DULUTH, Minn. — Taking some momentum and a tiny unbeaten streak into the holiday break was Minnesota-Duluth’s goal Saturday night.
Yet Denver spoiled those plans with a 5-4 overtime victory in a WCHA game before 5,053 at the DECC. Winger Jeff Drummond backhanded a shot off a UMD skate for the winning score just 15 seconds into sudden death.
The defending NCAA champion Pioneers (11-5-1 and 8-3-1 in the WCHA) have a seven-game unbeaten streak at 6-0-1 and are off until facing Air Force on Jan. 1 in the Denver Cup.
UMD (8-9-3 and 6-7-1) had gone 1-0-1 the previous two games, including a 4-4 tie with Denver on Friday. The Bulldogs resume practice Dec. 31 and play again Jan. 7-8 against Alaska Anchorage at the DECC.
The Bulldogs, 3-9-2 the past 14 games, let a two-goal third-period lead evaporate for a second straight night and went 0-for-7 on power plays. Shots on goal were 38-38.
“It was the biggest game of the year as far as we were concerned and we pretty much were sleepwalking through the first period,” said UMD captain Evan Schwabe. “We had a good second period, got a two-goal lead, and you’d think you’d come out in the third period as hard as you possibly can. Even after Denver got the first goal of the third period, we still sat back. I don’t know how focused we were.”
UMD trailed 1-0 after one period, then led 3-1 after two. Denver rallied with three goals in the third period, two in 28 seconds. Although a Schwabe goal with 3:53 to play, his third in two games, forced overtime, UMD never got to the offensive end of the rink in sudden death.
After a faceoff in UMD’s zone, Denver defenseman Brett Skinner put a shot on net, Isaac Reichmuth made a save, and Drummond came from behind the goal to take a whack at the rebound. He said he got a very lucky bounce, and a victory.
“In the second period (when UMD scored three goals) we could’ve easily been behind 6-1 or 7-1 if it hadn’t been for our goalie (freshman Peter Mannino),” said Drummond. “In the third period we wanted to make a play early and build some momentum.”
No. 7 Denver had some momentum early as a familiar trend continued for UMD in falling behind 1-0 for the 16th time in 20 games. Denver sophomore winger Ryan Helgason put a shot from the left circle past goalie Josh Johnson before he could get his glove up. That came with 6:56 left in the first period.
UMD rallied with a three-goal second period, much like Friday when the Bulldogs scored twice in the second for a two-goal lead. Goal-scoring leader Marco Peluso started the comeback at 3:27 with his 12th of the season. Schwabe earned a centering draw in the Denver zone and Peluso cracked a shot from the left circle.
Defenseman Steve Czech scored at 9:49 — earning Tim Stapleton his 100th career point with an assist — and Luke Stauffacher finished a 3-on-1 break with 28 seconds left as UMD outshot Denver 14-5 for the period.
“The one good thing is that the third period has been our best period this season,” said Denver coach George Gwozdecky.
There was a complete reversal in what was an awful final period for UMD. Denver scored three times in the first eight minutes.
Defenseman Matt Carle had a power-play goal at 2:47 and center Mike Handza followed at 6:54 to tie the game. UMD’s Johnson was then replaced as interim coach Steve Rohlik went with Reichmuth. Luke Fulghum, who had two goals Friday, scored at 7:22 for a 4-3 lead.
“We take a penalty and that leads to the first goal and that gives Denver life,” said Rohlik. “When Denver scores the second goal we started reeling. You can’t fall asleep against a top team and expect to win. We just couldn’t respond. We didn’t play with confidence.”
UMD did get back even, in a 4-on-4 shift, when Schwabe converted a rebound. But UMD’s first overtime loss of the season continued a season-long struggle for the Bulldogs.
Kevin Pates covers college hockey for the Duluth News Tribune.