DULUTH, Minn. — Colorado College head coach Scott Owens didn’t expect it to be so tough to get two points in his team’s two-game weekend series on the road against Minnesota-Duluth.
After all, his Tigers went into the weekend ranked fourth in the nation, according to the latest USCHO.com poll, and tied for second in the WCHA with 20 points, while UMD sat in the conference basement with only three points.
But it was tough for Colorado College (11-5-1, 10-5 WCHA), which did manage to earn a split in the series after beating the Bulldogs, 6-4, Saturday night in front of 3,847 fans at the Duluth Entertainment and Convention Center. UMD (5-17-2, 2-13-2 WCHA) took Friday night’s contest, 2-1.
“That [UMD] was as good of a team as we’ve played,” said Owens. “We feel fortunate to get out with two points, I didn’t think it would be that hard.”
The win puts the Tigers into a tie with Minnesota for third place in the WCHA.
Both coaches believe both teams produced a better effort Saturday night than Friday night. UMD’s Scott Sandelin says it was a game he thought the Bulldogs could have won, and believes its part of his team’s learning process.
“[Friday] night, maybe we didn’t deserve to win. We haven’t won too many Friday games before, and had never been in that situation [to sweep a conference series] all season long.”
How tough was it for the Tigers Saturday? First of all, UMD managed to battle back from two two-goal deficits, went ahead for a short time, managed to shut down CC’s top scorer, before losing the game in the final minute.
Sophomore defenseman Tom Preissing scored the winning goal on the power-play with only 28 seconds left in the third period. The goal was set up after a weak clearing attempt by Duluth’s Tom Nelson. The puck softly floated toward CC’s Paul Manning at the blue line. Manning then quickly moved the puck ahead to Mark Cullen, who then sent it to Preissing, who one-timed the puck from the face-off circle past UMD goaltender Rob Anderson, for his fourth goal of the season.
Preissing says he was just following instructions.
“Manning said, ‘Get open for the one-timer,’” said the Rosemount, Minn., native, “I was definitely lookin’ for it.”
Junior right wing Alex Kim, and senior right wing Justin Morrison paced the Tigers offensively, each scoring two goals and adding one assist. Kim’s helper came at a key moment, when he set up Jesse Heerema’s game-tying goal at the 13:42 mark, although Heerema stole the show with his work effort. The Junior left wing skated directly in front of the UMD net and had his first two shots stopped cold by Anderson’s pads. However, Heerema never quit, and managed to roof his second rebound over a kneeling Anderson.
Kim says the team never changed its attitude after it fell behind.
“We kept a good, positive attitude; it didn’t change,” said Kim, “we decided we would not be playin’ on our heels.”
The goal helped the Tigers regain momentum lost after UMD went ahead on the power-play. Sophomore Drew Otten was the temporary hero, thanks to good work in the corner by Judd Medak. Medak worked the puck free, and steered the puck to Mark Gunderson, who relayed it to Otten who slammed the puck past Jeff Sanger on the goalie’s glove side. The tally was Otten’s sixth of the year.
Kim started the scoring for Colorado College early in the first period with a power-play goal at the 4:21 mark. It was in the middle of an early flurry by CC, which dominated play in the opening minutes, and kept UMD without a shot on goal until the 8:48 mark. Kim added another power-play marker at the 14:49 mark of the second period.
Morrison made it 2-0 for CC, at the 8:49 mark of the second period, and later rounded out the scoring with an empty net goal with five seconds left in the contest.
Colorado College ended up outshooting UMD 30-27.
The work of Kim, Morrison, Heerema, and Preissing managed to make up for a rare zero-point weekend by CC’s Freshman phenom Peter Sejna, who came in with a team-leading 28 points in his first 20 games.
It’s the first time this year Sejna’s been shut out for a whole weekend. Says Owens: “That’s a credit to Duluth. Defensively, I though they were very effective; they didn’t give us anything in front of their net.”
Nelson, Nate Anderson and Jon Francisco also scored for UMD. The Bulldogs finished two-for-six on the power-play, while the Tigers scored three goals on seven man-advantage situations.
Sandelin believes the penalties were a big factor in the game. “We shot ourselves in the foot at times; five-on-five, we controlled the play.”
The loss ends an eight game WCHA homestand for UMD, in which the Bulldogs went 1-6-1, although it lost only one of the games by more than two goals. Duluth will take next weekend off before resuming conference play Jan. 25-26 at Minnesota State.
Meanwhile, Colorado College’s next game will be at Denver Jan. 19.