score a lot five-on-five last year, so I think this year we have potential if those guys continue to produce, Cameranesi and Farley certainly, along with Herbert, who is a junior and I think will be key for us offensively,” Sandelin said. “I think we have a little more depth and talent. I think the potential to score more is certainly better.”

The Bulldogs are also young on the back line. Sophomore Andy Welinski is expected to be the big gun on defense; he finished with 18 points last year as a freshman. Tim Smith and Derik Johnson return as juniors and are expected to provide a calming influence.

“We certainly hope that players like Willie Corrin, who showed some good things last year in limited playing time, can step up and fill some holes that we have,” Sandelin said. “That’s probably where we lost the most with [Drew] Olson and [Wade] Bergman and then [Chris] Casto leaving early. There are some big holes to fill there.

“We have some guys who have experience, the guys you don’t hear a lot about, like Timmy Smith, Derik Johnson and Luke McManus — guys who have been around and played — so we are hoping those guys will be the steady forces back there and use their experience. Guys are going to need some time to acclimate to the speed of the league. Willie [Raskob] is coming out of Shattuck. Carson Soucy has played one year of junior in Alberta. Dan Molenaar has played two years in the USHL and has had some injuries. They’re still a little green back there.”

Sophomore Matt McNeely and senior Aaron Crandall are back in net for the Bulldogs. McNeely played 25 games as a freshman, sporting a .902 save percentage and 2.67 GAA. Crandall had a .891 save percentage.

Also in net is sophomore Alex Fons, who saw limited playing time as a freshman. For now, Sandelin expects McNeely to be the starter.

“I think right now, Matt’s likely ahead just based on what I saw last year,” Sandelin said. “Obviously, Crandall is a fifth-year senior and has played the most games for us and has 20-some wins for us, and the other guy, Alex Fons, started a game in Bemidji and played part of another game for us.

“I think a lot of it is going to depend. I like our goalies. We need those guys to be good. I think that will be a huge key to how successful we are this year, is how good our goalies play. We need an overall save percentage around 91 or 92.”

About the Bulldogs

2012-13 overall record: 14-19-5

2012-13 WCHA record: 10-13-1

2013-14 predicted finish: Candace sixth, Matt fifth

Key losses: F Mike Seidel, D Wade Bergman, D Drew Olson, D Chris Casto

Players to watch: F Austin Farley, F Tony Cameranesi, F Caleb Herbert, F Joe Basaraba, D Andy Welinski, G Matt McNeely

Impact rookies: D Willie Raskob, D Dan Molenaar, D Carson Soucy

Why the Bulldogs will finish higher than predicted: McNeely should continue to progress, and the team returns a lot of experience from last season.

Why the Bulldogs will finish lower than predicted: If Farley and Cameranesi fall prey to the dreaded sophomore slump, scoring could be an issue for the Bulldogs.