DULUTH, Minn. — Home improvement has allowed Minnesota Duluth to be in contention in the Western Collegiate Hockey Association this season while putting the Bulldogs in the top 20 of the PairWise Rankings.
After going 6-6-5 at home in 2007-08, UMD has lost only once at the DECC.
Sparked by the goaltending of freshman Brady Hjelle of International Falls in his first start, UMD continued its momentum Saturday night with a 4-2 non-conference win over Bemidji State before a crowd of 3,804. The Bulldogs are 7-1-3 at home after a weekend sweep.
Senior center MacGregor Sharp also gave the Bulldogs a big boost with two first-period goals, to reach 35 for his career. He took a Nick Kemp pass from behind the net and scored from the right edge with 8:49 left in the period and connected on a power play with 2:39 to go. The Bulldogs (11-7-6) have the WCHA’s top-ranked power play.
“We beared down when we had to, weathered a storm and found a way to put the game away in the third period,” said Sharp. “This was a big boost for us, to win two games, and get that winning feeling back.”
UMD will continue at home this Friday and Saturday in WCHA play against Minnesota State Mankato, one point ahead of the Bulldogs in sixth place. UMD started Saturday at No. 19 in the PairWise Rankings, a predictor of the NCAA 16-team tournament field.
Bemidji State (8-12) of College Hockey America has lost five straight games, all by one or two goals
Hjelle finished with 23 saves and had a shutout through two periods, having already made two tough stops on defenseman Brad Hunt. The Beavers also made a goalie change from Friday, starting senior Orlando Alamano, now 0-5 this season.
“I wanted to play with confidence and get a win; that’s all I had on my mind,” said Hjelle, who played for Cedar Rapids (Iowa) as a U.S. Hockey League all-star last season. “You work hard every day at practice so that you’re ready whenever you get the call to start.”
Junior goalie Alex Stalock had started 59 games the past two seasons and UMD’s coaches planned during the week to give him a one-game break.
The Bulldogs went up 3-0 in the second period when sophomore Justin Fontaine finished off a nice passing play, taking a Jordan Fulton feed and converting for his 12th goal of the season with 7:05 left. Freshman defenseman Scott Kishel of Virginia earned his second career assist in two games. Fontaine, a right winger, came into the game tied for WCHA scoring lead in all games with 30 points in 23 games.
Hjelle’s shutout bid was broken at 4:10 of the third period when Hunt scored on a five-on-three power play. After Bemidji State pulled with 3-2 on a second power-play goal with 7:53 to play, UMD’s Mike Connolly sealed it with 99 seconds left, right in front of Alamano, after work by Kemp and Sharp.
“Friday was extremely disappointing [in a 3-2 loss], but we played a lot better [Saturday],” said Bemidji State coach Tom Serratore. “We played an effective game, we cycled the puck and made a game of it. We played well enough to win.”
Final shots on goal favored UMD 29-25.
Bemidji State is 5-3 in the last eight meetings against UMD and 6-6 in the last 12, and is 3-7 against the WCHA this season. The Beavers were swept by UMD for the first time since 2004-05. UMD used its youngest lineup of the season Saturday with seven freshmen.
“Brady played well and the guys we count on came through offensively,” said UMD coach Scott Sandelin. “Bemidji works and works and works, and for a while we did a lot of watching and got a little sloppy.”