DULUTH, Minn. — A perfect start to 2004 has pushed Minnesota-Duluth to the top of the Western Collegiate Hockey Association. The Bulldogs reached the summit Saturday night with their eighth straight win — an 8-3 victory over last-place Michigan Tech before 5,232 at the DECC. At the same time, North Dakota lost 2-1 at Minnesota.
So No. 1 North Dakota and No. 9 UMD are tied for first in the WCHA with 26 points. North Dakota (12-2-2) has two games in hand over the Bulldogs (13-5), but UMD won’t give that much thought while entering its final mandated week off.
Being on a streak is enough to keep the Bulldogs motivated.
“We want to finish the best we can in the league, which is the best league in the country,” said UMD center Tim Stapleton, who had two goals Saturday. “We’re a team that’s playing well on defense and getting scoring from a lot of different players. I think we’re capable of this kind of streak and capable to adding to it.”
UMD (17-8-2) has the program’s best winning streak since the 1989-90 team opened with eight straight victories. The Bulldogs also have nine straight home wins, seven sweeps and are within six points of their league total from last season with 10 games left.
After a week off, UMD resumes play Feb. 6-7 at Minnesota State.
Stapleton’s two first-period goals and two by Tyler Brosz sparked the Bulldogs to a sweep of Michigan Tech (4-16-4, 2-12-2). The Bulldogs scored on four of eight power plays and outshot Michigan Tech 38-25. The Huskies, 1-9-1 the past 11 games, were playing without No. 2 scorer Colin Murphy, out with an injury.
“Duluth is a top-10 team in the country and they generated an awful lot on offense and limited our chances. And they were very good on special teams,” said Michigan Tech coach Jamie Russell.
Sophomore center Stapleton got UMD going with a power-play goal 86 seconds into the game on UMD’s first shot. He put the puck behind Michigan Tech goalie Bryce Luker at the left edge of the net.
Michigan Tech center B.J. Radovich tied the game at 5:08 on his first goal of the season, but the Bulldogs then took over.
Goals 2:46 apart late in the second period put UMD ahead to stay. Luke Stauffacher passed from behind the Michigan Tech net to Stapleton in the crease with 6:18 left for his 13th goal of the season. Stauffacher later drove to the net, following a Stapleton shot, and had the puck bounce off his body and past Luker with 3:32 remaining for a 3-1 lead.
While Michigan Tech led 7-3 in shots on goal early in the opening period, UMD had a 24-5 edge by the end of the second period.
“Our team has been characterized all season by a good power play, and that’s really helped our offense,” said Stauffacher. “We have seven or eight forwards who have played a lot the last few years and you can see how much they’re contributing. There are different scorers every game.”
UMD winger Brosz had the only goal of the second period, stealing the puck in the offensive zone and scoring unassisted near the net with 4:44 left.
Michigan Tech goal-scoring leader Chris Conner, rated by Russell as good as any forward in Division I, bounced the puck off a UMD defender on a power play at 4:28 of the third period and added another man-advantage score with 6:58 left for his 20th goal of the season.
UMD responded as winger Nick Anderson earned his fifth goal in five games by slapping the puck off Luker’s glove at 6:35 and T.J. Caig connected on a power play. Brosz had a 5-on-3 goal with 2:38 to play as Michigan Tech’s John Hartman served a five-minute checking-from-behind penalty.
UMD sophomore goalie Isaac Reichmuth made 22 saves and pushed his WCHA-leading record to 12-1.
“To be at the top of the league, a pretty good league, is an accomplishment,” said UMD coach Scott Sandelin. “We’re playing pretty good hockey, and finding ways to win, and we’d like to stay right near the top.”
Kevin Pates covers college hockey for the Duluth News-Tribune.