DULUTH, Minn. — In climbing to first place in the Western Collegiate Hockey Association and a No. 2 ranking in D-I, nothing has come particularly easy for the Minnesota Duluth men’s team.
Entering Saturday’s home game against Michigan Tech, the Bulldogs had lost just once, yet all but two outcomes were decided by two goals or less. The Bulldogs had won four games by one goal (all 3-2 with three coming in overtime) and two games were won by two goals.
That survival instinct put UMD in position for one of the best starts in program history and the Bulldogs took advantage again with a 4-2 victory over Michigan Tech on Saturday night for a WCHA sweep before 5,060 fans at the DECC.
The 1989-90 UMD team opened 10-2 and the 1982-83 team went 9-2-1 for the best records through 12 games since the Bulldogs moved to Division I in 1961-62. This season’s Bulldogs are also 9-2-1 and remain in the WCHA lead at 6-1-1, and are 6-0 at home for the first time since 1995.
“We didn’t have the jump or the excitement that we had Friday (in winning 5-3), but we got the job done,” said UMD sophomore defenseman Dylan Olsen, who had three second-period assists. “Michigan Tech is dangerous, they work hard and when they pushed, we pushed back. They tried to bring down the speed of the game and it cost them.”
A 2-2 game turned distinctly in UMD’s favor in the final seven minutes of the second period. Six Michigan Tech penalties within 81 seconds gave the Bulldogs two five-on-three power play shifts and they scored on both. Freshman defenseman Justin Faulk of South St. Paul, known for his booming shots, scored goals 95 seconds apart from the right circle for a 4-2 lead.
During the game, Michigan Tech (3-4-2 and 1-4-1) lost three centermen (Brett Olson, Eric Kattelus and Patrick McCadden), also a winger and a defenseman, and by the end of the game had nine forwards and five defensemen. UMD outshot the Huskies 34-23 and was three-of-seven on power plays. Michigan Tech is 0-4-1 the past five games.
When asked about his team’s performance and some calls by the referees, Michigan Tech coach Jamie Russell said, “I wasn’t happy with either. Our kids played tough, but you’re not going to win many games taking some of the penalties we took. When you give them so much power-play time, with the talent Duluth has, they’re going to cash in. You’re playing Russian Roulette with a No. 2-rated team.”
The teams exchanged goals less than two minutes apart early in the first period. WCHA points leader Mike Connolly converted a Jack Connolly pass in front of Michigan Tech goalie Kevin Genoe for a 1-0 lead at 3:46. The Huskies responded, taking advantage of a UMD giveaway, and winger Ryan Furne snapped off a quick shot from the left circle past UMD goalie Kenny Reiter at 5:42.
Michigan Tech freshman McCadden was called for a five-minute major contact to the head penalty to UMD’s Kyle Schmidt with 1:08 left in the first and UMD scored on the shift at 1:58 of the second. Center Travis Oleksuk sped up the right boards and to the crease, putting the puck inside the left post and the Huskies made it 2-2 on a Daniel Holmberg goal less than four minutes later.
Then Faulk and UMD’s power play took over. Center Jack Connolly contributed three assists for the game.
“We needed a goal, we needed something and it was the perfect time to score,” said Faulk, who skated with USA Hockey’s U-18 team last season in Ann Arbor, Mich. “We got the job done even though there were parts of the game we could’ve done better.”
The win gave UMD 13 points in the WCHA standings and North Dakota, after a sweep at Wisconsin, is second at 6-2 with 12 points, while Nebraska-Omaha (5-0-1 after a tie at St. Cloud State) is third with 11. UMD goes back on the road this Friday and Saturday at No. 13 Wisconsin.
“Our power play was the difference in the game. You have to score in a five-on-three and we did it twice,” said UMD coach Scott Sandelin. “We didn’t have the same jump as Friday, we weren’t moving the same, we were a little bit off, but we scored when we were supposed to.”