MARQUETTE, Mich. — As they did last year, the Northern Michigan Wildcats and the Minnesota Duluth Bulldogs faced off in the Superior Cup Final, and once again the Bulldogs emerged with a shutout win, topping the Wildcats 5-0.
“We played a very consistent game from start to finish,” Bulldogs’ coach Scott Sandelin said. “We got the first goal and that’s good. We took the lead, got a little headstrong and kept getting better as the game progressed. After last night’s loss, we needed to play at a higher level, a higher pace. We needed to make better plays tonight and we needed to make better decisions with the puck, and I think we did that tonight.”
“It was a pretty good game for us,” said Bulldogs’ center MacGregor Sharp, who scored the first two goals of the night. “Last night, we didn’t have a good game and tonight we came out, got our legs under us and tried to start the season right. It’s always nice to get an early goal there and get the lead and as the game went on we just got stronger.”
The Bulldogs put away the first goal of the night a mere 2:17 into the game. Mike Connolly and Mike Montgomery gave the puck to Sharp, who put it past Wildcats’ goalie Brian Stewart on his glove side.
“MacGregor is a guy we’ve got to count on this year,” Bulldogs’ goalie Alex Stalock said. “He’s been putting up good numbers since he’s been here. He had a good night tonight. He shot the puck, got to the net, and you can’t ask for more than that.”
The Wildcats had several opportunities to score, but couldn’t manage to capitalize on any of them, including a double rebound that led to a minor patch of roughing just over seven minutes in.
Five minutes and three penalties into the second, the score remained 1-0 in favor of the Bulldogs, even though the Wildcats outshot them 13-6. Sharp put the puck past Stewart’s right shoulder at 12:57 to increase the Bulldogs’ lead.
“MacGregor Sharp had two goals for us tonight,” Sandelin said. “He’s one of those guys that just leads the team. He’s a senior that we count on.”
Sharp doesn’t take all the credit.
“Connelly’s a great player,” Sharp said. “I can’t say enough. He found me a couple nice passes and made it pretty easy for me to get those goals.”
“We kept the gas pedal down all the way through the second, kept building on our lead,” Stalock said. “We had good opportunities all night and just as a unit, as a whole, we were playing together as a team, not as individuals. It’s great to see.”
Twenty-four seconds into the third period, Bulldog Andrew Carroll took a penalty for contact to the head roughing. Teammate Drew Akins took a tripping penalty 58 seconds later to give the Wildcats a two-man advantage for an entire minute. However, the Wildcats couldn’t capitalize.
“Our special teams were great tonight,” Stalock said. “We killed five-on-threes and five-on-fours all night and then on the other end our power play was great. The guys were zipping the puck around and putting pucks on the net and we got a couple goals.”
Wildcats’ rookie Tyler Gron took a holding penalty at 4:03 in the period. The Bulldogs used the power play to their advantage when Akins banked a shot of the right post and into the net to put the Bulldogs up 3-0.
“I hate the three goal leads,” Sandelin said. “They don’t feel safe. I remember last year we were up 6-1 and the game ended up 6-4. I knew Northern has some good offensive players that could make that difference.”
At 8:11, the Bulldogs bumped their lead to four when Jay Cascalenda fed the puck to Jordan Fulton, who shot the puck across the front of Stewart and into the top left corner of the net. Akins scored again at 14:22 with assists from Justin Fontaine and Evan Oberg a mere second after they ended a power play to push the Bulldogs up 5-0.
Stalock had 29 saves in the shutout win.
“I just wanted to be square to every puck and come out and just be ready and challenge the shooters and make them shoot at me and make some saves,” Stalock said. “I tried to control my rebounds.”
“He’s been here for a couple years now and we really rely on him,” Sharp said. “He always steps up. He’s a great goalie and a great part of our team.”
“Stalock was huge in the five-on-threes,” Sandelin said. “Our players did a great job but you need great goaltending. He protected the shutout, gave us the chance and kept us in it.”