MANKATO, Minn. — A steady push through 24 games has left Minnesota-Duluth at the top of the Western Collegiate Hockey Association.
The Bulldogs knew regardless of Saturday’s outcome with Minnesota State at the Verizon Wireless Center, they’d at least have a share of the league lead with 10 games remaining in a 28-game WCHA schedule.
UMD wanted more, and after Mike Connolly scored with 1:17 left in overtime, the Bulldogs found themselves alone in first place with a 4-3 victory before 4,680 fans. Idle top-ranked Denver is two points back with two games in hand.
The No. 10 Bulldogs (16-7-1 and 12-5-1) trailed 1-0, led 3-1, allowed a late tying goal and then found a way to win in what was a long, crazy night. Mankato (11-13-2 and 5-12-1) tied the game with 18 seconds left in the third period after goalie Austin Lee was pulled, but the Mavericks are now 2-5-2 the last nine games. UMD, 10-3 in their last 13, used two five-minute power plays and the goaltending of Kenny Reiter to get to sudden death.
“In the third period, we got away from what we do best and Mankato dictated play; we sat back and they took it to us,” said Connolly of a period in which they were outshot 12-4 and 30-31 for the game. “That late goal might’ve been deflating for most teams, but we came up with another character win.”
The winning play developed after a faceoff at center ice and a Mankato winger went to pass behind him to a defenseman. Connolly, tied for the WCHA scoring lead in league games with teammate Justin Fontaine, read the play and got his stick in the lane, and the puck was on his tape. He got to the left circle and ripped a shot to the far side over Lee’s glove. It marked UMD’s third overtime win of the season.
What went on the rest of the game was crazy — 2 hours and 58 minutes crazy. Mankato had two five-minute major penalties (losing Zach Harrison and Kael Mouillierat) and UMD’s top-ranked WCHA power play scored on both. The Mavericks finished with 13 penalties for 48 minutes, while UMD had 12 for 24. There were 12 penalties called with 2:16 left in the third period, giving Minnesota State a five-on-3 power play and the Mavericks converted.
“To kill, what, 18 minutes of UMD on power plays in a 60 minute game, and still get the game into overtime and have a chance to win — we played really well,” said Mavericks’ coach Troy Jutting, 0-7-1 the last eight games against UMD.
Mankato carried the play early, outshooting UMD 14-9 in the first period, and taking a 1-0 lead. A right point drive by defenseman Nick Canzanello appeared to go off the stick of a UMD defenseman with 6:44 left. Harrison was lost to a checking from behind penalty (on UMDs Jack Connolly) with 37 seconds to go in the opening period.
Three straight UMD second-period goals put the Bulldogs up 3-1 before Minnesota State cut it to 3-2 after 40 minutes. Defenseman Brady Lamb connected from the high slot at 31 seconds for a power-play score and Rob Bordson put a shot off a pipe at 7:25 at even strength. Mouillierat was called for an elbowing major to the head of UMD defenseman Scott Kishel at 12:37, which was called after play stopped, as Kishel lay in the right corner of the defensive zone. Justin Fontaine put in a power-play rebound for his 16th goal of the season with 3:43 left in the period.
The Mavericks scored with a two-man advantage as Michael Dorr scored with 1:58 left in the second.
There were some near misses for Minnesota State in the third, hitting two pipes. Then Reiter made a blocker save on Stewart with 2:15 left in regulation, before he evened the game with 18 seconds to go.
“I don’t know if we were ever in synch tonight, we didn’t play our best game, but we found a way to win; this team has been able to do that,” said UMD coach Scott Sandelin. “The whole second period was a debacle, and it was long, and it was hard to stay focused. Mankato did everything it could to win; they were tough.”
The Bulldogs are on their best streak in six years, since going 15-8-2 in 2003-04 on the way to the Frozen Four. The Bulldogs have won five straight in the league and have more league wins (12) than all of last season.
Reiter has five straight wins and has allowed seven goals total in that stretch. UMD was without third-leading goal scorer Kyle Schmidt, who suffered a pinched nerve in Fridays first period.
While UMD is at Bemidji State on Friday and home with the Beavers on Saturday, Denver plays at Wisconsin, and Minnesota and St. Cloud State play home-and-home.