Many avenues have led Minnesota-Duluth to victory early this season.
Goals have come short-handed, on penalty shots, on power plays following a major penalty, and even in overtime while on a power play.
Scoring more than 4.5 goals a game and allowing fewer that 2.30 had the No. 3 Bulldogs unbeaten entering Saturday’s Western Collegiate Hockey Association men’s game against winless Bemidji State at the Sanford Center before a crowd of 3,611.
UMD left unbeaten, but settled for a 1-1 overtime tie, as Bemidji State scored with 91 seconds left in regulation on an Emil Billberg goal. Freshman defenseman Justin Faulk had given the Bulldogs a 1-0 lead on a power-play goal at 3:51 of the third period.
“As much as we would’ve liked a sweep, we’re happy with three of four points, and our heads will be held high going to play (second-place) North Dakota,” said Faulk. “We expected another defensive game and got it, and just wished we could’ve done better to capitalize on our chances.”
Defense was the name of the game, with no scoring until the third period, as UMD’s Kenny Reiter and Bemidji State’s Mathieu Dugas, in his first start of the season, were the stars. The Bulldogs (6-0-2, 3-0-1 WCHA) took the point in the league standings to gain sole possession of first. They led in final shots on goal 29-20. Bemidji State (0-3-1) gained its first league point as a first-year member, as the teams met for a third straight overtime game in the series. UMD won 3-2 in sudden death Friday.
Reiter had missed practice on Monday and Tuesday last week with the flu, and wasn’t 100 percent, but looked sharp.
After two scoreless periods, Faulk gave UMD the lead on a drive from the inside edge of the left circle, before Billberg’s first goal of the season created the tie, putting the puck off Reiter’s shoulder.
“Bemidji is a frustrating team to play; they try to get to the puck first every time and kind of live off bounces,” said Reiter, 3-0-2. “They’re tough. For times, there are no shots and then they come at you in flurries and you really have to focus. Our guys played great in front of me. I don’t remember any second shots.”
The best scoring opportunity of the first two periods for the Bulldogs came in the second period when two Bemidji State players were called for cross-checking and unsportsmanlike conduct at 6:08., but the power play wasn’t clicking.
Dugas stopped UMD’s J.T. Brown at the crease at even strength with 2:36 left in the second. Winger Jamie MacQueen misfired on a hustling three-on-one rush for Bemidji State near the end of the period.
“We have been close to winning this season and our guys were nervous, and by the end of the game, I thought both teams were gassed,” said Bemidji State coach Tom Serratore. “It was a big point for us. Anytime you get a point in the conference, there’s a smile on your face.”
In the first period, Jordan George was stopped by Reiter on a power play with 8:52 left and UMD’s Kyle Schmidt was turned away by Dugas with 2:20 to go.
The last four-plus periods in the rink produced just three goals. UMD’s four goals in the series were on power plays. Bemidji State is 7-4-1 against UMD the last 12 games in the series.
“Neither team was real effective on the power play (Saturday) and that was the difference,” said UMD coach Scott Sandelin. “We were better in some areas, except for a few shifts in the third period. It’s a little disappointing not to get four points when you are in position for it, but it was a hard-fought series.”
The tie ended UMD’s six-game win streak, the most since six straight playoff wins in March of 2009, and the most during the regular season since nine straight wins during 2003-04. The eight-game unbeaten streak is the best start to a season since winning eight straight to open 1989-90.
UMD has its stiffest test of the season this Friday and Saturday at No. 8 North Dakota.