DULUTH, Minn. — Aggressive hockey has returned to Duluth, and it’s being welcomed.
Minnesota-Duluth outmuscled, outhit, and overwhelmingly outworked Alaska-Anchorage Saturday night in a 3-2 WCHA victory over the Seawolves in front of 3,836 at the Duluth Entertainment and Convention Center. The win gives UMD its first sweep of a WCHA opponent this season, and its first home WCHA sweep since it took two from St. Cloud State on January 16-17, 1998.
Junior Lessard scored the game-winner 28 seconds into a third period in which Duluth seemed to outplay Anchorage in every facet of the game. The Bulldogs outshot UAA 19-6 during the final twenty minutes, and pummeled every Anchorage player who wanted to get near the puck.
“I just think they (UMD) took away our will to compete because we didn’t hit back,” said Anchorage head coach John Hill, who said the score could have easily ended up 6-2. “If this was a boxing fight the referee would have stopped it — it would’ve been a TKO.”
Duluth did send out its heavy hitters Saturday. With 6-4 Steve Rodberg leading the way, the Bulldogs were able to keep the speedy, yet smaller forwards for Anchorage from finding much room to move the puck.
UMD head coach Scott Sandelin says he wants his team to keep up the aggressive play.
“We played the game like I want to see us play — getting involved physically, making plays and playing strong defense,” said the second-year head coach.
“I don’t want to say it was a perfect game, but it was great to see a lot of guys play well.”
Hill acknowledges his players are used to an Olympic ice sheet (200×100), not the DECC’s 190×85 sheet.
“But, when it’s obvious that it’s gonna be physical, you need to be prepared and focussed to respond or else a team is going to keep running you all night, and they (UMD) did that,” said Hill.
The hit parade started shortly after Lessard’s game-winner when Drew Otten clapped a thundering open-ice check on Morgan Roach and was punctuated in the final minute when Bulldog captain Judd Medak flattened speedster Steve Cygan in the neutral zone as Cygan carried the puck up the left wing boards.
UMD opened things up very similar to Friday night’s 4-2 victory. The Bulldogs took a 1-0 lead and held on to it until the first intermission. Jon Francisco scored his eleventh goal of the season on a wrist shot from the right face-off circle that zipped through Kevin Reiter’s five-hole. Beau Geisler assisted on the goal at the 6:15 mark. Francisco would add an assist later to give him five points on the weekend.
But unlike Friday night, UAA wasn’t going to let itself sink into a deep hole. The Seawolves scored a rare power-play goal to tie the game early in the second period. With UMD’s Brett Hammond in the penalty box for interference, Mike Scott redirected Matt Shasby’s point blast past Adam Coole at the 3:39 mark.
Not to be outdone, UMD scored its own goal with the extra man just a few moments later. This time, Eric Lawson sat out for his own interference call, as Andy Reierson scored from the left point to make it 2-1 at the 4:37 mark.
Anchorage tied it again with yet another power-play tally, this time as Luke Stauffacher was serving his minor holding penalty. Vladimir Novak lit the lamp at 11:18 with a fluttering changeup that somehow got through Coole’s five-hole.
From then on it was all Bulldogs. Lessard’s was just the beginning, although it wasn’t reflected on the scoreboard. The sophomore forward scored from the slot when he re-directed Reierson’s shot from the right point past Reiter.
Along with the physical play, UMD also cranked up its defensive play. Not only was UAA kept without a shot on goal during the third period’s first six minutes, the Seawolves failed to get any shot attempt toward the UMD net until the 6:20 mark.
In the meantime, UAA got a sparkling effort by Reiter to keep his team in the game. The sophomore managed to deny 18 Duluth shots from getting past him during the final 20 minutes. Overall, UMD led in shots 41-20.
“I’m very happy with the way Kevin (Reiter) played,” said Hill. “He held ‘em to three goals and anytime your goalie does that, he gives you a chance to win. Unfortunately, he got no support.”
Reiter seemed to put on his best performance as UMD skated with the man-advantage in the middle of the third period. The Seawolf goaltender kept it close with two sparkling saves, one when he slid across the crease to deny Medak on a one-timer from the right wing faceoff circle, and the other when he jumped out of the crease to block Lessard’s shot from the left circle.
Meanwhile, the Bulldogs kept Anchorage from getting a third power-play goal when Francisco was whistled for tripping with eight minutes left to play. For the game, UAA finished 2-for-5 with the extra man, while UMD scored one on six opportunities.
Anchorage pulled Reiter with just over a minute left and tried to gain the equalizer with a sixth attacker, but failed thanks mostly to Duluth’s stingy defense and physical play.
Coole ended up with the victory in net, stopping 18 of UAA’s 20 shots on the evening. His performance followed Rob Anderson’s brilliant 43 save performance in Friday night’s victory.
“Now they both have confidence going into next weekend (when UMD hosts No. 4 Minnesota), and that’s what I had hoped for,” said Sandelin.
The win gives Duluth (10-17-1, 3-14-1 WCHA) its seventh point in the WCHA this season, and only one point from tying Michigan Tech for ninth in the conference. Meanwhile, Anchorage (7-12-5, 6-10-4 WCHA) has fallen into a tie for sixth place with North Dakota.
The Seawolves next visit Wisconsin in a two-game series next Friday and Saturday.