DULUTH, Minn. — In starting 2011, Minnesota-Duluth sought improvement in a few areas with 16 games remaining in the regular season.
Getting an early lead, holding a lead and power-play percentage were near the top of the list, and through the first two weeks of the New Year, the Bulldogs met their goals.
UMD won three straight games by a combined 10-3 in sweeping at Clarkson University and opening a Western Collegiate Hockey Association men’s series with a home victory Friday over Wisconsin. The Bulldogs led by two after the first period of each game, scored a combined five power-play goals, and never trailed.
It worked so well, Wisconsin used the same game plan Saturday. The No. 9 Badgers led by two after one period and then had just enough to stop No. 5 UMD, 3-2, before a near-sellout crowd of 6,668 at Amsoil Arena.
That broke UMD’s three-game win streak overall and four straight wins in the series, and put Wisconsin 8-1 the last nine games. The Bulldogs (15-5-3 and 10-4-2 WCHA) played one of the poorer periods of the season to open the game, getting outshot 16-5 and outscored 2-0. However, they finished with two goals in the final two minutes — from Joe Basaraba on a power play with 1:59 left and Travis Oleksuk with an extra attacker with 25 seconds to go.
The Bulldogs held Wisconsin without a shot in the final period, a first for the Badgers since a 2-1 loss to Cornell on March 19, 1970, in the Frozen Four semifinals.
“Wisconsin wanted it, right from the start, and we didn’t match their intensity, and that cost us the game,” said Oleksuk, a junior center. “We were in the penalty box for what, 14 minutes in the second period? Our thing was to kill those penalties first and then look to score. But even though we were down 3-0 and went against a five-on-three power play twice, we didn’t give up.”
Goals 5:10 apart gave the Badgers a huge lift in the first period. In a four-on-four shift, defenseman Justin Schultz got his 13th goal of the season from the left circle. Senior center Podge Turnbull scored from the crease just after a Wisconsin power play ended with 8:10 left in the first.
Things continued to deteriorate from there for the home team. Freshman defenseman Justin Faulk was lost for the game to a checking-from-behind major with 25 seconds left in the first. Wisconsin converted just 55 seconds into the second period with Craig Smith’s power-play goal from the left circle past goalie Kenny Reiter. It was 3-0.
“We were a much better team than the night before (in losing 2-0),” said Wisconsin coach Mike Eaves. “We had more poise, more confidence. This will be an important win for us (in the Division I rankings) when you look at the score at the end of the year.”
UMD winger Mike Connolly was lost to a contact-to-the-head major with 5:41 left in the second, followed by two more UMD minors in less than three minutes. That left the Badgers in five-on-three mode for the last 4:28 of the period, and while they didn’t score, they kept UMD from getting to the other end of the rink.
Wisconsin winger Sean Little was lost midway through the third period on a major contact-to-the-head penalty on Jake Hendrickson. UMD led 7-0 in shots for the final period, but trailed 26-22 for the game.
“You have to start the game on time and instead we stood around,” said UMD coach Scott Sandelin. “There’s no reason for us not to be ready and part of the (coach’s) job is to have them ready. Give Wisconsin credit, they were ready. And give our penalty killers and Kenny credit for getting us through the five-on-three power plays. The effort I was so happy with on Friday, we didn’t have when the game started (Saturday).”
Wisconsin senior goalie Scott Gudmandson, who did hear four UMD pipe shots, looked to be on track for a fifth shutout of the season, but freshman winger Basaraba’s second collegiate goal broke that and, after Reiter was pulled for an extra attacker with 1:50 left, Oleksuk had a tap-in on a superb backhand pass from Jack Connolly. The Bulldogs then pressed the final 24 seconds for an equalizer.
“We know we’re a better team than we showed, but bounces didn’t go our way and sometimes that’s all it takes is one bounce,” said Basaraba. “We have to remember to compete every night.”
The loss dropped UMD from a first-place tie to third in the league, two points behind North Dakota and one point behind Denver, both winners Saturday. The win left the Badgers 2-7-3 against teams with winning records this season.
The Bulldogs go on the road this Friday and Saturday at last-place Michigan Tech.