DULUTH, Minn. — Minnesota-Duluth has found out the last two weekends how to impress the PairWise Rankings, which mimic the NCAA hockey selection process. Beating other teams under consideration carries considerable weight with the computer.
When the Bulldogs swept a series at Denver they moved to No. 8. After Friday’s home victory over Colorado College, they jumped to a tie for No. 4, the highest position for UMD in seven years of the PairWise. A 4-1 victory Saturday against the Tigers should keep UMD among the Division I men’s elite. The win came before the largest DECC crowd of the season, a sellout of 5,405.
Team scoring leader Junior Lessard had a pair of goals and defenseman Beau Geisler had two assists for the Bulldogs in the Western Collegiate Hockey Association game. Sophomore goalie Isaac Reichmuth finished with 30 saves to go to 10-1 in the league.
UMD (15-8-2 and 11-5 in the WCHA) has won six straight games, seven in a row at home, and is 11-3-1 the past 15 games. No. 13 Colorado College (11-8-3 and 4-8-2) has lost six straight in the WCHA and is 3-7 the past 10 games. The eight goals in the series were the most allowed by Colorado College this season. The Bulldogs now have six sweeps this season, the most since 1992-93.
“Maybe I’m a little surprised how high we are in the rankings, but any time you put together six wins a row, that’s impressive,” said Reichmuth. “CC is a small, speedy team and we took away a lot of their time and space. We played two solid, 60-minute games.”
Six goals were scored in the first period of Friday’s 4-3 UMD win. There was just one Saturday. T.J. Caig’s ninth goal of the season with 6:06 left in the period put the Bulldogs ahead. His soft shot from the crease was stopped by goalie Matt Zaba, but Caig fought through a defender and put in the rebound.
Colorado College, after going scoreless on its previous 18 power-play tries, connected at 5:20 of the second period as winger Brett Sterling tied the game at 1-1. The Bulldogs responded 70 seconds later when Lessard made a backhand pass across the crease to Evan Schwabe, alone at the
right edge. Schwabe’s eighth goal of the season extended his scoring streak to 13 games.
“Junior has been unbelievable all year and he was the difference tonight,” said Schwabe. “As soon as he got the puck, I was waiting. He is so strong on the puck that I knew he’d get a pass to me.”
Consecutive penalties on the Tigers late in the second period aided UMD’s cause. Sophomore defenseman Jesse Stokke was called for tripping Caig and Mark Stuart then pulled at Lessard’s mask after the whistle. That gave the Bulldogs 78 seconds of a two-man advantage. Schwabe hit a pipe early in the power play, followed by Lessard connecting from the slot with 2:42 to go. That put UMD up 3-1 after 40 minutes.
Lessard’s 18th goal of the season and 59th of his career came with 7:56 left in the game. He converted a Jay Hardwick rebound while stationed in front of Zaba.
“At Denver we basically did what we needed to do to win. We played tight defense,” said Caig. “This weekend we came right out after them and never gave them the lead. We got back to our strengths, which includes scoring goals.”
UMD, which outshot Colorado College 36-31, was steady with Reichmuth’s help. He stopped Aaron Slattengren from point-blank range early in the second period, and Joey Crabb in the last minute of the second period and on a power play at 8:40 of the third period.
“It’s the same thing, we’re not generating much offense,” said Colorado College coach Scott Owens. “We’re a pretty good team without a good league record. Our go-to guys are sophomores and it’s hard to win with sophomores.”
Colorado College had gone 21 WCHA series without being swept while winning 27 and 30 games the past two seasons. Yet the Tigers have now been swept in three straight league series by Alaska-Anchorage, Minnesota and UMD. The defending WCHA regular-season champions stand eighth in the league.
“We did a better job defensively than on Friday and we looked to our scorers, like Junior, and they made plays,” said UMD coach Scott Sandelin. “We are in a streak now where everyone is helping out.”
The Bulldogs remain home this weekend against Michigan Tech, which was swept in Houghton, Mich., by No. 1 North Dakota. CC hosts Wisconsin for a pair of games.