DULUTH, Minn. — Home hasn’t looked so good to Minnesota-Duluth in four years.
Entering Saturdays Western Collegiate Hockey Association mens game against Minnesota, the Bulldogs were 6-1-4 at the DECC, their best mark since going 15-5 in 2003-04.
UMD isn’t back in town for more than a month, on Feb. 22-23 against No. 2 Colorado College, and was hoping for a good sendoff.
However, Minnesota spoiled that with a 2-1 win before a sellout crowd of 5,364 spectators. The Gophers are now 5-0-1 in the last six games in the series and broke UMD’s three-game unbeaten streak.
In a game critical to both teams in the pursuit of home-ice to open the WCHA playoffs, Minnesota outshot UMD 38-26 and, for the moment, moved from seventh to a tie for fifth place, pending the outcome of Wisconsin’s late game at Alaska Anchorage. UMD (8-8-6, 6-7-5 WCHA), ranked No. 16, remained three points ahead in fourth place.
“We know we can’t keep sliding by with ties and losses every weekend,” said Minnesota center Mike Carman, who had the winning goal, his first of the season. “We needed to be on top of them forechecking. We wanted to be a team that’s not easy to play against.”
The two-time defending league champion Gophers (12-10-4, 6-8-2), ranked No. 18, have had a rough year by program standards, but are 3-1-2 in their last six games. They tied 1-1 Friday, and then built a 2-0 lead after two periods in the rematch.
Minnesota carried the play for much of the game, which meant a busy night for UMD’s steadiest player, goalie Alex Stalock, and a not-so-busy night that became a nail-biter for Minnesota freshman Alex Kangas.
“We were average at best, we have to play better,” said defenseman Jason Garrison, who had UMD’s third-period goal. “The game went back and forth and they were able to contain us, and Alex stood on his head for us. We had our good moments, but it goes to playing a full 60 minutes.”
Sophomore winger Tony Lucia, son of Gophers’ coach Don Lucia, took advantage of a UMD turnover with 7:36 left in the first period. A Bulldogs’ defender tipped the puck and Lucia recovered it in the slot for his fifth goal of the season.
The score came in the midst of nine straight shots on goal by the Gophers.
UMD winger Nick Kemp hit a pipe with 59 seconds left in the first period on a power play, and Jordan Fulton had three decent chances early in the third period before the shutout bid was broken.
Stalock had gloved Minnesota’s Mike Carman 4:29 into the game, but Carman made good at 5:31 of the second period. In his third game this season, he connected from the left circle to make it 2-0. Carman sat out the first half of the schedule because of academic ineligibility before joining the U.S. team for the World Junior Championships, which ended earlier this month.
“After the first two or three minutes of the game, we moved the puck and had better scoring chances than we’ve had in a while,” Don Lucia said. “I told our guys that how we do against Duluth [including games in Minneapolis on March 7-8] will probably determine if we finish ahead of them. We knew this was a huge game.”
Kangas grabbed a Fulton backhand attempt at 7:49 of the final period on a tough save. Less than two minutes later, on a power play, Garrison cracked a shot from the right point for his fifth goal of the season.
Stalock did his best to keep the Bulldogs in it, turning away Lucia on a breakaway with 3:32 left and was pulled for an extra attacker with 41 seconds to go.
“We get down by two goals and have a better third period; that’s not good enough,” UMD coach Scott Sandelin said. “You have to be ready. You have to be intense. The effort level has to be there all the time or you’re not going to win many games. Both teams knew this was important and [Minnesota] played with urgency.”
The Bulldogs begin an extended road trip Friday in Lowell, Mass., against No. 11 Mass.-Lowell, to open the regular season’s final non-league series.
Kevin Pates covers Minnesota-Duluth for the Duluth News-Tribune in Duluth, Minn.