DULUTH, Minn. — Minnesota Duluth scored its first two goals in Amsoil Arena, earned its first win in the new rink and moved into a first-place tie in the Western Collegiate Hockey Association men’s standings.
That made for a productive Friday night.
The fifth ranked Bulldogs blanked No. 9 Wisconsin 2-0 before a revved-up crowd of 6,405 as junior goalie Kenny Reiter earned his first shutout of the season and fourth of his career with 22 saves. UMD (15-4-3 overall, 10-3-2 in the WCHA) scored on its first two power plays, 3:26 late in the first period, from Justin Fontaine and Mike Connolly on a revamped man-advantage look.
Wisconsin (14-8-3, 6-7-2) had a seven-game win streak broken and lost for the fourth straight time to UMD. The Bulldogs have won three straight games in 2011 and haven’t trailed yet in the New Year.
In the only previous game at Amsoil Arena, UMD lost 5-0 to North Dakota on Dec. 30.
“That’s what we talked about in our huddle before the game. We wanted to give our fans something to cheer about. We wanted to give a better effort,” said Reiter, 21-12-2 in three seasons and 8-2-2 in 2010-11. “The last two shifts of the game showed the kind of effort we had—we were relentless and grinded out a win.”
Wisconsin senior goalie Scott Gudmandson, the WCHA leader for all games in goals-against average and save percentage, was pulled for an extra attacker with 86 seconds to play, but the Badgers never got a shot. UMD stayed on the puck.
UMD’s win coupled with North Dakota’s 3-2 home loss to Minnesota put the Bulldogs into a tie with North Dakota in the league lead with 22 points. Denver is one point back after a 4-4 tie at Minnesota State-Mankato.
“They had a great start and we didn’t. They won more races and battles in the first period,” said Wisconsin head coach Mike Eaves, whose team was playing its first road series since Dec. 3-4 at Alaska Anchorage, and is 2-3-2 away from the Kohl Center. “This was just a tough night. Either they did a good job of blocking us out or we weren’t good at getting to the net. We never got a timely goal.”
The Bulldogs opened 2011 with 4-1 and 4-2 wins at Clarkson University on Jan. 3-4 and led 2-0 in both games. They stuck to that script.
Wisconsin had the game’s first five shots on goal before the Bulldogs found their legs. On its first two power plays, UMD needed 17 seconds to score the first goal and 52 seconds for the second. The goals were the 13th of the season for each goal-scorer, and in career totals the 53rd for Fontaine and 40th for Connolly. Fontaine was moved to a point on the power play with Justin Faulk, while junior winger David Grun, was moved onto the first unit this week, down low near the net, and had two assists.
“David brought (Wisconsin) players to him and then made great passes. It’s all about executing and we did that when we had to,” said Mike Connolly. “Both power plays showed some urgency and maybe we’ve been lacking that. It was a great team win.”
Fontaine smacked a shot from the left circle and found the far side of the net with 6:43 left in the opening period. Grun had passed from the end boards. Mike Connolly finished some intense pressure in front of Gudmundson with 3:17 to go in the period. UMD’s fans relished the moment of hearing the goal horn for the first time in the new rink.
That was all of the game’s scoring and UMD led in final shots on goal 27-22. The shots, though, were 16-16 for the final two periods and Wisconsin had its chances, including an attempt by freshman winger Michael Mersch about 3:00 into the final period. That went into Reiter’s body for the save.
The Badgers, leading the WCHA in power-play percentage at 27.2, were stopped on three shifts. Wisconsin also leads the league in defense, allowing 2.08 goals a game. A week ago, in a Saturday 6-5 overtime win against Canisius in Madison, Wis., the Badgers had a season-high 53 shots on goal.
“It was a good game, from start to finish, for both teams. We were able to get those two power-play goals when Wisconsin maybe wasn’t ready (for a revised look), and then they adjusted in the second period,” said UMD head coach Scott Sandelin. “We took care of the puck and we had that competitiveness you need. And I was happy for Kenny. He played so well at Clarkson and could’ve had a shutout there.”