DULUTH, Minn. — Five years later, Minnesota-Duluth still has a winning touch at home in the playoffs.
The Bulldogs opened the Western Collegiate Hockey Association post-season with a wild 5-4 victory over St. Cloud State before 3,834 fans at the DECC on Friday night.
UMD (19-13-5) takes a 1-0 lead into Saturday’s second game in the best-of-3 series. St. Cloud State (16-14-5) has eliminated the Bulldogs in the playoffs two of the last three years, in St. Cloud.
Yet, the last time the Bulldogs were home for the WCHA playoffs — in 1998 — they defeated Minnesota in three games, the clincher coming 5-4 in overtime.
Friday’s game had a bit of everything, two disputed UMD goals, four power-play goals (three by St. Cloud State), a shorthanded goal by UMD and two unassisted scores by Bulldog defensive specialist Brett Hammond. It was his first two-goal game at UMD.
Hammond earned the deciding score on a shorthanded play 3:08 into the third period for a 5-2 UMD lead. It almost wasn’t enough.
“We’ve got to play smarter with the lead. You don’t want to be in the penalty box sweating that the other team doesn’t score,” said Hammond, a sophomore winger from Roseville, Minn., who had three minor penalties. “They scored once tonight when I was in there and I went over and apologized to our team for that.”
UMD, 8-2-1 the last 11 games, had two three-goal leads, saw St. Cloud State get back to within one with 13:11 to play, then played solidly the rest of the way. St. Cloud State, 4-6-2 the last 12, pulled freshman goalie Jason Montgomery with 51 seconds left and had a few faceoffs in the offensive zone, yet couldn’t get by UMD freshman Isaac Reichmuth. Senior center Jon Cullen had two goals for St. Cloud State.
St. Cloud State outshot UMD 31-29 in a game that was that close.
“I never felt like we were out of it,” said St. Cloud State coach Craig Dahl. “Our guys gave it everything they had, it was a good effort, but we still lost.”
UMD scored 27 seconds into the game on a Hammond goal and never trailed. Cullen gave the Huskies a 1-1 tie through 20 minutes, then a three-goal second period propelled UMD to a 4-2 advantage. Marco Peluso, Beau Geisler and Junior Lessard had goals just more than three minutes apart early in the period for a 4-1 lead. The Huskies cut it to 4-2 with a Matt Gens power-play goal late in the period.
Peluso, on a power play, and Geisler connected 21 seconds apart in the first four minutes. Peluso took a cross-ice pass from Hammond at the right edge of the crease. Geiseler’s shot from the right circle went between Montgomery’s the legs.
Lessard put in his own rebound from the crease, yet the goal was disputed. Referee Jon Campion conferred with the goal judge before confirming the goal. The Bulldogs had scored three goals on seven shots against Montgomery, who finished as the WCHA’s save-percentage leader at .922.
“I was already right on top of the goalie on the first shot and I put my stick in there and kept driving on the net. The puck hit me somehow — off my stick, my arm, my leg. I don’t know where but it’s a goal in any league,” said Lessard, who has 18 this season, one more than last year.
“We had a big lead and then we let them back in it again. Sometimes we don’t have enough killer instinct, and tonight we took too many penalties and it cost us.”
Hammond restored the three-goal edge early in the third as he intercepted a Joe Motzko pass and pounded a shot from high between the circles. The puck quickly went in and out — the goal light came on — but play continued for another five seconds. Campion again talked with the goal judge and awarded the goal, Hammond’s 11th this season.
Hammond couldn’t honestly say he saw the puck in the net.
“At first I didn’t think it was in, but I know I got a good part of the (left) post,” said Hammond. “I want to see a replay, but if the goal judge said it was in, that’s good enough for me.”
The Huskies rallied with goals two minutes apart by Cullen and Jonathan Lehun to get within 5-4 at 6:49 of the final period.
UMD coach Scott Sandelin, whose team had split four regular-season games with the Huskies, called a timeout to offer some words of wisdom.
“I just told our guys to settle down and to be confident in everything they did,” said Sandelin. “It wasn’t like I felt the game was slipping away, but all of our games with St. Cloud have been close and I knew they were going to keep coming at us.
“I told Isaac after the second period that we needed two big saves from him in the third period, and we got those.”
Huskies scoring leader Motzko put a shot off Reichmuth’s facemask 25 seconds into the last period and the goalie got a right leg on a Gens shot halfway through.