DULUTH, Minn. — The margin for error is almost non-existent in the Western Collegiate Hockey Association, where seven of 10 teams were within two games of .500 entering Saturdays games.
Fourth-place Minnesota Duluth is a prime example of being right on the edge. The Bulldogs are averaging 2.58 goals a game offensively while allowing 2.63. Their last nine games have been decided by two goals or less.
There wasn’t much differentiating Minnesota Duluth and Minnesota State-Mankato in Saturdays game before 4,825 at the DECC.
The teams tied 2-2 in overtime. It was the third overtime game in four meetings between the teams this season. They finished 1-1-2 with each team scoring nine goals.
On Friday, the Bulldogs rallied from a two-goal deficit to win 4-3 in overtime. On Saturday, ninth-place Mankato came back from a two-goal deficit for a tie.
“If we could’ve gotten up by three goals, it would’ve been a different story,” said UMD defenseman Josh Meyers, who had a goal. “You can keep looking back on the chances we had, and it’s disappointing, but three out of four points for the weekend is good, not great. At least we’re moving forward.”
Mankato (9-8-4 and 3-7-4 in the WCHA) scored the last two goals of regulation play to force sudden death. Center Trevor Bruess scored the final goal from a scramble in front, following a Joel Hanson shot, with 2:04 left in the third period.
UMD (8-7-5 and 6-6-4) got two goals in 17 seconds in the first six minutes of the game for a 2-0 lead. Mankato led in final shots 35-32.
“It was a little hectic for us in the first period, but the players did a good job of settling down between periods,” said Mankato coach Troy Jutting. “I told our young team that there are times when you start growing up and I think we grew up a little.
“It was frustrating for us Friday and it was frustrating for Duluth tonight. Those are two very similar, very evenly-matched teams.”
UMD freshman winger Justin Fontaine, along the offensive endboards, passed between his legs to linemate MacGregor Sharp for a close-range goal 5:26 into the game. Freshman Cody Danberg, who had two goals Friday, carried to the right circle, then connected with Meyers at the right edge of the crease. He tapped the puck past Mankato goalie Mike Zacharias at 5:43.
Boom, boom. It was 2-0. The Bulldogs had scored on two of their first four shots.
Two Mankato players limped off the ice during the opening period, Bruess (three stitches to a cut right foot) and defenseman Nick Canzanello (knee). Bruess returned for the second period.
“It’s not like we didn’t have opportunities. We just have to do a better job of finishing,” said Fontaine. “When you start a game like that, it’s hard to see a team come back, but they kept picking away. Overall it was a pretty good weekend.”
UMD goalie Alex Stalock was tested by the Mavericks late in the second period. He made a kick save on freshman center Andrew Sackrison’s deflection with 2:22 left, but Mankato came back 10 seconds later and winger Geoff Irwin converted a Sackrison pass. That made it 2-1 after 40 minutes.
In overtime, the Bulldogs had a power play and were turned away by Mike Zacharias.
“Our effort was good, but when you’re in position to put teams away you should take advantage,” said UMD coach Scott Sandelin.
The Bulldogs remain at home this weekend against two-time defending league champion Minnesota.
Kevin Pates covers Minnesota-Duluth for the Duluth News-Tribune in Duluth, Minn.