DULUTH, Minn. — After gaining just one win the previous six games, head coach Scott Sandelin asked his Minnesota Duluth team for more contributors. He got that Friday night as the No. 11-ranked Bulldogs were good from the opening minute in defeating No. 12 Nebraska-Omaha 4-1 in a Western Collegiate Hockey Association men’s game before 6,497 fans at Amsoil Arena.
It gave UMD a third straight 20-win season, the best streak since the mid-1980s, and put the Bulldogs into a tie for second in the league with Denver, which lost 3-2 at home to St. Cloud State. Omaha dropped one point back into fourth place with one game left in the regular season.
UMD (20-8-6 overall, 15-7-5 in the WCHA) got two first-period goals from center Travis Oleksuk, scored on its first two power plays and got solid goaltending from junior Kenny Reiter. UMD came into the game 1-3-2 the last three weekends.
UNO (20-13-2, 16-9-2), after going 7-3 the past 10 games, was held to its fewest goal in a month.
“We actually worked hard for 60 minutes and showed what we could do,” said Oleksuk, who had scored just one goal the past 10 games and none the last six. “That was basically our problem. We weren’t working hard from start to finish. We were up against a great team, a real skilled team, and we were able to shut them down.”
The game was the first between the schools since Omaha joined the league this season, The Mavericks had been in Duluth once previously on Dec. 5-6, 1997, which resulted in a UMD sweep. And it marked the first meeting since 2004 between Omaha head coach Dean Blais and Sandelin, who coached together at North Dakota more than a decade ago.
“We’re usually a good team out of the gate, but UMD had a real good first period. We took a bad penalty (83 seconds into the game), they scored a power-play goal and got the crowd behind them,” said Blais, in his second season at Omaha. “They got us on the run and we had to play catch up. They were quicker and made more plays than we did.”
Oleksuk took a Kyle Schmidt pass and scored from the extended goal line to the left of Omaha goalie John Faulkner 2:38 into the game. The Mavericks tied it as Johnnie Searfoss finished a slick passing play, but UMD went ahead for good 20 seconds later as Oleksuk and Schmidt worked a give-and-go in the offensive zone. It was Oleksuk’s 13th goal of the season.
Freshman defenseman Justin Faulk put the Bulldogs up 3-1 with 2:43 left in the first period on a backhand power-play attempt. UMD had 18 shots on goal in the first period and finished with a 35-30 advantage.
“This was a big improvement (from the last three weeks),” said Sandelin. “Good teams force you to play better and our team responded. Our guys showed up. We were better positionally, Kenny was good and everyone contributed.”
UMD had the only goal of the second period. Winger David Grun took advantage of a Maverick turnover in the UMD offensive zone with 8:41 remaining.
Omaha, which lost 4-2 at home to Denver last Saturday, has lost two straight for the first time since Dec. 30-31 at Quinnipiac in Hamden. Conn. In that series Omaha led in shots on goal 102-62 yet lost 4-3, 3-2.
The Bulldogs are 3-3-2 at Amsoil Arena while improving their Friday record to 8-6-2.
“Our level of intensity was obviously better,” said Reiter. “We were hounding the puck and it was contagious. It was a timely win in a playoff atmosphere and we have to keep that intensity and build on it.