Postgame: With Just Four Defensemen, Bulldogs Gut Out Tie At Darmouth

Minnesota Duluth tied Dartmouth 2-2 on Saturday in the championship of the Ledyard Bank Classic at Thompson Arena in Hanover, N.H. The Bulldogs claimed the tournament title by beating the Green Wave in a shootout 2-1.

The Bulldogs only had 17 skaters available, with just four defensemen. Senior defenseman Nick McCormack was suspended for Saturday’s game due to a contact to the head penalty he received Friday. Another five players — including three defensemen — are gone at the World Junior Championship.

Below are my thumbs up and thumbs down from Saturday’s tie, plus my three stars of the night.

Thumbs up to those four defensemen

This is a night UMD’s four defensemen will remember for some time.

Minus a few relief appearances by senior center Sammy Spurrell at the blue line, UMD’s four remaining defensemen — Nick Wolff, Jarod Hilderman, Matt Anderson and Louie Roehl — basically rotated in and out all game. Wolff, a sophomore, was paired with Roehl, a freshman. Hilderman, a sophomore, played with Anderson, a freshman.

Hilderman had a team-high five blocks and Wolff followed with four. Wolff was the star of the group, I thought, even if he was trying to do too much at times. I don’t know what his official minutes were, but I wouldn’t be surprised if it was over 30. He never refused a shift on Saturday.

The freshmen were solid too and played smart. I think that was the key for Anderson and Roehl.

Spurrell wasn’t too bad either when he was thrown onto the ice, skating backward, defending a few Dartmouth rushes. He kept things simple, didn’t try to do too much and was effective the moments UMD turned to him.

It was kind of fun to watch — Wolff said it was a fun game to play in — but now everyone hopes UMD never has to do this again.

Thumbs down to UMD’s forward group

I underestimated how challenging it would be for UMD to play with just four defensemen. It’s easy to do at the high school level. Wolff and I talked about how he played over 40 minutes in a state tournament game at Eagan High School.

But this is college where playing with just for defensemen is nigh impossible. Yet, I thought UMD could have won this game had the forwards played better.

UMD’s forwards seems tentative all night, as if they were the position group playing shorthanded. They were hesitant, not wanting to make a mistake that would burn the defensemen. I get that mentality. With just four defensemen, who by the second period were clearly exhausted, the last thing you want to do is hang those guys out to dry.

But you also have to give the D some offensive support, and the two goals UMD posted Saturday proved to not be enough.

“I thought our forwards could have been better,” UMD coach Scott Sandelin said. “We preached and harped on that, especially when you have four D. They need to be better in the offensive zone, they need to maintain the puck and not throw pucks away and make hope plays. They need to play 200 feet and I thought it was hit or miss with them. Not everybody, but we needed more guys to help out the back end.”

Matt’s Three Stars

3. UMD senior center Sammy Spurrell: Playing WAY out of position as the team’s spare defensemen, Spurrell was solid when he was called into action. Sandelin said Spurrell volunteered for the job, doing what he had to for the team this weekend.

2. UMD sophomore defenseman Nick Wolff: Wolff is often looked upon as the leader of UMD’s young defensemen because of his age and experience. Tonight his effort and fight he showed why he’s the defensive leader playing shift after shift after shift without question.

1. UMD sophomore goaltender Hunter Shepard: The tournament MVP was the best Bulldog all weekend and he stepped up huge when his team needed him Saturday making a collegiate-high 41 saves.