DULUTH, Minn. — Coming back from a two-goal deficit has become a trademark of Minnesota-Duluth’s hockey team the past few weeks.
The Bulldogs pulled off another run-of-the-mill miracle Saturday night before a sellout crowd of 5,361 at the DECC. No. 12-ranked UMD got a controversial goal from Travis Oleksuk with 33.9 seconds left in the third period to tie the game then got a Justin Fontaine power-play goal 12 seconds into overtime to beat No. 3 North Dakota 3-2.
That’s three wins in three of the last four games after trailing by two goals for UMD (10-5-1), which stands tied for third in the Western Collegiate Hockey Association at 7-4-1. The other two wins came at Minnesota.
“It took us until late, late in the game to get going, but once we scored [on a Kyle Schmidt goal 1:15 into the third period] it gave us a big shot of momentum,” said UMD scoring leader Jack Connolly. “Once we broke that barrier of not being able to score, we found something. It had been a frustrating couple of games for a lot of us.”
North Dakota (9-5-2 and 6-5-1) won 4-2 Friday and got goals from Brad Malone in the first period Saturday and Brett Hextall early in the second for a 2-0 goal lead. UMD’s top scorers were finding little going right, while their power play was 0-for-7 for the series.
North Dakota came into the game as the league’s top defensive team, allowing 1.73 goals per game, while sophomore Brad Eidsness was zeroing in on a shutout.
Schmidt’s second goal in two nights, and seventh of the season, came from the left edge of the net and just trickled through Eidsness at 75 seconds of the third period. The Bulldogs took that as a cue to get untracked and moved the puck much better.
“North Dakota doesn’t give you much room; you just have to keep fighting and try to create some space,” said UMD coach Scott Sandelin. “For a while it looked bleak; we didn’t have anything going, but we changed some lines and never gave up.”
The tying goal is tinged in controversy. With UMD goalie Brady Hjelle pulled for an extra attacker during a four-on-four situation, North Dakota winger Jason Gregoire went to shoot the puck out of the defensive zone and the puck hit off the stick of a UMD defender and went, well, there are differing versions. Gregoire says the puck bounced high above the end boards and into the netting, protecting the fans behind the net. When a puck hits the netting, play is stopped. The North Dakota team was told by on-ice officials that the puck hit the plexiglass and remained in play.
The puck came back onto the rink, directly behind UMD’s net, and North Dakota defenseman Derrick LaPoint pinned the puck along the end boards with his skate, waiting for a whistle, expecting play to be moved to a faceoff at neutral ice.
Play continued, Connolly got the puck free and ultimately, Mike Connolly shot from the point, the puck hit Oleksuk in the arm and he was then able to jam the puck past Eidsness. Tie game. Because Andrew MacWilliam had been called for an interference minor at 18:17 of the period, the penalty carried over to overtime.
UMD defenseman Dylan Olsen started the winning play, passing to Jack Connolly, who fed a pass to Fontaine, who scored two feet from the crease on a deflection for his 12th goal of the season, after being held without a point in the series.
“It was hard to get through North Dakotas defense; they’re that big and that good, but we just had to keep working, and we might’ve gotten them tired in the third period for the second night,” said Fontaine. “We have come back before and we believed we could do it again.”
It was a difficult finish for North Dakota, which was in a good position for a road sweep against a team that hasn’t been swept this season.
“From the drop of the puck in the third period, Duluth wins the first two shifts and gets back into the game,” said North Dakota coach Dave Hakstol. “Both teams had good opportunities in the game, but it comes down to closing the game and we couldn’t do that.”
From the bench, UMD’s coaches said they did not see the controversial play. North Dakota’s players said it was obvious the puck left the rink. Bill Mason and Jon Campion were the referees. Hakstol was upset with a non-call but said he could not comment.
UMD has a 3-1-1 mark against North Dakota the last five games and plays in Grand Forks, N.D., on Feb. 19-20.
The Bulldogs complete play in 2009 at home this Friday and Saturday against first-place Denver, ranked No. 2.