DULUTH, Minn. — Minnesota-Duluth has been playing Minnesota in men’s hockey since 1962, yet had never accomplished what it did Saturday night.
The sixth-ranked Bulldogs defeated Minnesota 4-1 before a standing room-only crowd of 5,418 at the DECC to complete a four-game series season sweep. The win also gave UMD sole possession of first place in the WCHA, following a Colorado College win at North Dakota.
The moment wasn’t lost on UMD’s players, who stretched their Division I-leading unbeaten streak to 12 games at 11-0-1 and put their home win streak at 11. They stopped two-time defending NCAA champion Minnesota and were aware of the North Dakota score.
“We thought, ‘Here it is, boys, here’s our chance (at first place).’ It was pretty amazing,” said UMD junior winger Marco Peluso, who had two goals. “I had shivers down my spine in the third period.”
UMD (20-8-3 and 16-5-1 in the WCHA) scored on three of four power plays and finished 6-for-10 with a man-advantage in the series. No. 4 Minnesota (18-11-3 and 11-10-1) outshot UMD 29-19 and tied the game in the second period, but Peluso got his second goal of the night with 46 seconds left in the period and scoring leader Junior Lessard got his 21st goal of the season in the third period. Luke Stauffacher added an empty-net score with 12 seconds to play.
The Gophers, with the No. 1 power play in Division I, went 0-for-10 for the weekend, including 0-for-5 in Friday’s 6-1 loss. UMD swept at Mariucci Arena in October 4-3 in overtime and 4-2 to open the WCHA season, and has now beaten the Gophers five straight games.
“It was extra sweet this weekend because our rink was sold-out, and the fans were loud, and because we beat a good Minnesota team,” said Stauffacher, a key penalty killer. “But the biggest thing is that we came into the weekend in first place and left in first place.”
UMD goes to Colorado College this weekend after having limited Minnesota to two goals in two games. Sophomore goalie Isaac Reichmuth was solid making 28 saves Saturday to run his WCHA record to 15-1-1.
Minnesota played without scoring leader Thomas Vanek. The sophomore left winger sat out last weekend’s nonconference series against Bemidji State with an undisclosed injury and was sore after Friday’s game at the DECC, said Gopher coach Don Lucia. Captain Grant Potulny has been out since Jan. 24 with a shoulder injury.
“(UMD) executed extremely well on their special teams and our penalty kill is what really let us down,” said Lucia. “We gave ourselves a chance to win, we played better, but we didn’t have a lot of goal-scorers in the lineup.”
After scoring three power-play goals the night before, UMD converted on its first chance Saturday for a 1-0 lead after one period. Reichmuch came up ice to start the play, then relayed the puck to defenseman Beau Geisler, who passed to Lessard. He got a pass deep in the slot to Peluso, who knocked down a bouncing puck and put it past goalie Kellen Briggs from the left edge of the crease at 7:00.
The assist extended Lessard’s point streak to 11 games. He now has 21 goals and 22 assists for 43 points in 31 games. The goal came with Minnesota defenseman P.J. Atherton off for interfering with center T.J. Caig.
The teams exchanged second-period goals for a 2-1 UMD advantage.
Reichmuth’s shutout streak ended after 74:23 as Minnesota muscled in a goal at 7:46 which had to be confirmed before going on the board. Gopher defenseman Keith Ballard, being defended at the left edge of the net, nudged a Jerrid Reinholz pass inside the pipe. The red light didn’t go on and referee Don Adam didn’t signal a score, but after talking with his assistant referees, a goal was awarded.
Minnesota had two power plays in the second half of the second period, but was turned away.
UMD’s No. 2-ranked power play hit again to regain the lead. Neil Petruic’s drive from the slot was tipped by Peluso at the right side of the net, putting the puck behind Briggs with 46 seconds remaining in the second period. Peluso’s fifth goal of the season came with Minnesota’s Andy Sertich off for hooking Josh Miskovich.
A powerful Lessard drive from the slot, on a power play at 8:18 of the third period, put the Bulldogs up 3-1.
“After that goal I felt the whole energy of the rink, and more importantly on the bench, go up,” said UMD coach Scott Sandelin. “We toughed it out and never gave (Minnesota) a lead all weekend. The difference was our power play and goaltending, and we had a great game from Peluso’s line” with center Brett Hammond and right winger Josh Miskovich.
Yet, the game wasn’t clinched until the final seconds. Briggs was pulled with 37 seconds to play and Stauffacher came in from neutral ice to hit an empty net.
UMD is 17-0 when leading after two periods this season and has eight sweeps. The WCHA’s highest-scoring team is 16-3-2 the past 21 games and holds a two-point lead in the league over North Dakota. The Tyler Brosz, Evan Schwabe, Lessard line combined for five goals and nine assists in the series.
“Our line didn’t have a lot of points last weekend (at Minnesota State-Mankato), but you can’t get too down. It makes you work twice as hard,” said Lessard. “We outskated Minnesota for two nights and the puck started rolling for us.”