DULUTH, Minn. — Minnesota-Duluth hockey players often play a game after practice where the defensemen fire at the net from the point and the forwards take turns trying to redirect the puck into the net.
It’s just for fun and skill development, but after Saturday, UMD coach Scott Sandelin should make it mandatory.
Junior Justin Fontaine scored his first goal on a redirected shot and later added the game-winner on a power play to lead the Bulldogs to a 3-2 victory over Minnesota State-Mankato and a sweep of their season-opening Western Collegiate Hockey Association men’s series before 5,241 at the DECC.
UMD, which scored all three goals on the power play, now has a six-game unbeaten streak against MSU (5-0-1) that dates to 2006, but early on, it looked like it would be all Mankato, as the Bulldogs got off to sluggish start.
“That first period wasn’t how we wanted to come out, but we just knew we had to rebound from it,” Fontaine said. “We kind of came into the locker room and regrouped. We went over our game plan again, and then came out and pushed back.”
UMD (3-1 overall, 2-0 WCHA) found itself with a two-man advantage midway through the third period after Mankato (2-2, 0-2) was called for two minor penalties in a 44-second span midway through the third period.
Shortly after, UMD sophomore center Jack Connolly skated between the circles and found Fontaine in the left circle. Fontaine promptly planted a wicked one-timer that beat Mankato freshman goalie Kevin Murdock low to the far side of the net for the game winner at 12:23 in the third.
“Mankato came at us, but our guys battled and showed a lot of character in sticking with it,” UMD coach Scott Sandelin said.
“It wasn’t pretty, but we found a way to get it done. It was a great character win for us.”
Fontaine and the two Connolly players, Jack and Mike, have accounted for 12 of UMD’s 13 goals this year.
“When you get a pass like that, all you do is try to hit it as hard as you can,” Fontaine said.
Mankato fell 5-2 to UMD on Friday, but came out firing Saturday night, as Mike Louwerse and Justin Jokinen, a sophomore from Carlton, scored goals in a two-minute span midway through the period.
UMD came back with a goal of its own when Fontaine redirected Mike Connolly’s shot from the point that somehow got through the congestion. The power play goal cut the margin to 2-1 and gave UMD some much-needed momentum going into the first intermission.
“They were blocking all the passes, so that is the way to do it,” Fontaine said of his redirected shot. “It was about waist high, and I got my stick on it. The puck went straight down and through the five hole. That’s hard for any goalie to stop. Me and some my buddies kind of joke around with it after practice, but that’s how you get a feel for it.”
Mike Connolly made it look easy in the second period, walking in from the point and scoring a power-play goal as the Bulldogs knotted the game 2-2, setting up Fontaine’s heroics. Mankato had to be lamenting lost chances from the second period, with a shot going off a pipe midway through the period and another shot appearing to go off UMD goalie Brady Hjelle’s left foot just seconds before the end of the period.
Mankato also had opportunities to tie it before the end of regulation, but UMD’s defense tightened and took control. The Bulldogs, who led in shots on goal 33-28, have the WCHA lead after the first weekend and go on the road for the first time this Friday and Saturday to St. Cloud State.
“You’ve got to stay out of the box,” Jokinen said. “We knew their top line was good, and we talked in the locker room about trying to stay on those guys, but it’s tough when you’re a man down. And stopping a five-on-three with them is pretty much impossible. I think we just got worn out killing those.”