DENVER — Denver forward Kevin Ulanski scored twice and Gabe Gauthier netted the game winner as the Pioneers came back from a two-goal deficit to defeat the Minnesota-Duluth Bulldogs 5-4 Friday night.
“We’ve been playing so well up to this point, even [being] down two goals,” said Gauthier (15-21–36 this season). “We showed them who the best team in the nation was.”
The Pioneers (22-6-2, 17-4-2 WCHA) found themselves down by two goals twice in their first game since reaching the top of the national polls earlier this week. The Bulldogs (11-15-5, 9-13-3 WCHA), who have lost four of their past five games, looked strong initially against DU, but Denver goals late in the second and third periods made the difference.
The Bulldogs were coming off a bye week, but it was the Pioneers who looked a bit rusty early on; Denver had good puck control in the UMD zone, but often couldn’t connect on passes. Denver did get a good early chance by Adrian Veideman, but couldn’t convert. Soon after, it was the Bulldogs who took advantage of an opportunity of their own as UMD center Tim Stapleton (three points Friday) broke free at the right faceoff circle and got a shot past DU goalie Glenn Fisher to open the scoring at 10:42.
But just 16 seconds later, the Pioneers answered. Forward Jon Foster potted his 19th goal of the season, making a sensational move to get past his man and backhand the puck past Bulldog goalie Isaac Reichmuth to tie the game at 1.
Before Friday, Minnesota-Duluth’s anemic power play ranked eighth in the WCHA. The Bulldogs nonetheless capitalized on their second opportunity of the night, as forward Matt McKnight launched a shot from the blue line that caromed off Denver defenseman Brett Skinner and took a strange bounce between Fisher’s legs, putting the Bulldogs ahead 2-1 at 18:41 of the first.
“It was one of those games where Duluth was playing well and causing us all sorts of problems,” said Denver coach George Gwozdecky.
“We were losing puck battles and key faceoffs,” Gauthier said of the Pioneers’ first-period effort. “We’ve just got to work on getting the first period going.”
That man-advantage goal wouldn’t be the Bulldogs’ last. Minnesota-Duluth got another power play near the middle of the second period and converted at 9:22. Stapleton unloaded a slapshot that ricocheted off Fisher and fell directly in front of Matt McKnight, who got a pass across the crease to a perfectly positioned Marco Peluso (16-17-33) for the tip-in goal.
“We played an average first period and played a little better in the second period,” said UMD coach Scott Sandelin. “We didn’t play badly, but you’ve got to play 60 minutes to win.”
Down by two goals, the Pioneers tried to force the play through the neutral zone, but were stifled by a reinvigorated Bulldog forecheck. As Minnesota-Duluth continued to get sticks on Pioneer passes, the Bulldogs turned the opportunities into shots on goal — a good save by Fisher on a rebound chance saved the Pioneers from going down by three goals at one point.
Then it was Denver’s chance to shine on the power play. After DU forward Luke Fulghum received a pass from linemate Paul Stastny, he got a step on UMD’s Brett Hammond and lifted a puck over Reichmuth to pull Denver back within one goal at 16:44.
Another penalty called on the Bulldogs almost immediately after Fulghum’s goal gave Denver a pivotal chance to tie the game. Denver couldn’t get things going while up a man, while Minnesota-Duluth’s aggressive defense paid off for the Bulldogs. A pass from Stapleton made its way to center ice, allowing UMD defenseman Neil Petruic and forward Luke Stauffacher to break in to the Denver zone on a 2-on-1. Petruic held the puck until Fisher had committed to the left post, then passed to Stauffacher for the shorthanded goal and the 4-2 Bulldog lead.
For the second time in the game, Denver struck back with a goal of its own less than a minute later. Ulanski launched a shot from just outside the slot that beat Reichmuth at 19:26 of the second period to cut UMD’s lead to 4-3. The goal was reviewed as Reichmuth argued he had been interfered with by Denver’s Adrian Veideman. The goal stood, and Denver went into the second intermission within one goal of the Bulldogs.
“[Denver] got the break on the goal. Instead of a two-goal lead [we've] got a one-goal lead,” Sandelin said of the reviewed goal. “I’m just disappointed, [but] you’ve got to live with that.”
Sandelin also said he was disappointed in the review process and that the officials never had a clear video replay of the goal.
“[The officials] lost it. Figure that out,” said Sandelin.
Gwozdecky admitted his team had a lackluster second period despite the late goal.
“In our second period we made some really bad decisions with the puck,” Gwozdecky said. “We were forcing pucks under pressure and making plays that weren’t typical of us.”
In the third Denver came on strong, getting better transitional chances and breaking through a tough neutral-zone defense by UMD. It was during one of those transitions that Gauthier initiated a 2-on-1 chance down the left-wing boards, feeding Ulanski for the tying goal at 6:15 of the third period.
Not only was the goal Ulanski’s second of the night, it was a personal milestone for the senior, the 100th point of his career.
“Obviously it’s an accomplishment. People talk about it more than I think about it,” said Ulanski of the milestone. “I’m glad I got it out of the way now. It really wouldn’t have meant too much without the victory.”
Gwozdecky praised his captain’s performance both on and off the ice.
“Kevin Ulanski was simply outstanding,” Gwozdecky said. His sheer will on the bench tonight, his shot blocking and then [the goals] — what a way to get that milestone.”
With the contest tied at 4, all the momentum was with Denver, which looked to prevent overtime when UMD defenseman Tim Hambly was penalized late in the game. After a faceoff in the Bulldog zone landed on the stick of Brett Skinner, the DU defenseman got a pass out to partner Matt Carle. Carle then made a nice cross-ice pass to a waiting Gauthier, who snapped the game winner past Reichmuth with 1:14 left in the game, completing the comeback for the Pioneers.
“We had a chance on the power play to make it 5-3 and we didn’t,” said Sandelin. “We made a lot of mistakes, and any good team capitalizes on mistakes.”
Denver and Minnesota-Duluth will play the second game of the series Saturday in Denver at 7:05 MST.