DULUTH, Minn. — Denver and sophomore star center Drew Shore used Minnesota-Duluth’s overtime script Friday night in a WCHA first-place battle at the DECC.
The No. 1-ranked Bulldogs came into the series with a 5-0-2 mark in sudden death and went to OT for a third straight game.
But after two straight UMD wins at Wisconsin two weeks ago, No. 10 Denver turned the tables on the Bulldogs, taking a 5-4 victory as Shore converted from the crease with 1:58 left in overtime. It was his 13th goal of the season. Denver needed a Jason Zucker goal with 82 seconds left in the third period to get to sudden death.
Denver (11-4-2, 8-2-1 WCHA) extended its Division I-leading win streak to seven. UMD (11-2-2, 8-2-1) had a five-game win streak broken.
“It was such an up-and-down game that we never thought it was over and never had our heads down,” said Shore, the WCHA points leader for all games. “We got up 3-0 and started to relax and took some penalties, and Duluth was back in the game. On the winning goal, I got a phenomenal pass from Luke Salazar. The puck went under a stick and through some skates, and right on to my stick. That made it easy to finish.”
It was that kind of a game and it left the teams tied for first place in the league entering Saturday’s final men’s game in the DECC’s 45 years. There were 5,165 fans in attendance Friday, just short of a sellout.
What they saw was Denver scoring on the game’s first shot on goal and Shore’s left winger, Zucker, getting a hat trick. UMD started with freshman Aaron Crandall in goal and switching to Kenny Reiter 85 seconds into the second period as the Pioneers went up 3-0.
“We have to come out flying, we can’t sit back and see what the other team is going to do. We have to dictate play,” UMD senior winger Kyle Schmidt said. “The feeling is horrible after a game like this, but we’ve only lost twice this season, so we just need to get back to our winning style.”
The Bulldogs looked to be headed in that direction. Jack Connolly scored seven seconds after Zucker’s second goal, 92 seconds into the second period. Then 3:05 later, after Justin Fontaine made a number of moves in front of Denver freshman goalie Sam Brittain, defenseman Wade Bergman got a rebound goal. With 3:55 left in the second, UMD got even with Mike Connolly’s 10th goal, on a power-play shot from the slot.
As the teams went back and forth in the third period, the Bulldogs found a fourth straight goal as Schmidt put a backhand attempt just inside the right post with 4:58 left in regulation.
“Duluth has an explosive team and we knew they were going to respond at some point,” Denver coach George Gwozdecky said. “They got a fortunate bounce on one of their goals and we got a bounce off a skate, and maybe it’s the way it should’ve been decided, in overtime.”
Zucker, a freshman left winger, looked to pass from behind the UMD net to the point in the closing seconds of regulation, but the puck hit off the skate of UMD center Travis Oleksuk and found a three-inch hole between Reiter’s pads and the pipe. It was a tie game and UMD was going to OT for the eighth time in 15 games.
UMD was playing at home as the No. 1-ranked team in Division I for the first time since Oct. 29, 2004. Denver was playing outside of Colorado for the first time since a split at North Dakota on Oct. 29-30.
“We looked rusty in the first period after not playing last week, and then we showed some character and came back,” UMD coach Scott Sandelin said. “We didn’t ever quit, but there were some crazy goals.”
The loss was UMD’s first at home after six straight wins (seven straight going back to last season). And it was just the second loss in the last 24 overtime games the past three years. The Bulldogs are 11-2-11 in that stretch.
“Now we have the feeling that other teams have had against us, and we don’t like it,” said Reiter, who suffered his first loss of the season. “We’ve shown many times the ability to come back, but we have to find a way to put teams away in regulation.”