Minnesota Duluth's Andy Welinski scored a short-handed goal in the second period of Saturday's 4-3 win over Miami. The goal was Minnesota Duluth's fifth short-handed goal of the season, which ties them with North Dakota for most short-handed goals in the country.
Minnesota Duluth head coach Scott Sandelin was asked after the game whether his team's offense down a man was a matter of strategy or luck. He said:
"There's different thoughts with it. Some teams, when pucks are turned over in their zone [on the penalty kill], they're more aggressive with shooting guys out of the zone. We talked a little bit about that this weekend because they're pretty aggressive. But some of it's luck. Some of it is a bounce here, or a guy blocks a shot. It's probably a combination of both. We talked about it if we get full possession to try and shoot a guy."
Sandelin is talking about having a forward shoot out of the zone and getting behind the defense, so this goal isn't necessarily an example of that, but it's definitely a case of UMD showing an aggressiveness on the penalty kill and creating their own luck, rather than waiting for it.
Here's where the play begins. The puck has just been rimmed around from behind the net, where Minnesota Duluth's Justin Crandall picks it up. Overall, this doesn't look like a terrible situation for Miami at the moment. UMD has the puck, but the RedHawks have two defenders back--technically it's defenseman Louie Belpedio on the near side, and forward Alex Wideman on the far side, but two bodies are back there nonetheless.
Two things are going to turn this play into doom for Miami. First, notice the gap between Crandall and Belpedio. Belpedio had sort of been manning the top of the umbrella in the center of the ice. As a result, he's a split second late getting over to Crandall. That extra second will give Crandall the time and space he needs to make a play.
The other big thing to notice is our eventual goal-scorer Andy Welinski, who is playing left defense for UMD in this photo. Welinski has cut in front of his net, while Miami's last forward back, who would be responsible for covering him has cut behind the net. Riley Barber, the Miami defender farthest north is about even with Welinski, but there's still about 40-feet of width between the two.
Belpedio gets over to make a play on Crandall, but he's a bit too late. Crandall doesn't make a spectacular play, but he does just enough to push the puck ahead where teammate Kyle Osterberg can skate onto it. It's still just a one-on-one when Osterberg picks up the puck though.
But what will change this play is that Welinski recognizes how open he is and decides to jump into the play to turn that 1-on-1 situation into an odd-man rush. After the game Welinski would say:
"I was actually pretty gassed, but the puck just kind of bounced out and nobody was on me, so I put my head down and caught up."
Knowing that he has Welinski on his left wing, Osterberg takes the puck wider and deeper down the right wing than he normally would to create a better passing angle.
Welinski fanned on the shot a little bit, and McKay was able to get a piece of it, but it still snuck through for the goal.
The full replay of the goal is in the NCHC.tv highlights here. Welinski's goal starts at about the 2:00 mark of the video.
There were two reasons I wanted to pick out this video. First, when talking about Minnesota Duluth's success scoring short-handed goals so far this year, I think this definitely shows that they're being pretty aggressive about seeking them out.
It may have been exactly what Scott Sandelin had in mind when he talked about counterattacking Miami's power play, which utilizes four forwards and a defenseman at the top of the umbrella. But that set-up definitely helped UMD in this situation. And you have to give the Bulldogs credit here for attacking and trying to make something happen offensively short-handed, rather than just icing the puck, especially when you consider that this play occurred later in the shift.
But I also wanted to point out what a nice read this was by Welinski to jump into the play. He's always been a talented defender, but if there was a knock on his game, it was that he was a little too vanilla and didn't do much on the offensive end.
He's still never going to be a big scorer. But over the past three seasons in Duluth, he's been put in a lot of situations to grow the offensive side of his game and has become a better, more complete player because of it.
The new maxim you hear from NHL scouts is that the idea of a purely defensive defenseman is dying at the pro level. To play in the NHL, a defenseman has to be able to recognize situations like that where he can activate himself in the play and create odd-man rushes at opportune times. This is a perfect example of Welinski reading a play and doing just that.