DULUTH, Minn. — If defense is Minnesota Duluth’s strength this season, it’s most obvious in a lack of opposing goals.
After two weekends, UMD has given up the fewest goals in the opening four games of a season since going to the NCAA Division I level in 1961-62.
That’s led to an unbeaten start following UMD’s 4-2 victory over 16th-ranked St. Cloud State before 4,748 at the DECC to sweep a WCHA men’s series Saturday night. It was the first sweep of the Huskies since 1999.
Defenseman Jason Garrison broke a 2-2 tie at 7:33 of the third period, and Andrew Carroll added an empty-net score that traveled 110 feet with 17 seconds to play.
The Bulldogs (3-0-1, 2-0 WCHA) have given up five goals in four games. The 1996-97 Bulldogs allowed eight goals in their first four games. The 1971-72 team allowed nine.
“We came out and matched St. Cloud’s physical play and didn’t back down,” said UMD winger Matt Greer, who had a career-high goal and two assists. “After winning Friday we knew we had a chance for four points in our league, which doesn’t happen very often, and we came out with some urgency.”
The third period defined the game for the Bulldogs. They scored the only two goals of the last 20 minutes, outshot St. Cloud State 17-8 and got some impressive saves from goalie Alex Stalock, who has played all four games. A sliding stop on star St. Cloud State winger Ryan Lasch with 6:50 to play was his best save of the first two weeks.
The Huskies (1-2-1, 0-2) entered the series with a 13-3 record against UMD the past four years, but led only once in two games (1-0 on Saturday).
“We put the body on them all weekend and frustrated them both nights,” Stalock said of UMD’s play. “The third period was the best team effort we’ve had so far.”
UMD led in total shots 30-20 and, despite not recording a power-play goal, the Bulldogs scored their first short-handed goal.
UMD’s spotless penalty-killing mark took a hit 4:06 into the game as St. Cloud State scored a power-play goal on its first shot on goal. Center Nate Dey had an open net at the left edge of the crease for his team-leading third goal of the season. The Bulldogs had been 18-for-18 in the first three games.
Another St. Cloud State power play led to UMD’s first goal as Greer grabbed a Josh Meyers pass in the defensive zone and hustled up the left boards to the opposing net. Goalie Jase Weslosky made a save, but Greer outfought St. Cloud State defenseman Craig Gaudet for the rebound and converted with 9:47 left.
Winger Mike Curry took advantage of his first playing time of the season to earn a goal with 1:25 left in the opening period. His backhand attempt from the right circle hit off St. Cloud State defenseman David Carlisle, stationed at the crease, and the puck deflected past Weslosky. Curry was playing in place of an injured Michael Gergen.
The Huskies tied the game 2-2 with a second man-advantage score, a 5-on-3 goal by winger Andreas Nodl.
“We weren’t very good in the second period and parts of the first,” UMD coach Scott Sandelin said. “We started the third with a good penalty kill and that got us going, and Al was good like he’s been in every game.”
After Weslosky stopped Greer from point-blank range, the puck bounced to Garrison for a goal from the high slot for a 3-2 lead. When Weslosky was pulled with 28 seconds to play, Carroll hit the open net for his first goal.
“We gave up two soft goals in the first period, and Stalock was great a couple of times. That was the difference,” Bob Motzko, St. Cloud State coach, said. “They kicked our butt in the third period.”
UMD, 9-2-2 in its past 13 home games, goes on the road for the first time this season in a Friday-Saturday series at No. 5 Denver (3-1).
Kevin Pates covers college hockey for the Duluth News Tribune