Denver travels to Minnesota Duluth this weekend in the first conference series of the season. It's early, but this series could have big implications later in the season. I ranked the Bulldogs third in the NCHC, and the Pioneers fourth in the preseason, but with the caveat that I saw first through fifth place in the league separated by a relatively small margin of points. A few bounces here and there are likely what ends up determining final conference order, and the first of those bounces will take place this weekend.
I'll be in Duluth on Saturday night--making my first ever trip to the (no longer) new AmSoil Arena--to cover the second half of this series. To get you ready for the weekend, here are a few notes to know about this series.
-I'll be cribbing heavily from Bruce Ciskie's series preview, and from Matt Wellens of the Duluth News-Tribune who has a look forward to this series, as well as some notes on UMD's last series against Minnesota State.` Good info from both, so give them a click.
-Neither team is settled in goal yet. Denver had planned on rotating sophomore goalie Evan Cowley and freshman goalie Tanner Jaillet early in the season, but that changed last Saturday, when 2:20 into his first collegiate start, Jaillet suffered a concussion and had to be replaced by Cowley. The good news is that Jaillet appears to have recovered, and is expected to play one of the games this weekend, according to Matt Wellens.
-For Duluth, Kasimir Kaskisuo's second collegiate start on Saturday went much better than his first. After giving up goals on the first two shots he faced against Minnesota, he's been pretty strong in goal. He likely gets the start on Friday, with a decision for Saturday made based on how he plays.
-Slow starts have been a huge problem for Minnesota Duluth so far this year. They've been outscored 5-1 in the first period on the season, and fell behind 4-1 to both Minnesota and Minnesota State before nearly completing comebacks in each of those losses.
-Minnesota Duluth sophomore defenseman Willie Raskob was a healthy scratch last Saturday against Minnesota State; the first time he's missed a game for UMD since sitting in UMD's second game of the season last year as a freshman. I thought Raskob looked dangerous with the puck, as he usually does, on Friday, but UMD's coaches watched a lot more game film than I did and apparently decided to send him a message by sitting him. It should be interesting to see how he responds to that.
-The biggest positive for Denver coming out of their weekend sweep of RPI has to be the play of their second line of Zac Larraza-Quentin Shore-Danten Heinen, which combined to score four goals last weekend. Denver's top line with Trevor Moore-Dan Doremus-Ty Loney is a known commodity. They scored twice last weekend, and there's really no concern about them producing going forward. But if Denver can add a very good second line behind them that consistently produces offense, that makes them very hard to match up against.
Minnesota Duluth has the last change by virtue of being the home team this weekend. Last week, UMD matched their top line of Iafallo-Toninato-Krause against Minnesota State's top scoring line whenever possible. It's likely they'll try to do the same to stop Denver's top line, so the continued success of DU's second line becomes key.
-In case you missed it earlier, I took a closer look at Minnesota Duluth sophomore forward Dom Toninato.