HOUGHTON, Mich. — “Beat the Clock” proved an effective strategy Friday night as preseason favorite Minnesota-Duluth opened its WCHA schedule.
The No. 4 Bulldogs scored late in the first two periods, including a first-period buzzer-beater, to defeat Michigan Tech 5-4 before 2,677 at MacInnes Student Ice Arena.
Senior center Evan Schwabe was the catalyst with two goals and center Tim Stapleton added two critical assists. Senior defenseman Neil Petruic earned the winning goal 4:24 into the final period to keep UMD unbeaten at 2-0-1. Freshman center Matt McKnight also had two assists.
Michigan Tech (0-1) finished last in the WCHA in 2003-04 and was picked ninth among 10 teams this season. But the Huskies debuted by giving UMD everything it could handle, leading in shots on goal 37-31.
“We were lucky to get a few key goals that made the difference. Michigan Tech has some quick forwards and work hard, and we struggled breaking the puck out of our zone,” Petruic said. “When the puck is in your zone half the night, it’s hard to play good defense.”
After going 2-for-20 on power plays in a season-opening series at Notre Dame last week, the Bulldogs went 2-for-4 starting with a Justin Williams goal 2:50 into the game for a 1-1 tie.
Then Schwabe’s first goal of the season, on a power play from the right edge of the net, came as time expired in the first period.
“When I first looked up there was 9 seconds left and I didn’t think there was enough time to score,” Schwabe said. “Then (Stapleton) slid the puck over and I just beat the clock. I thought it was in.”
So did referee Todd Anderson, who received high grades from both teams. He said he saw the puck in the net behind goalie Bryce Luker before hearing the period-ending buzzer. That should’ve given UMD some momentum, but the second period belonged to Michigan Tech.
The Huskies outshot UMD 18-13 and outscored the Bulldogs 3-2 for a 4-4 tie after 40 minutes. UMD was fortunate to be even.
Power-play goals by freshmen Tyler Shelast and Malcolm Gwilliam sparked the Huskies. And there was another contested goal. Gwilliam’s shot from the slot with 3:47 left hit high just under the crossbar or hit the crossbar and bounced back into play. Anderson consulted with the goal-judge and awarded the goal.
Schwabe rescued the period by taking a Todd Smith pass and scoring from the left circle with 53 seconds left. Schwabe said he planned to pass to linemate Marco Peluso, but the defenders kept backing off and left him a shooting opportunity. It was the 34th goal in 125 career games for Schwabe, who led NCAA Division I in assists last season.
“The second period was awful. We didn’t play well defensively, we got outplayed badly, but Schwabe’s goal got us back to zero-zero,” said UMD coach Scott Sandelin.
“I’ve said that Michigan Tech could end up being the most improved team in the league. They gave us a battle.”
The Huskies, with 11 freshmen and sophomores, were coming off a 6-2 exhibition home loss to the U.S. National Under-18 Team. Second-year coach Jamie Russell said he got his team’s attention with some extra work at practice Monday, and Michigan Tech pushed UMD to the finish, yet lost for the seventh time in the last nine meetings.
The winning goal came as Petruic was left unguarded on the left side and he sped to the net. Stapleton passed cross-ice from deep in the Michigan Tech zone and Petruic knocked the puck in for the only goal of the final period.
Bulldogs goalie Josh Johnson, who shut out Michigan Tech here last season, was at his best with 11 third-period saves. He kept Huskies star winger Chris Conner off the scoresheet with the help of a blocker save with 2:50 to play. Center Colin Murphy put a close-range shot off Johnson’s mask with 1:30 left. Michigan Tech then skated the final 1:26 with an extra man after pulling Luker.
“Our guys were aggressive and maybe wore UMD’s defensemen down,” Russell said. “But we gave up two heartbreaking goals, which is tough for a young team. We battled and competed, but coming close isn’t good enough.”
After 26 penalties for 55 minutes against Notre Dame, as an NCAA crackdown on obstruction began, UMD had nine minor penalties Friday. Michigan Tech had seven.
Kevin Pates is a staff writer for the Duluth News Tribune.