DULUTH, Minn. — A Saturday sweep of ranked opponents was within the grasp of the Minnesota Duluth men’s team at the DECC.
Earlier in the day, the No. 6-rated football team beat No. 1 Grand Valley State in the NCAA Division II quarterfinals, and the No. 7 womens hockey team beat No. 3 Dartmouth to sweep a home series.
The UMD men held up their end of the deal with a 5-1 victory over No. 18 St. Cloud State in a Western Collegiate Hockey Association game in front of a crowd of 4,412. It completed a home sweep of the Huskies, which began with a 5-1 win Nov. 1 at St. Paul’s Xcel Energy Center.
Three third-period goals opened up a 2-1 game for the Bulldogs (6-4-4 and 3-4-3 in the WCHA).
“We knew that to get back in the [WCHA] race we needed to have this game,” said UMD sophomore winger Justin Fontaine, who had a goal and two assists. “We wanted to be physical and not let St. Cloud State have space or time. We were skating, creating turnovers and gaining confidence.”
A fast-paced game with only five penalties through the first two and a half periods was up and down, although UMD never trailed. St. Cloud State (8-6 and 3-5) came into the game ranked No. 4 in Division I in offense with 3.69 goals a game, but was outshot 36-20.
The Huskies had won five of their past six games, including a home sweep of No. 9 Denver, while outscoring the opposition 23-7. UMD is 2-0-1 the last three games overall and goalie Alex Stalock has allowed four goals total in that stretch.
“[UMD] played a very sound, smart game,” said St. Cloud State coach Bob Motzko, who has lost four straight games to UMD. “We had very few chances on Alex. I don’t think he even broke a sweat.
“They trapped us all over and we kept turning the puck over. Our forwards in the offensive zone were like Melba Milquetoast.”
After holding a 2-1 lead after two periods, the Bulldogs connected on a four-on-four shift with 8:40 to play. It deflated the Huskies. Freshman winger Mike Connolly got his fifth goal of the season, tucking the puck behind St. Cloud State junior Jase Weslosky from the left edge.
Winger Jordan Fulton followed with his fifth goal of the season, and second of the game, with 2:50 remaining. Fontaine had gotten in the way of a St. Cloud State clearing pass and got the puck to Jack Connolly, who relayed it to Fulton. Sophomore Kyle Schmidt put an exclamation point on the game with a short-handed breakaway goal for his first point of the season with 18 seconds left.
“I thought we outplayed them for most of the game,” said UMD defenseman Evan Oberg. “The biggest thing was our forecheck. We didn’t let them out of their zone. In every aspect, it was a more complete game than when we played them the first time.”
The teams exchanged power-play goals in the last five minutes of the first period. Fontaine converted a Josh Meyers rebound into an empty net for his team-leading seventh goal of the season. It was UMD’s only power play of the game..
UMD looked to get out of the opening period with a lead, but St. Cloud State defenseman Garrett Raboin’s drive from the high slot with just 28 seconds to go tied it. Fontaine got a pass to Fulton in the slot midway through the second period for a 2-1 lead.
“We defended the rush very well and defended the blue line as well as we have this season,” said UMD coach Scott Sandelin, whose team is 4-1-2 at home. “It was the first game we’ve been able to roll four lines on a regular basis and we got into a nice rotation that matched the pace of the game.”
After a five-game home stand, UMD is on the road this Friday and Saturday at No. 3 Colorado College.
Kevin Pates covers Minnesota-Duluth for the Duluth News-Tribune in Duluth, Minn.