DULUTH, Minn. — One of the best teams in Minnesota-Duluth history got to see one of the best games in the WCHA this season Saturday night.
The 1983-84 Bulldogs, who finished second in NCAA Division I, sat in one end zone of the DECC during their reunion weekend and got to see the top two teams in the WCHA play at the top of their games.
No. 1 North Dakota got goals 66 seconds apart in the second period and then held on to defeat No. 4 UMD 2-1 before a sellout crowd of 5,447, the largest of the season.
That completed a five-game season sweep for the Fighting Sioux, who are alone in first place with a two-point lead with two regular-season games remaining. They never trailed in the series and limited the nation’s No. 2 scoring team to two goals.
North Dakota (24-6-3, 18-5-3 WCHA) finishes at home this weekend against Michigan Tech. The Fighting Sioux are seeking their first MacNaughton Cup since 2001.
UMD (22-10-3, 18-7-1) finishes its schedule at third-place Wisconsin.
“Duluth’s a great team and we had to play great to beat them,” said North Dakota Jake Brandt, the No. 1 star of the game. “To keep them to two goals is a little bit of a surprise, but this is probably the best we’ve played defensively all season.”
UMD led in shots on goal 28-25, including 14-2 in the third period, but couldn’t get past Brandt and North Dakota’s defenders, who blocked 25 shots.
The Bulldogs thought they played poorly in Friday’s 4-1 loss and came out at a higher pace in the rematch. The game was a tense, scoreless duel for nearly 30 minutes, although UMD had its chances. Scoring leader Junior Lessard crushed a shot off the crossbar and pipe with 9:01 left in the first period and center Tim Stapleton hit a pipe 82 seconds into the second period.
At the same time, UMD goalie Isaac Reichmuth turned away North Dakota defenseman Nick Fuher and David Lundbohm on good opportunities.
“We’re a much better team when we have the lead, but we were never able to get ahead. The one thing we didn’t do was come back after they scored. We had another bad shift and it led to another goal,” said Lessard. “You have to give them a lot of credit, and Brandt, he was unbelievable.”
North Dakota was having trouble handling the puck early in the second period, leading to three straight turnovers, and coach Dean Blais called a timeout at 6:04. Center Zach Parise and tough-guy winger Mike Prpich then turned the game in North Dakota’s favor.
The momentum shifted dramatically in a sequence in which North Dakota looked offside, but continued play in the offensive zone. Parise took a Brandon Bochenski pass from the left boards and knocked a shot to the far side past Reichmuth with 8:42 left.
The Fighting Sioux stayed on the attack and Prpich, with his first point in 10 games, made it 2-0 with 7:36 remaining.
“We’ve had close games with Duluth for two years now and this was one of the best. I think winning Friday contributed winning tonight. We had some confidence,” said Blais.
UMD was in position to get back into the game with 1:42 of a two-man advantage early in the third period, but couldn’t score.
The DECC fans finally did get a chance to cheer in the final nine minutes after T.J. Caig tipped a Tim Hambly point drive past Brandt with 8:54 to go.
The Bulldogs were in the North Dakota zone in the final minutes, and pulled Reichmuth with 66 seconds to play, but couldn’t pull even.
“It was disappointing to give all we had and lose, but it was even more disappointing Friday,” said Caig. “I think we outplayed North Dakota for parts of the game tonight, and controlled play, and swarmed them at times, but the pucks didn’t go in. They’re good, but I feel we’re just as good.”
Bulldog coach Scott Sandelin challenged his team to compete harder Saturday and said he liked what he saw.
“I wanted to see how we’d come back after Friday and I thought we responded in a real positive manner,” said Sandelin. “Those were two good teams going toe-to-toe in a great college hockey game. “The two highest-scoring teams in the country played some great defensive hockey.”
And the 1983-84 Bulldogs were there to take it in.
Kevin Pates covers college hockey for the Duluth News Tribune.