DULUTH, Minn. — Failing to score the first goal of the game has been a tell-tale sign for Minnesota-Duluth this season.
Opponents have taken the early lead in 14 of 18 games and in most instances, the Bulldogs have been unable to recover.
UMD fell behind again Saturday night but reversed the trend to beat North Dakota 4-3 in a WCHA game before a sellout crowd of 5,375 at the DECC.
The victory helped ease a dreary six-week stretch for the Bulldogs, who had been 2-8-1 during that time while averaging just 2.1 goals a game.
The loss knocked No. 9 North Dakota (11-7-2, 9-6-1) out of first place in the league as Wisconsin climbed back to the top. The Fighting Sioux had won six of their last seven games and six straight against sixth-place UMD.
The Bulldogs (8-8-2, 6-6) revised lines and defensive pairs, and were considerably better than in Friday’s 5-1 loss. They outshot North Dakota 40-29 and scored three third-period goals, two in the last seven minutes by scoring leader Evan Schwabe, including the winner with 32 seconds left. Goalie Isaac Reichmuth had 26 saves.
“We were bad and got embarrassed Friday,” said Schwabe. “Each player had to look at himself and say, `I have to be better.’ There was a totally different feeling tonight.
“We got behind but we stayed positive. North Dakota came back twice to tie the game and we stayed positive. And Isaac made some unbelievable saves at key times which was a motivation for all of us. It was a huge win.”
Goalies Philippe Lamoureux of North Dakota — a freshman whose father, Pierre, played for the Fighting Sioux — and Reichmuth had to be sharp in what turned out to be an offensive game.
Two power plays in the game’s first six minutes gave UMD some jump, yet it was North Dakota which made the most of the situation. Winger Mike Prpich got the puck in the Bulldog zone, headed up right wing, got around UMD’s Tim Stapleton and ultimately faked Reichmuth to the ice. Prpich had an open net for a goal at 5:26, his second career shorthander against UMD and his first of two in the game.
Later in the first period the Fighting Sioux began their longest 5-on-3 power play of the season, with 93 seconds of the two-man advantage, but UMD held them off. Fighting Sioux winger Brady Murray had two great chances during the shift, camped at the right edge of the UMD crease, and just missed.
The focus went to the other end of the rink as UMD’s Marco Peluso and Justin Williams had near-misses. A 2-on-1 break gave the Bulldogs another chance, but Peluso couldn’t control a bouncing puck on a Bryan McGregor pass. But Peluso got the puck behind the net and tucked it inside the right pipe behind Lamoureux at 9:30.
“We were deflated after the first goal Friday and it’s happened in other games,” said Reichmuth, who earned his 45th career victory. “We just couldn’t afford to give games away like that. Tonight, when we got ahead, and North Dakota came back, we would get another goal. We had to finally figure out for ourselves what it takes to win and I can’t put into words how important this was.”
A crowd which had little to cheer for in four previous periods finally got involved, and the Bulldogs fed off that to outshoot North Dakota 14-10 for the period. UMD had 25 shots on goal through 40 minutes, more than Friday’s season-low total of 24.
UMD’s first lead of the series came 81 seconds into the third period as center Stapleton sped down the slot for a shot he placed inside the left post.
North Dakota responded four minutes later on Prpich’s second goal, also in the slot. That tied the game and made for a tense final 15 minutes.
With 7:41 to play, UMD was given a two-man advantage as referee Todd Anderson called North Dakota’s Matt Jones for holding UMD’s Brett Hammond, and assistant referee Jerome Krieger called Matt Greene for boarding UMD’s Luke Stauffacher.
In the 5-on-3 shift, Peluso cranked an attempt off the North Dakota crossbar and Schwabe was there for an open-net rebound with 7:02 left in the game.
“The ref can’t win or lose you a game, even though some people like to think that,” said Prpich.
Less than four minutes later North Dakota winger Drew Stafford also hit an open net from the left circle to make it 3-3.
Schwabe then got the game winner with 32 seconds to go following some heavy UMD pressure. Peluso passed to McGregor, who put a close-range attempt on net. Lamoureux made a save, but put the puck right on the tape of Schwabe’s stick. He was again at the right side of the net for his 10th goal of the season.
UMD led 15-7 in third-period shots.
UMD now stays at home this weekend to face defending NCAA champion Denver at the DECC. Bulldog coach Scott Sandelin will miss the series to take over his duties as head coach of the U.S. Junior team in the World Championships, which begin Dec. 25 in Grand Forks, N.D.
He’ll leave in a decent frame of mind.
“We responded the way I hoped we would. We finally got enough offense for one of our goalies to win,” said Sandelin. “Our mentality changed considerably. We played a physical game and we didn’t sag when the game was on the line.”
Kevin Pates covers college hockey for the Duluth News Tribune.