DULUTH, Minn. — Minnesota-Duluth’s season has been one filled with many disappointments. But, as they say, every cloud has a silver lining. Friday night’s game against No. 4 Minnesota could be considered the season’s rainbow for the Bulldogs.
Nate Anderson’s goal at 1:54 of overtime cashed in UMD’s biggest victory of the season, a 5-4 thriller over the Golden Gophers, in front of a sold out crowd of 5,378 at the Duluth Entertainment and Convention Center. The win snaps the Bulldogs’ nine-game winless streak for the season, and a 10-game losing streak to Minnesota that began after a 1998 WCHA playoff series between the two teams. It also closed out the Gophers’ nine-game winning streak.
Some think the win could lead to more good things happening for Duluth this season.
“It turns the season around for us,” said Anderson. “We had been in games against North Dakota and Colorado College, but now to beat Minnesota, anything’s possible.”
The overtime goal was Anderson’s second of the night and 16th of the season. It came off a faceoff that Tom Nelson controlled just to the right of Minnesota goaltender Adam Hauser. Nelson steered the puck to Jon Francisco on the right wing who redirected it toward the net, and Anderson poked it past Hauser as the goaltender attempted to steer the puck away by extending his stick.
The goal capped off a game the Bulldogs led most of the way. They carried a 3-2 lead going into the final period, then it looked as if history would repeat itself.
Just as it did against North Dakota, St. Cloud, Denver and Wisconsin, UMD blew a third-period lead, as Minnesota scored twice to make it 4-3. But this time the Bulldogs didn’t give up, as Matt Mathias scored with 2:37 remaining to tie it back up before Anderson completed the scoring in OT.
It was a big relief to UMD head coach Scott Sandelin.
“I wasn’t ready to sit here and say ‘Gee, we played well but we didn’t win again.’
“I’ll take that win more than anything.”
Goaltender Rob Anderson also played a key part in the Bulldog victory. The sophomore gathered 28 of 32 Gopher shots to earn his seventh victory of the season. Two of his saves could be considered game-breakers.
The first came late in the opening period. Junior John Pohl and senior Aaron Miskovich skated into the Bulldog zone on a two-man shorthanded breakaway. Pohl sent the puck to Miskovich at the left faceoff circle, seemingly taking Anderson out of position. But the goaltender promptly slid back toward his right side, and knocked away Miskovich’s shot with his skate blade.
Pohl was victimized again in the second period. After taking a pass from Eric Westrum from behind the Bulldog net, Pohl skated from the right side boards to the slot virtually untouched and lifted a shot toward the upper right hand corner, that Anderson snagged with his glove.
“I tried not to make the first move,” said Anderson on the save against Pohl. “He pulled it out, threw it up, and I followed it all the way.”
The big saves came after Rob Anderson was leveled by Gopher junior Erik Wendell. Wendell knocked down Anderson as he was chasing after a loose puck. The incident sparked a melee that led to a brief skirmish and several penalties, including UMD’s second power-play, yet Anderson turned out to be fine.
UMD controlled much of the play early in the contest. Nate Anderson notched his first goal of the evening after Nelson created a turnover along the end boards. Nelson first stripped the puck away from Gopher freshman Grant Potulny and sent it toward the blue line to defenseman Beau Geisler. Geisler then quickly sent it back to Nelson who found Anderson positioned at Hauser’s right side, and the junior forward tapped it in for the 1-0 lead at the 10:05 mark.
Minnesota would even things up thanks to its leading scorer. Senior Erik Westrum netted his 22nd goal of the season after intercepting a UMD clearing attempt. Westrum controlled the puck along the right side boards and skated to the left faceoff circle where he targeted a wrist shot perfectly into the upper right hand corner.
Duluth would regain the lead with a controversial shorthanded goal at 8:41 of the second period. Nelson scored his 16th of the season with what appeared to be a high stick. Hauser blocked Nelson’s initial shot, but the puck deflected into the air over his head, and Nelson’s stick brushed the puck back down and it bounced off of Hauser’s back and into the net.
That lead didn’t last long, as Minnesota would convert its only power-play goal of the night less than a minute later. Miskovich jumped on a rebound that resulted from a point shot by freshman defenseman Paul Martin and followed up with a backhander for his 12th goal of the season.
UMD would take its third lead of the game later in the period. Mark Carlson scored on a two-on-one break that started thanks to good backchecking by freshman Chad Kolar. Kolar forced a Minnesota turnover in the UMD zone, and played the puck ahead to Mathias. After receiving a pass from Mathias, Carlson backhanded the puck through Hauser’s five hole for his eighth goal of the year.
Momentum appeared to shift after that. Minnesota would tie the game at 8:18 of the third period. Pat O’Leary scored his fifth goal of the year, after jumping on a Matt Koalska shot that deflected off of Stuart Senden’s skate.
The Gophers followed that up with a Paul Martin wrist shot in the slot that resulted in his third goal of the year, and Minnesota’s only lead of the game.
But that would do it for Minnesota. Mathias tied the game on a play set up nicely by Nelson and Geisler. Nelson carried the puck into the Gopher zone, sent a backhand pass laterally to Geisler who was positioned just to his right in the high slot. Geisler then steered the puck to the bottom of the left faceoff circle to Mathias, who banged the puck in for his second goal of the year.
Gopher head coach Don Lucia was upset his team gave up UMD’s fourth goal.
“It was a foolish play that never should have happened,” said Lucia. “There was a forward coming off the ice that should have helped out defensively.”
Minnesota (24-8-2, 17-6-2 WCHA) went into the game just three points out of first place in the WCHA. Lucia also let the team know midway through the game that league leader North Dakota ended up tying its game against Michigan Tech, thereby picking up only one point.
“I told them once they walk out there, forget about it,” he said. “I think it pumped them up a little bit.”
The loss now puts Minnesota four points out of first place, with three league games remaining.
Lucia said his team made bad decisions that came about, in part, because it’s not used to playing on UMD’s home ice surface. At 190×85, it’s the smallest in the WCHA, compared with Mariucci Arena’s 200×100 ice surface.
Yet, Lucia gives Duluth (7-23-4, 3-19-3 WCHA) full credit for the victory.
“It was the type of game we expected; they have played everybody tough here,” Lucia said.
Work on the penalty kill also helped UMD. Despite allowing one power-play goal, the Bulldogs stymied Minnesota on its two other opportunities, keeping the Gophers from even getting a shot on goal. It was a big contrast to when the two teams met in October in Minneapolis. In that two-game series, the Gophers went 6-for-13 on the power play.
UMD outshot the Gophers 38-32.
Sandelin knows Minnesota will come out strong in Saturday night’s rematch, and hopes to see more good things from his team.
“I hope there’s not a let down,” he said. “The Seniors hadn’t beaten Minnesota since their first year; I think this will propel us for the rest of the year.” Saturday night’s home game will be the last for Minnesota-Duluth’s Seniors