MINNEAPOLIS — It’s not that Minnesota didn’t want it. Minnesota-Duluth just wanted it more.
The Bulldogs put 45 shots on goal Saturday night, getting the eventual game winner from captain Evan Schwabe early in the second period in a 3-2 win over the Gophers before a lively sellout crowd of 10,303 at Mariucci Arena.
Schwabe’s winner notwithstanding, no one Bulldog carried the day, which is just how head coach Scott Sandelin likes it.
“It was a total team effort for 60 minutes,” said Sandelin, adding, “We played more like the team that we need to play like.”
Minnesota (19-10-0, 12-8-0 WCHA) played well, but not well enough against the WCHA’s preseason favorite despite 42 saves from netminder Kellen Briggs.
“They’re [UMD] a veteran team,” said Minnesota head coach Don Lucia, “and there’s a reason why they were picked to win the league. … Maybe they’re back to where they were supposed to be.”
With the teams tied at 1 after 20 minutes of play, Minnesota-Duluth (11-12-5, 9-10-3 WCHA) took the edge early in the second. With a delayed penalty on the way and netminder Isaac Reichmuth (31 saves) off for a sixth attacker, Jay Rosehill’s wrist shot hit a Minnesota body and Nick Anderson whacked the puck home for a 2-1 UMD lead at 1:44.
UMD doubled its advantage two minutes later. A nifty lead pass by Rosehill found Evan Schwabe crossing the blueline, and the Bulldog captain beat the D around the corner, roofing a backhander inside the post for his team-leading 16th goal of the year.
The Gophers got the next goal, however, to narrow the UMD lead to one. Stickhandling through the slot, Jake Fleming flung a backhander back against the grain that bounced off the post — right to Tyler Hirsch, who cleaned up the rebound for his sixth goal of the year at 9:15.
Minnesota went on its fifth power play of the game late in the second period, but the best chance belonged to Rosehill, who was unable to tuck the puck under Briggs off a two-on-one.
Briggs made a number of quality saves on the evening, seemingly recovering from a difficult stretch that saw backup Justin Johnson earn playing time in his stead.
The third period was one of close-but-not-quite for both teams. Reichmuth got a pad on Ryan Potulny’s backhander from the edge of the crease while skating four-on-four in the opening minutes, and midway through the period, Anderson’s wrister from the left side banged off the post to leave the score 3-2.
At the other end, Briggs just managed to whisk aside Steve Czech’s shot from the high slot at the 13-minute mark, then cradled T.J. Caig’s wrister after Caig skated around the defense for an open shot.
With under five minutes to go, UMD’s Tyler Brosz got caught pulling down Ben Gordon, setting up Minnesota’s sixth power play. But Anderson stole the puck at center ice for a shorthanded breakaway, firing wide of the net to leave the lead at one.
With the puck in the Minnesota end, Briggs was unable to get off the ice until less than 45 seconds remained, and the Gophers could not get a shot on goal with the extra attacker.
“It’s as good a 60 minutes as we’ve played in a while,” said Sandelin. “It [was] a very important weekend for both teams.”
The first stanza was a tale of two halves, as Minnesota-Duluth controlled the early going before Minnesota took charge in the last 10 minutes.
The Bulldogs got on the scoreboard just after the expiration of their first power play. With Minnesota’s Mike Vannelli leaving the box, Marco Peluso fed a pass across the circles to Tim Hambly, who ripped a shot to Briggs’ right at 8:10.
A roughing call on Garrett Smaagaard put UMD back on the power play, and when Barry Tallackson whacked Peluso in the head a minute later, a UMD two-man advantage was the result. But Minnesota killed the five-on-three, and seconds later, the Bulldogs negated the remaining power play with a too-many-men penalty.
Late in the first, a scramble in front of the Minnesota-Duluth net resulted in an interference call against Rosehill, putting Minnesota on its third power play. Minnesota held the zone for nearly the entire two minutes, and finally Evan Kaufmann’s shot from between the circles hit traffic in front.
There, Gino Guyer and Kris Chucko got sticks on it to send it under Reichmuth at 19:00. The goal was credited to Chucko, his eighth of the season, and sent the teams to the locker rooms tied at 1. But the second period was the story, with the Bulldogs scoring two of the three goals in the frame and holding on from there.
That was the only power-play goal of the game for Minnesota on six chances. UMD went 0-for-4 with the extra skater.
Lucia gave due credit to Minnesota-Duluth.
“I think for the most part we’ve played better the last couple of weeks,” said Lucia, “but tonight we got beat by a better team.”
Next weekend, Minnesota visits Wisconsin for a pair of crucial games, while Minnesota-Duluth takes on Michigan Tech as the Bulldogs try to continue their second-half climb.