DULUTH, Minn. — Minnesota-Duluth was desperately seeking a victory Saturday night to close its regular-season home schedule.
The No. 12 Bulldogs needed one win to clinch home ice for the Western Collegiate Hockey Association playoffs, but were on a three-game losing streaking, facing seventh-place Minnesota at the DECC.
UMD turned things around with a 3-0 victory before a sellout crowd of 5,411. Justin Fontaine pushed his team-leading goal total to 21 with two goals and sophomore goalie Brady Hjelle had his best collegiate start with 22 saves for his first shutout. The Bulldogs (19-14-1 and 15-10-1 WCHA) will be at home for the playoffs for the first time since 2004.
“There was definitely some urgency; we were tired of putting in the effort and losing games,” said Fontaine. “We came back after a good game Friday [in a 3-2] loss, cleaned up a few things defensively, pressured the puck and got rewarded.”
The shutout over Minnesota was the first by UMD at the DECC since 1980 and was just the third over the Gophers in 212 games in the series. Hjelle, a sophomore from International Falls, gloved Jordan Schroeder’s shot with 6:04 left in a scoreless first period and Schroeder put a shot off the left pipe a minute later. Hjelle stopped Schroeder at 1:45 of the second period, blunting Minnesota’s chances at any momentum.
Minnesota (16-16-2 and 11-13-2) has been shut out five times this season. Fourth-place UMD led 37-22 in shots-on-goal. North Dakota also clinched home ice with a sweep at Colorado College, so league champion Denver, Wisconsin, St. Cloud State, UMD and North Dakota will all start at home March 12-14.
“That’s definitely the best I’ve played; I was seeing the puck all night, except for a blind save on Schroeder,” said Hjelle. “We cleared rebounds, we blocked shots, we had a carry over from Friday, when we played well.”
Goals 86 seconds apart in the second period gave UMD its first lead in four games at 2-0. Fontaine put in a rebound of a Jack Connolly left-wing drive at the crease at 8:17. Defenseman Brady Lamb followed at 9:43 from the top of the right circle, putting the puck past goalie Alex Kangas.
Early in the third period, Hjelle gloved Minnesota winger Jacob Cepis’s attempt on a breakaway. By that time, UMD coach Scott Sandelin had reunited the Mike Connolly-Jack Connolly-Fontaine line and the Bulldogs were persistent throughout. Mike Connolly and Mike Montgomery each had two assists.
“We had four or five Grade ‘A’ chances and couldn’t finish, and that’s the tale of the tape,” said Minnesota defenseman David Fischer. “We’ve been shut out five times and that can’t happen in 30-40 game season.”
Kangas had a second strong game with 34 saves. He was pulled for an extra attacker with 3:03 left and Fontaine hit the empty net 30 seconds later for his 40th goal and 100th point in 111 career games.
Minnesota’s three-game win ended. It’s possible the Gophers could be back at the DECC for the WCHA’s first round.
“We were solid defensively; we didn’t give them much, we played with a lot of energy,” said Sandelin. “It was a great effort.”
UMD finishes the regular season at eighth-place Alaska-Anchorage this Friday and Saturday.