DULUTH, Minn. — There’s been a different No. 1 team in the nation each of the first four weeks of the season. Yet another new No. 1 was assured Friday night at the DECC.
After just five days at the top, Minnesota Duluth was toppled by unheralded Vermont 3-2 before a crowd of 4,653.
It was the first loss of the season for UMD (5-1-1) as the longest unbeaten streak in Division I ended. Vermont (2-4) gained a 3-0 lead early in the second period on three power-play goals and held on by killing all nine UMD power plays.
The Bulldogs lost two defensemen — Jay Rosehill and Neil Petruic — in a bizarre first period to checking-from-behind disqualifications, then were outshot 15-5 and trailed 2-0.
“We’ve been trying to put our team together and we were looking for that spark to ignite the season,” said Vermont defenseman and captain Jaime Sifers, who had the game’s first goal. “You couldn’t help but notice that they’re No. 1 in the country and we knew we couldn’t sit back.”
After being swept by Niagara at home last weekend, Vermont had a 13-hour, fog-delayed trip to Duluth on Thursday. Yet the team picked to finish 10th in the ECAC was ready for a challenge.
The first period turned in Vermont’s favor in the first two minutes. Consecutive UMD penalties gave the Catamounts a two-man advantage for 46 seconds, although they failed to score.
Rosehill left the game at 7:30 and Petruic followed at 11:46. Disqualifications for checking from behind are at the referee’s discretion and Jeff Albers chose to put the Bulldogs defensemen out of the game. UMD was already missing injured senior defenseman Tim Hambly.
Vermont went without a shot on goal for the first four minutes of the first major. The Catamounts then went on another 5-on-3 and converted on a goal from Sifers with 7:58 left in the opening period.
Freshman goalie Joe Fallon of Bemidji, Minn., stopped a shorthanded attempt with 6:23 left and less than a minute later Vermont made it 2-0 on another power play. Winger Chris Myers tucked a shot inside the right pipe with 5:38 to go.
“We just didn’t come ready to play,” said UMD defenseman Ryan Geris, who had two assists. “With our offensive power we’ve come back before, but we can’t rely on coming back in every game. Some nights you don’t score on the power play, you don’t score goals, and this is what happens.”
UMD nearly lost a third defenseman when Geris was shaken up after being checked along the boards late in the first period. There was no call on the play and Geris was back for his next shift. Winger Josh Miskovich helped fill in some defensive shifts the rest of the way.
A third power-play score put Vermont ahead 3-0 at 3:48 of the second period as winger Scott Mifsud followed his own rebound.
The Bulldogs, who have trailed in five of seven games this season, rallied with an even-strength goal by center Evan Schwabe 18 seconds after Mifsud’s score. Freshman center Matt McKnight recorded UMD’s fourth shorthanded goal of the season with 14 seconds left in the second period on a Geris pass.
There would be no more scoring and UMD’s first No. 1 rating in 15 years likely evaporated.
“The sign of a good team is being able to grind it out when things aren’t going well and realize you aren’t always going to win pretty,” McKnight said. “I don’t think we were mentally prepared and Vermont was. We’re good when we’re rolling four lines and working hard, and there were just too many penalties to do that.”
As Vermont coach Kevin Sneddon praised his penalty killers, UMD coach Scott Sandelin didn’t like much about his team’s performance, which included 12 penalties for 46 minutes.
The Catamounts were 3-for-7 on power plays and perfect shorthanded.
UMD had 5-on-3 and 6-on-4 power plays in the game’s final 2 minutes, after pulling goalie Isaac Reichmuth, and couldn’t muster a shot attempt.
“We didn’t execute very well and those last power plays epitomized our night. You can’t score unless you shoot the puck,” Sandelin said. “It was very disappointing to see us play so undisciplined. When you play that way, this is going to be the outcome.”
The victory was Sneddon’s most notable at Vermont. He was the first major hire for former UMD athletic director Bob Corran in the summer of 2003 when Corran took the same position with the Catamounts. Corran was at the DECC on Friday.
“Duluth is a great team and that’s what we aspire to be,” said Sneddon, whose first season was 9-22-4. “Even when Duluth started to make a comeback we said `It’s OK. It’s OK.’ It was a true test of character. We really kept our composure.”
Vermont outshot UMD 33-31 for the game.