DULUTH, Minn. — Although Michigan Tech has been last in the WCHA all season, and endured a 13-game winless streak, the Huskies have caught fire the past month.
Sparked by a potent power play, Michigan Tech has gone 6-3 since Jan. 7 with the latest win coming Saturday night at the DECC.
Two first-period power-play goals, from nearly identical spots, led Michigan Tech to a 3-2 win over Minnesota-Duluth before an announced sellout crowd of 5,405.
The victory completed a sweep for the Huskies (7-19-1 and 6-16 in the WCHA) and kept them in at least a tie for ninth in the 10-team league. They entered the game ranked No. 8 in Division I power-play efficiency at 22.5 percent and connected on their first two chances to shock UMD.
Senior center Brandon Schwartz, from St. Cloud, Minn., earned both goals from the right circle — 2:27 into the game and with 4:42 left in the first period.
Goalie Cam Ellsworth continued his recent solid play with 40 saves, and 89 for the weekend. In his previous seven WCHA games he had a .940 save percentage and 2.27 goals against average. UMD led in shots on goal 42-21.
“After going through so much adversity, we know now what it takes to win,” said Schwartz. “We’re finally playing the way we’re capable of. A lot of it is our goalie, he’s been great every night, and our power play has been good, and the Chris Conner, Taggart Desmet, Colin Murphy line has been awesome.
“Duluth was throwing everything at the net for two nights, but we made enough good plays to win.”
The Bulldogs (11-14-5 and 9-12-3), now with more losses than all of last season, have a week off before traveling to face No. 4 Denver on Feb. 18-19. The Pioneers are 15-1-1 the last 17 games.
Following its best game of the season, a 3-2 win at Minnesota last Saturday, UMD came home to outshoot Michigan Tech 93-41 and lost twice 3-2. It was the first sweep in Duluth for the Huskies since Oct. 21-22 of 1988.
“We were flat, too flat at times, and too inconsistent. We had a lot of breakdowns and didn’t play nearly as well as Friday,” said UMD defenseman Todd Smith said of Saturday’s loss.
Michigan Tech also completed four-game road sweep in Minnesota, which included 6-3 and 3-1 wins at Minnesota just two weeks ago. At the same time, UMD squandered a chance to climb out of fifth place in the league.
The Bulldogs never led in the series and gained a tie only once, at 2-2 Friday.
There were chances again Saturday, including 40 seconds of a two-man advantage in the first period, but they came up dry.
The power play has been a UMD sore point. After being among the NCAA leaders last season at 25.9 percent, the Bulldogs came into Saturday’s game at 16 percent. They were 0-for-6 Friday, in which it outshot Michigan Tech 51-20, and 3-of-23 in their last five games. They were 0-for-4 Saturday.
“We gave up two bad goals and played catchup again,” said UMD coach Scott Sandelin. “Tech ran us out of the rink in the second period, and that period was about as bad as we’ve played this season.
“We got to the net better than on Friday, but Ellsworth made more big saves than he did Friday. It’s the way the year has gone for us.”
Michigan Tech took a 2-0 first-period, identical to Friday. Schwartz’s goals gave him eight for the season and gave the Huskies a shot of confidence. After the second goal, Sandelin replaced starting goalie Josh Johnson with Isaac Reichmuth, who played Friday. Johnson faced six shots and had four saves.
Tim Stapleton’s 13th goal of the season, at 5:54 of the second period, got UMD within 2-1 and came from the slot on a Tim Hambly rebound. But Michigan Tech responded in just 18 seconds for a 3-1 lead after two periods. Winger Tyler Shelast had two-point blank shots before linemate Nick Anderson found the net on the third.
A sluggish third period got a shot of excitement with 8:35 to play as UMD’s Marco Peluso converted Evan Schwabe’s behind-the-feed. Peluso’s 15th goal of the season made it 3-2. The Huskies were outshot in the final period 16-3, but were tough defensively.
“It gets to be so frustrating when you outshoot a team by double the number of shots, or more. A lot of times we were just beating ourselves out there by not making smart plays,” said Peluso.
Reichmuth was pulled with a minute remaining and the Bulldogs put on more pressure, including a Peluso shot that hit a pipe with just seconds left. The resurgent Huskies held on for a fifth straight win away from their home rink in Houghton, Mich.
“We’ve surprised a lot of people, but I think we’ve been playing well since December when we lost two close games to Michigan 4-2 and New Hampshire 4-3 (two ranked teams) in the Great Lakes Invitational,” said Michigan Tech coach Jamie Russell. “I was impressed with UMD’s ability to cycle the puck, but we were strong in front of our net, and in the third period we didn’t have to gamble on offense.”
Kevin Pates covers college hockey for the Duluth News Tribune.