DULUTH, Minn. — Junior Lessard netted his first collegiate hat trick Saturday night, leading Minnesota-Duluth to a 7-2 victory over Bemidji State and a sweep of the two-game nonconference series.
Lessard scored twice in the first period, including the game-winner on the power play at 10:30, and once in the third. His performance echoed Tom Nelson’s hat trick in Friday night’s 5-1 win, giving the Bulldogs (6-11-1 overall, 0-9-1 WCHA) their first back-to-back hatters since February 12-13, 1993, when Rusty Fitzgerald, Joe Biondi, and Derek Plante did the honors in a sweep over Colorado College (Biondi’s and Plante’s came on the same night). Nelson added two more goals Saturday, giving him a total of five for the series.
“I just tried to shoot the puck and drive to the net,” said Lessard. “I guess Nelson inspired me last night.”
Overall Nelson (five goals, one assist) and Lessard, (three goals, one assist) combined for ten points on the weekend.
Duluth head coach Scott Sandelin says it was important to see two stellar individual offensive performances.
“Junior’s struggled to score goals. Hopefully this is gonna give him some confidence, he scored a couple a nice goals,” said the second year head coach.
“I thought he (Nelson) played well the last two weekends; this weekend, he finally got rewarded in the goal-scoring category. Hopefully, for both of those guys, it’s gonna give them confidence in the second half, because there’s no question we need both of ‘em.”
Friday’s win snapped a nine-game winless streak for Duluth, and extended the Bulldogs dominance over Bemidji. UMD is unbeaten in the nine games played between the two teams.
The Bulldogs’ entire offensive output on Saturday came in the first and third periods. For the fourth straight game, UMD scored the opening goal, and it came before many of the 3,336 in attendance at the Duluth Entertainment and Convention Center got in their seats. Lessard stretched the twine at 1:01 when he scooped up the puck behind the Beaver net and wristed a shot past goaltender Dannie Morgan in the upper right-hand corner.
Duluth continued offensive pressure en route to a period in which it finished with a 17-6 shot advantage.
It made the score 2-0 when Nelson re-directed Tyler Brosz’s centering pass past Morgan for his first goal of the game. Lessard followed that by snapping in the eventual game-winner with a shot from the left face-off circle.
Sandelin says they set out to score the opening goal, but unlike last weekend, when their early goals were matched and then surpassed by Denver (in 8-2 and 3-1 Bulldog losses), the coach wanted the leads to count.
“Tonight, once we got that first goal, we got better.”
Bemidji (6-8-2 overall, 3-2-1 CHA) did come alive and make a game out of it in the second period. Wade Chiodo made it 3-1 at 5:42, when his wrist shot from the slot managed to squeak between UMD goaltender Rob Anderson’s left leg and the adjacent goal post. Bryce Methven narrowed the gap to one, when he scored on his team’s only power-play opportunity of the night at the 18:37 mark. His goal came with only two seconds remaining on Judd Medak’s slashing penalty, the only one whistled on the Bulldogs all night.
“We had a great game after two,” said BSU head coach Tom Serratore. “We had a lot of momentum, our kids were playing with a lot of spirit, and it’s too bad it had to end up the way it did.”
Serratore says a stronger forecheck was the key for his team’s second period: “We had a great jump on our forecheck, we were finishing our checks, we were creating a lot of turn-overs, we got a couple goals and our hard work paid off.”
Sandelin says he tried to stem some of the Beaver momentum by calling a time-out two-and-a-half minutes after the first Bemidji goal.
“They came at us, they built momentum on that first goal and they just picked it up a notch. We were kind of watching them do what they wanted.” Sandelin says he used Bemidji State’s second period to try to motivate his team during the second intermission.
“I said ‘Good, we’re in a tight game’,” because he says he wanted to see how the players would react.
His team reacted positively. Duluth sealed the deal with a four goal barrage in the final period, that began with Lessard’s third goal of the night. The sophomore from Quebec knocked in a rebound of a Judd Medak shot at the 4:54 mark. That goal was followed by Nelson’s second lamp-lighter, that came right off of a face off, at 5:55.
Drew Otten and Tim Hambly later closed out the scoring with their first goals of the season, with Hambly’s goal coming on a power play with three seconds remaining in the game.
“I think it’s good to see how we react, especially giving up two goals,” said Sandelin.
“If we can react that way all the time I’d be pretty happy, coming back with a period like that.”
The strong first and third periods led the Bulldogs to outshoot the Beavers 42-27.
Anderson made the 25 Bulldog saves and earned his second straight win between the pipes. His start broke a trend for the Bulldogs of rotating him and Adam Coole as starting goaltender.
“I think the last three games he’s been pretty consistent…he’s only given up six goals in three games,” said Sandelin, who also believes his teammates have been playing better in front of Anderson.
Sandelin says he’s not sure if Anderson will get the start the next time the Bulldogs hit the ice. That won’t happen until December 28-29, when UMD hosts Yale, Boston College and Miami in the Silverado Shootout.
It doesn’t get any easier for Bemidji either, as the Beavers will take on top-ranked St. Cloud State in a nonconference home-and-home series next weekend.