DULUTH, Minn. — This wasn’t about a rematch of the 2004 Division I semifinals or a high-profile nationally-televised game.
It was a battle for survival at the midpoint of the WCHA season.
Minnesota Duluth and defending NCAA champion Denver each sought points and each earned one Friday night in a 4-4 overtime tie before 4,849 at the DECC.
Each team had a two-goal lead, but No. 7 Denver rallied with two third-period goals in a game shown on College Sports Television.
“We played good enough to win. I think we matched them every step of the way,” said UMD senior defenseman Tim Hambly, who had a goal and an assist. “We can’t feel too bad about the effort. It was good to see some goals and to get clicking again. We got a point, but we’re disappointed we didn’t get a win.”
Denver (10-5-1 and 7-3-1 in the WCHA) came into the game on a five-game win streak and averaging 4.13 goals a game, third in Division I. UMD (8-8-3 and 6-6-1) is 3-8-2 the past 13 games while averaging 2.38 goals a game.
The teams were meeting for the first time since Denver rallied from a two-goal third-period deficit to win 5-3 in the NCAA semifinals last April.
This time UMD came back from a 2-0 deficit, led 4-2 and survived a Denver comeback, including two goals in the first seven minutes of the third period. The Bulldogs led in shots on goal 33-32.
“It wasn’t much of a defensive battle. It wasn’t what we wanted, but we’ll take the tie,” said Denver senior winger Luke Fulghum, who had two goals.
The game marked the head coaching debut of UMD fifth-year assistant Steve Rohlik, who was filling in for Scott Sandelin, with the U.S. Junior team until Jan. 5. Rohlik was prepared for what happened in the first period as UMD fell behind for the 15th time in 19 games.
Denver went up 1-0 at 7:29 after the puck was stolen from a UMD player near the Bulldog net, and goal-scoring leader Jon Foster took control and muscled in his 11th of the season.
The advantage went to 2-0 just 3:37 later when Fulghum connected from the right circle past a screened Isaac Reichmuth.
Despite being outplayed, UMD got within 2-1 with 5:46 to go in the first period. Brett Hammond cranked a shot from between the circles for his first goal since Oct. 22.
“A week ago (against North Dakota) we got behind and we crumbled. This week we stayed positive and showed what we’re made of,” said Rohlik.
A second-period reversal put UMD ahead 3-2 with goals 3:26 apart. The Bulldogs outshot Denver 9-1 for the first half of period and didn’t allow a shot on goal by the Pioneers until 6:40. UMD tied the game at 9:34 as defenseman Todd Smith’s shot from the left point appeared to deflect off Denver center Mike Handza and past goalie Glenn Fisher.
More pressure led to a go-head goal with 7:00 left. The puck bounced off a few sticks in front of the Denver crease, getting Fisher out of position, and Hambly found an open left side of the net. It was his first goal of the season and 45th career point.
“We weren’t good in the second period, We laid an egg,” said Denver captain Matt Laatsch. “Getting into an offensive game (with UMD) isn’t something we want. They have some proven firepower.”
While lengthy TV timeouts could’ve stifled UMD’s momentum — CSTV was allowed three one-minute stoppages per period — the Bulldogs stayed on the attack and outshot Denver 15-8 in the second period. Fisher had to stop UMD freshman center Matt McKnight on a breakaway with 3:48 left in the period.
UMD’s prettiest play of the season on passes from Hambly, to Bryan McGregor, to Luke Stauffacher led to a power-play goal at 2:54 of the third period and a 4-2 lead.
Denver then showed its own firepower. Fulghum connected shorthanded on Denver’s first shot on goal of the period, at 5:52, and center Gabe Gauthier followed on a power play at 6:55. At that point, the Pioneers had three shots and two goals in the period to tie it 4-4.
A five-minute overtime provided some great chances. UMD’s Tim Stapleton pushed a shot just wide at close range with 2:54 left and Fisher made a save on McGregor with 1:35 left. Handza shot wide on a breakaway with 1:00 left.
“It was like we let one get away,” said Stauffacher. “It was tough not to win, but if we can win Saturday it will be a good weekend.”
With the tie, Denver stays fifth in the WCHA, two points ahead of UMD. The Bulldogs are 4-1-1 in the past six games against the Pioneers.
Kevin Pates covers college hockey for the Duluth News Tribune.