DULUTH, Minn. — On the eve of the day when America looks to the groundhog to predict how much winter remains, the Minnesota-Duluth Bulldogs chased a different type of subterranean animal back into its hole. A four-goal, second-period outburst carried UMD to a 5-2 victory over the No. 3 Minnesota Golden Gophers Friday night, in the first game of a WCHA series at the Duluth Entertainment and Convention Center.
Judd Medak scored the eventual game-winner and added three assists for a four-point affair, while goaltender Rob Anderson won his second straight start, stopping 30 shots on goal.
“The second period was the difference in the game,” said Medak.
“You could see it on their bench, they folded. I’d hate to say it but their heads were hung, and they’re not used to be being in that position. They usually score three power-play goals to bury teams and we took it to them and we didn’t let up.”
Freshman Travis Weber took the loss in the Minnesota net — his first blemish since becoming a Gopher (6-1-0). He allowed four goals before being replaced by Adam Hauser midway through the second. Weber finished with 13 saves on the evening, while Hauser stopped 15 shots.
The win gives UMD (11-17-1, 4-14-1 WCHA) its third straight victory, a feat the team hasn’t accomplished in the WCHA since the 1997-98 season. It also allows them to leapfrog Michigan Tech by one point for ninth place in the conference.
“You can feel it within the room and on the bench, this team is finally learning how to win hockey games,” said Medak. “It’s a maturity thing amongst every guy on the team.”
Meanwhile, Minnesota (18-6-4, 10-6-3 WCHA) continues to struggle in Friday night games. The Gophers have yet to win the opening game of a series in 2002, compiling a record of 0-4-1 in series openers since Jan. 5.
“They outplayed us from start to finish, I thought,” said Gopher head coach Don Lucia.
Special teams also turned out to be just that for UMD. In a game featuring two of the WCHA’s top three power plays (Minnesota No. 2 with 30.1 percent at game time, compared to UMD at No. 3 with 23 percent), the Bulldogs managed to take control. UMD kept the Gophers scoreless on seven chances. At the same time, UMD managed to convert three of its eight man-advantage opportunities.
“We talked about how Duluth has a good power play, and how we have to shut their top end guys down,” said Lucia. “And they’re the guys who did the damage and played well.”
Lucia also believes his team didn’t adapt well to the DECC’s smaller ice surface. “Our guys don’t get a chance to practice on a small rink. There’s an adjustment period, but that’s not why we lost the game. We lost the game tonight because we played against a team that played harder.”
The power play worked magic for UMD on its first goal. Just 37 seconds after Matt Koalska was whistled for high-sticking, Andy Reierson gave his team its first lead of the night. Medak set up the defenseman when he won a faceoff just to Weber’s left and sent the puck back to the right point. Reierson then placed a low wrist shot past the goaltender on his glove side at 2:42 of the opening period that sent most of the sold-out crowd of 5,405 to its feet.
It was a much-needed goal momentum-wise for the Bulldogs who would see their penalty-killing unit tested for much of the remainder of the opening session. Just moments after the goal, Mark Carlson took the first of three consecutive Duluth penalties that put Minnesota on the attack for the next 5:54, and giving the Gophers a five-on-three for 1:06 of that span. But the Gophers weren’t able to muster anything more than five shots on goal, two of which came from Grant Potulny just within 10 feet of the goal mouth, while two more were fired by Jordan Leopold from the right point.
Nevertheless, Minnesota tied the game before ending the period. Potulny helped set up the first Minnesota goal when he carried the puck across the Bulldog line on the right wing; then he and a UMD defender fell down, leaving the puck all alone for Jeff Taffe to scoop up and send a soft wrist shot that beat Anderson on his stick side at the 13:35 mark.
The first period at 1-1. UMD failed to get anything past Weber on its second man-advantage situation, but started its third just as the period ended. Luke Stauffacher drew the call when he was hit by Barry Tallackson’s elbow with just over ten seconds left to play.
The Bulldogs used that penalty to their advantage early in the second when they scored off an innocent-appearing dump-and-chase play. Mark Carlson first sent the long shot behind the Gopher goal where Drew Otten caught up to it, and managed to draw Weber to the right side of his cage. Otten then quickly relayed a pass to Evan Schwabe, who was posted just beside the post to Weber’s left, where he easily flipped the puck in for his seventh goal of the year.
The Bulldogs maintained intense pressure on the Gopher net to extend their lead. Medak’s game-winner came at 7:37 and wasn’t what would be considered a textbook goal. The senior captain pounced on a rebound of Tom Nelson’s shot from the point, and saw his momentum send him crashing into the Gopher net along with the puck to make it 3-1.
“It’s always good to get a breakaway goal or a nice, fancy goal, but those dirty ones are even better when you just go to the net and it goes in and you go in with it,” quipped Medak. “I love those ones, so I’ll take it.”
Minnesota had an opportunity to climb back into the contest when Duluth’s Beau Geisler was called for a hooking penalty. But John Pohl negated the ensuing power play when he was called for hooking UMD’s Andy Reierson.
On the resulting faceoff, UMD made the Gophers pay with a four-on-four goal. It began when Medak won the draw deep in the Minnesota zone and sent the puck back to Neil Petruic, who fired a shot blocked by Weber, but Nelson was there to kick the rebound back to his stick and whack it in to make it 4-1.
That goal at 9:25 of the second period ended the evening for Weber, who was making his first start in his native northern Minnesota. Weber played high school hockey in Hibbing, just over an hour from Duluth.
Hauser took over for Weber and allowed one more UMD goal. The Bulldogs scored their third power-play tally at 13:13 when Nelson scored on a rebound of Reierson’s shot from the point that was assisted by Medak.
Minnesota scored the game’s final goal after coincidental minor penalties were called on UMD’s Junior Lessard and Minnesota’s Matt DeMarchi. Jordan Leopold pounced on his own rebound after Matt Koalska helped take Anderson out of position when both chased after the loose puck.
Some physical play marked the end of the middle session. Each team drew one double-minor roughing penalty after a small scrum that occurred in front of the UMD net.
For the second period, UMD outshot the Gophers by 16-9 margin.
Minnesota controlled much of the play during the third period. It was bolstered by two chances with the extra man, but wasn’t able to get anything past Anderson. The junior netminder stayed sharp, stopping all Gopher shots during the final 20 minutes, in which Minnesota posted a 14-11 shot advantage. His best saves came as Medak was serving a minor hooking penalty midway through the final session. He stopped Troy Riddle on two shots from the left face-off dot, one of which was a one-timer set up by Keith Ballard.
Other Minnesota attempts to come back were either foiled by strong Duluth forechecking, shots wide of the net, or numerous off sides calls, which Lucia was not yet ready to blame on the smaller ice surface until he could look at game tape.
The victory evens Anderson’s record at 7-7-0 on the season, although Bulldog head coach Scott Sandelin is expected to start Adam Coole in Saturday’s rematch. Hauser is expected to start between the pipes for Minnesota.