DULUTH, Minn. — Success at home was a critical factor last season as Minnesota-Duluth established a spot among the elite teams in Division I.
The Bulldogs, 15-5 at the DECC in 2003-04, have picked up where they left off.
No. 3 UMD stopped Minnesota State 4-1 Saturday night before a sellout crowd of 5,483 to sweep the season’s opening home series. UMD won 8-3 Friday.
Sophomore Josh Johnson of Esko led the Bulldogs with 43 saves, the most by a UMD goalie in nearly two years, since Isaac Reichmuth made a career-high 41 in a 4-2 loss to Denver.
“Both physically and mentally I’m worn out. I’m drained,” said Johnson. “We knew before the game that Mankato was going with just three lines and their coach was sending a message. They played an excellent game and peppered the net.”
The victory keeps UMD first in the WCHA. The Bulldogs (5-0-1) are 4-0 in the league, three points ahead of second-place North Dakota, and 8-1-1 against Minnesota State in the past 10 games.
Mankato (0-3-1) pushed UMD much of the way before UMD took control in the third period with goals by freshman winger Blair LeFebvre and senior winger Luke Stauffacher. After Friday, Maverick coach Troy Jutting said he was unhappy with a number of penalties taken by his team and used just 18 players Saturday, two fewer forwards than allowed.
The Mavericks got the message and were considerably better, leading 44-37 in shots on goal, and shutting down UMD’s power play until Stauffacher’s score.
“I have an enormous amount of respect for Duluth’s team, and to put 44 shots on a team of that caliber was great,” said Jutting. “(Johnson) made some great stops, but if we keep playing like this we’ll win some games.”
Marco Peluso’s fourth goal in two games was the only score of the first period for a 1-0 UMD lead. He connected on a sharp angle from the left side past goalie Jon Volp with 3:13 to play.
Mankato had just two shots on goal the second half of the first period, yet came to life to outshoot UMD 19-10 in the second. Top returning scorer David Backes tied the game at 8:33 on a right-wing drive. Johnson gave him little to shoot at, but Backes scored to the near side for his second goal of the series.
A power-play shift backfired on MSU with 59 seconds left in the second period. The Mavericks dumped the puck into the offensive zone on a line change, yet it wasn’t deep enough and UMD turned it into a 2-on-0 break. Brett Hammond pushed the puck ahead to winger Josh Miskovich, who drove to the net and scored through Volp’s legs on a shorthanded goal. It was UMD’s third in two games.
Hammond, Jeff McFarland, Miskovich made up UMD’s most effective line.
“When I realized they (the Mavericks) were all going off I turned up ice and was in full tilt,” said Miskovich, who had missed the last four games with an injury. “I knew I was going to be in the clear and I yelled for the puck. I had a head of steam going.
“That was a big goal, but a lot of the rest of the game we were outworked, which is uncharacteristic of us. We played maybe six or seven good minutes. We were flat the first two periods.”
UMD continued to pick up the pace early in the third period on the first collegiate goal for winger LeFebvre. He knocked in a backhand shot from the left edge of the crease at 2:27 for a 3-1 lead. He had 49 goals and 103 points in 84 games last season with Nanaimo of the BCHL.
The top-ranked power play in the WCHA was held scoreless on six shifts, then scored on the seventh as Stauffacher finished off a flurry at the left circle at 9:00. The Bulldogs had been 9-of-20 the previous three games and were second in the league in scoring at five goals a game.
Johnson’s best save came at 5:20 of the third period with UMD leading 3-1. Winger Kurtis Kisio, son of former NHL forward Kelly Kisio, had a shorthanded breakaway and looked to beat Johnson high to the glove side. Johnson knocked the puck away.
Johnson said the only game he can remember making more saves was 47 for Green Bay in a USHL game at Omaha.
“We scored some timely goals, but more importantly we had timely saves. Without Josh it could’ve been a different outcome,” said UMD coach Scott Sandelin.
Kevin Pates is a staff writer for the Duluth News Tribune.