DULUTH, Minn. — There were a couple of questions Saturday night at the DECC as Minnesota-Duluth finished a Western Collegiate Hockey Association men’s series with No. 2 Colorado College:
Would the ice surface hold up after four games in 12 hours? Could the Bulldogs crank up their offense at home?
High school games at 10 a.m. and noon, followed by the UMD women against St. Cloud State at 3:30 p.m., had already given the rink a workout.
The ice was OK, but things didn’t get much better for the Bulldogs. First-place Colorado College showed exceptional speed and skill in a 4-0 victory before a crowd of 5,182, aided by two Chad Rau power-play goals.
Colorado College star freshman goalie Richard Bachman, ranked first in the WCHA for save percentage (.932) and goals-against average (1.77), gained an amazing third straight shutout against UMD, a streak of 197 minutes and 46 seconds over four games total. It marked the first consecutive road series shutouts in Colorado Colleges 70 years, and it gave the Tigers a four-point lead in the WCHA over second-place North Dakota with four games to play. Bachman had 29 saves.
“We won the league my freshman year and I remember how special it was,” said Colorado senior defenseman Jack Hillen of Minnetonka, Minn. “It’s something we’re looking forward to and we wanted to start the last six games on the right foot.”
The Tigers (23-8-1 overall, 18-5-1 WCHA) started with a 3-0 win Friday and never let UMD into the series.
Going into Saturday’s game, UMD had lost consecutive games just once this season, at Colorado College on Nov. 9-10. The Bulldogs (12-12-6, 8-11-5) hadn’t been shutout in consecutive home games since being swept by Minnesota 2-0 and 7-0 in 1995-96. The Tigers outscored UMD 15-3 in four wins this season.
“We had some momentum in each game and the shots were even for both games [favoring UMD 60-56]; the difference is, Colorado College scored on its chances,” said UMD junior defenseman Josh Meyers. “They’re by far the fastest team we’ve played. They made the plays and buried their chances.
“It’s tough to lose when you put 30 shots on a goalie each night and don’t score. Colorado likes a skating game and I don’t think we played in their face enough.”
Winger Eric Walsky finished a two-on-one break with Matt Overman in the first period for the Tigers, and Rau’s two power-play goals made it 3-0 after two.
Rau, a junior center from Eden Prairie, Minn., hit with 3:02 left in the first period and finished a nice passing play late in the second to make the Tigers 2-of-3 on power plays against the No. 2-rated penalty killers in Division I. He has 21 goals this season and 49 in his career.
“You hang in there with a team, then make a mistake and it feels like the game is over; their team speed kept leading to odd-man rushes and breakaways,” said UMD goalie Alex Stalock. “At this time of the year, you can’t be happy by not picking up any points. We have to find a way to do something about it.”
Winger Jimmy Kilpatrick scored on a tip at the right edge of the crease at 8:04 of the third period, a play which gave Hillen a third straight assist in the game.
“We played a good methodical team game and our defensive corps was really good,” said Colorado College coach Scott Owens. “They defended well and got the puck moving north. Hillen might be the best defenseman in our league.”
UMD coach Scott Sandelin reworked all of his lines following Friday’s loss, yet the Bulldogs still found it rough going offensively. Bachman had one tough stop in the first period, gloving Michael Gergen with 4:56 left. Seconds later, Gergen was called for spraying Bachman with ice chips and that led to the Tigers scoring on a power play.
The No. 10 Bulldogs are 0-3-1 the last four home games while scoring just two goals total in that stretch. The Bulldogs started the season 4-0-3 at the DECC, but are 2-4-2 the last eight, and are clinging to seventh place in the WCHA, one point ahead of Minnesota.
“All weekend we were looking for that goal to give you a little spark, some life, and couldn’t find it,” said Sandelin. “When you never find it, it zaps you mentally. They’re a tough team to play catch up with, especially with the way their goalie’s playing.”
UMD remains home this Friday and Saturday against North Dakota.
Kevin Pates covers Minnesota-Duluth for the Duluth News-Tribune in Duluth, Minn.