DULUTH, Minn. — Mike Connolly was back and so was Trent Palm as the Western Collegiate Hockey Association season opened Friday night, and Minnesota Duluth welcomed their return on the way to a 5-2 win over Minnesota State-Mankato before a crowd of 4,824 at the DECC.
Connolly, a sophomore right winger, helped set the tempo in the fast-paced game with a shorthanded first period goal, while Palm, a senior defenseman, added needed experience.
Connolly sat out the seasons first weekend because of a violation of team rules. Palm has been recovering from two offseason hip surgeries and was given the OK to play this week.
Justin Fontaine was one of the beneficiaries of the newly-energized Bulldogs. He had two goals and an assist.
We played poorly [in a Sunday loss] against Northern Michigan and there was a lot of talk after that. We had to have the right mentality. We know Mankato is a hard hitting team and that they push hard. We had to push back, said Fontaine. We didnt back down and laid some big hits.
Sophomore center Jack Connolly also had two goals and an assist, and sophomore goalie Brady Hjelle made 36 saves as UMD outshot Mankato 48-38.
Mankato (2-1 overall, 0-1 in the WCHA) outshot UMD 13-8 in the opening period, yet the Bulldogs (2-1, 1-0) scored twice and never trailed in the game. UMD had a school record 24 shots on goal in the second period, and a power-play score by Fontaine for a 3-1 lead.
UMD took the momentum in the second period and carried it over to the rest of the game, and we werent able to respond, said Mankato coach Troy Jutting.
Those three players [Mike Connolly, Jack Connolly and Fontaine] got all of their goals and those are three of the better players in college hockey.
UMD is 4-0-1 the last five games against Mankato, which opened the season with a pair of non-league home wins over Bowling Green. The Bulldogs were coming off a lackluster 3-1 home loss to Northern Michigan.
Mike Connolly drove down an open lane on the right side for his shorthanded score with 6:38 left in the first period, getting the puck between the legs of Mankato sophomore goalie Austin Lee. Freshman winger Eriah Hayes gained his first collegiate goal 111 seconds later for Mankato for a 1-1 tie. Jack Connolly scored with 61 seconds left in the first period, from the left side, putting the Bulldogs ahead to stay.
We wanted to set the tempo, said Mike Connolly. We kept pressure on their defense, and showed a lot of energy and good team speed.
UMD opened the second period on a power play and didnt let up. Returning scoring leader Fontaine completed a power play with 9:34 left in the period, just seven seconds into the man-advantage shift.
Fontaine scored just 86 seconds into the third period, an amazing score, while laying face-first on the ice and Jack Connolly connected on a power play. UMD finished with 73 total shot attempts and Mankato with 68 in an old-fashioned up-and-down-the-rink performance. The Connollys and Fontaine have combined for nine of UMDs 10 goals in three games: Jack 4, Mike 1, Fontaine 4.
The second period was really good for us, but the game was still tight going into the third and Im happy with the way we came out for that period, said UMD coach Scott Sandelin. We had some great chemistry working all night.