DULUTH, Minn. — Looking to build on a third-place finish at the Ohio Hockey Classic, the Minnesota-Duluth Bulldogs (6-13-3 overall, 3-10-2 WCHA) began the long road towards moving out of the WCHA cellar against the surprising Michigan Tech Huskies (8-11-2 overall, 5-8-2 WCHA) on Friday night. The Bulldogs needed 1:50 of extra time, but got the job done, winning 2-1.
Sophomore defenseman Matt Niskanen gave the 3,839 Bulldog faithful an opportunity to cheer for their sixth win of the season with a monumental blast from the blue line at the 1:50 mark of overtime for his first career game-winning goal.
Niskanen’s seventh of the year was set up by sophomore defenseman Jay Cascalenda, who received the puck off a faceoff won by freshman center Jordan Fulton.
“We talk about how important faceoffs are,” said Bulldogs head coach Scott Sandelin. “You couldn’t draw that play up any better.”
“Jordan did a good job winning the draw clean and my partner moved it over to me quickly,” said Niskanen. “I just tried to get it to the net, and fortunately it bounced our way.”
The opening period was fairly even, with the Huskies outchancing the Bulldogs 8-5, but neither team found the back of the net. Senior goaltender Josh Johnson, starting his second straight Friday game, came up big on all three first-period power plays MTU had, as the Huskies continued to struggle to jumpstart their nation’s-worst man-advantage.
“I thought at the GLI we took a good step forward with our power play,” said Huskies head coach Jamie Russell. “Duluth’s penalty kill was very aggressive, and we weren’t very crisp on the advantage.”
Bulldog sophomore forward Mason Raymond had a golden opportunity midway through the period, but sophomore goaltender Rob Nolan was equal to the task.
Bryan McGregor, a senior forward, got the Bulldogs on the board with a shorthanded goal 9:24 into the second period. Niskanen forced a turnover just over the Bulldog blue line and fed Raymond, who skated the puck to the Huskies’ blue line and fed a streaking McGregor, who redirected the puck past Nolan.
The goal was McGregor’s fifth of the campaign.
The line of juniors Peter Rouleau and Tyler Shelast and sophomore Malcolm Gwilliam finally gave the Huskies some spark with a couple of well-played shifts late in the second period. The Huskies responded to their teammates’ strong play by working harder, and that paid off as Gwilliam evened the game with just 38.9 seconds left in the period.
His backhanded shot hit a Bulldog defender in front of Johnson, and ricocheted into the back of the net. The goal was his fifth of the season.
“Coming off that major injury, it’s finally coming around for me now,” said Gwilliam. “It’s nice to contribute regularly here.”
The third period was dominated by the Huskies. Johnson stood his ground, however, making seven tough stops. The Huskies sustained pressure on their sixth power play of the night, and both senior Tyler Skworchinski and Gwilliam had chances to break the tie.
“We didn’t move our feet very well in the third (period),” said Sandelin. “We were able to weather the storm, however.”
Johnson would have come up even bigger with just over three minutes left as junior forward Jimmy Kerr launched a one-timer from the slot off a pass from Skworchinski, but Johnson came up with the save of the game on the stop.
“Josh has worked very hard for us despite the fact that he hasn’t played very much,” said Sandelin.
With the win, Johnson is now 2-2-0 in five games this season. Nolan drops to 5-6-1 overall with the loss.
Both the Bulldogs and the Huskies struggled on the man advantage with the Bulldogs finishing zero-for-five while the Huskies went zero-for-six.
With the two points, the Bulldogs move within two points of Minnesota State and ninth in the WCHA.
The Huskies power play is now 8 for 115, good for 7% for the season.
The teams meet again Saturday, as the Bulldogs look for their first sweep of the Huskies at home since 2004.