DULUTH, Minn. — North Dakota wasn’t intimidated Friday night at the DECC. Not by the largest Minnesota-Duluth men’s hockey crowd of the season. Not by a 14-game UMD school-record unbeaten streak. Not by a 12-game Western Collegiate Hockey Association unbeaten streak. Not by an 11-game home win streak.
North Dakota scored 57 seconds into the game and never trailed on the way to a 4-1 victory before 5,437 fans. The No. 3-ranked Fighting Sioux (23-6-3) defeated UMD for a fourth consecutive time this season and pulled even with the Bulldogs at the top of the WCHA with three games to play. North Dakota earned a dominating win to open the most-anticipated series at the DECC in 11 years, since UMD won the 1993 WCHA regular-season championship.
“We got the lead and carried it all the way through 60 minutes. That’s a big confidence-builder,” said North Dakota junior defenseman Nick Fuher, who had the first two-goal game of his college career. “We thought we matched up well against Duluth. We’re a bigger team, and a little more physical. We felt we had a chance to break their streak.”
No. 4 UMD (22-9-3) had gone 13-0-1 in 2004, including 11-0-1 in the WCHA, to climb two points ahead of North Dakota into first place. The Bulldogs hadn’t lost since Dec. 13 in Grand Forks, N.D., when North Dakota finished a home sweep with a 6-3 victory. That loss, and Friday’s defeat, are UMD’s most one-sided of the season (along with a 5-2 home loss to St. Cloud State).
Entering Saturday’s rematch, North Dakota is 17-5-3 in the league and UMD 18-6-1 — both with 37 points. The Bulldogs likely will need to win to have a shot at the WCHA title, outright or shared.
UMD’s players say they’ll need a better effort from the start. They were outshot 36-23 and held to just three shots in the final period in a matchup of the top-scoring teams in Division I.
“The way North Dakota came out, with 28 shot attempts in the first period, that was something we have to limit. We’re usually a good first-period team and tonight our first period let us down,” said center Evan Schwabe, who had UMD’s goal on a first-period power play. “There’s no way you can give a team like that that many shots and expect to come out ahead.
“We were better in the second period and couldn’t score. We missed the net, or pucks rolled off our sticks, and (goalie) Jake Brandt made some good saves.”
Junior winger Colby Genoway connected on North Dakota’s first shot on goal, scoring his 10th goal of the season on an attempt from the right circle. UMD countered on its first man-advantage at 6:06. The top power play in Division I clicked as Schwabe flipped a shot over a prone Brandt for his 13th goal.
The hometown fans were in a frenzy, yet their excitement lasted just 61 seconds. Fuher scored on North Dakota’s next shot, from the left point while being defended, and the Fighting Sioux led 2-1. With 7:58 left in the first period, winger Quinn Fylling passed from behind the UMD net to Fuher for a 3-1 advantage.
During the 14-game unbeaten streak, UMD and sophomore goalie Isaac Reichmuth allowed just 1.85 goals a game. His personal 17-game unbeaten streak (15-0-2) also was broken Friday. A North Dakota team that was 4-4-1 the previous nine games made a statement in the first 20 minutes.
“The way they started put us back on our heels, but we never lost hope,” said UMD senior defenseman Beau Geisler. “I don’t think our undefeated streak had much to do with it. I don’t think we were too excited or shaky, we just needed a better start.”
The second period was UMD’s best. But neither team scored as the shots were 11-11. The Bulldogs had two power plays in the period and even had some decent chances while short-handed. The game’s critical goal came on North Dakota’s first shot of the third period, while short-handed. Senior center David Lundbohm converted at the left edge of the net on a Chris Porter pass at 2:24. It was 4-1.
“When Duluth could’ve gotten back in the game, we didn’t give them a whole lot,” said North Dakota coach Dean Blais, whose team blocked 17 shots, nine in the third period.
“We didn’t give them a lot of time to make plays, or a lot of second chances, or to be free-wheeling.”
Blais rated North Dakota’s performance nearly equal to a 6-4 win over No. 1 Boston College in October in Grand Forks. The Fighting Sioux won a major battle with no goals from their top scorers — Brandon Bochenski, Zach Parise and Brady Murray.
UMD coach Scott Sandelin said he needed to see more from his team than just a strong second period.
“It was an off night for all of our team. We got caught watching a lot,” Sandelin said. “North Dakota got ahead and then played a very intelligent, smart third period. We had a lot of near-misses and couldn’t score, but this team has showed character all year long and come back when it’s had to.”
Kevin Pates covers college hockey for the Duluth News-Tribune