DULUTH, Minn. — Minnesota-Duluth’s best unbeaten streak in more than seven years was achieved Friday night in a WCHA battle with Minnesota State, but it took some effort.
The No. 8-ranked Bulldogs were pushed around in the first period, but managed a one-goal lead and then built on that for 5-2 victory before 5,756 fans at Amsoil Arena. That made UMD 7-0-2 the past nine games, the program’s best stretch since going 13-0-1 over 14 games in 2003-04.
Senior goalie Kenny Reiter was superb again, with 34 saves and didn’t allow a goal until the third period. Freshman winger Caleb Herbert got UMD going with a first-period score and finished with two goals and an assist. His linemates, winger J.T. Brown and center Travis Oleksuk, also had goals.
Mankato led in final shots on goal, 36-34, only the second opponent to out-shoot UMD in 13 games, including 21-9 in the first period.
“We were on our heels and Kenny was bailing us out, but it was nice to have the lead,” said Herbert, who has 13 points. “After the first period, we were just told to stay on our game and bear down on pucks. We scored a quick goal in the second and that gave us a spark.”
UMD (8-3-2, 6-2-1 WCHA) moved within one point of first-place Minnesota in the league standings, while Mankato (3-8-0, 2-5-0) remained tenth among 12 teams. UMD is 8-1 the last nine games in the series.
Mankato, making its debut at Amsoil Arena and first appearance in Duluth since Oct. 16-17, 2009, forced the pace early, but couldn’t score.
Herbert, a former Bloomington Jefferson player, rushed past a defender into the offensive zone, and snapped a shot by goalie Austin Lee just 2:47 into the game. It came on UMD’s first shot on goal. That’s how the first period ended.
“You’ve got to score in that first period and give yourself a chance to build momentum. You have to take advantage,” said Minnesota State coach Troy Jutting. “We’ve been banged up with injuries, ridiculously banged up, and our two best defensemen (Tyler Elbrecht and Cameron Cooper) were out.”
The Bulldogs were better in the second period and scored twice for a 3-0 lead.
Brown finished a 2-on-1 break with a backhand attempt from the left circle that found the far corner at 4:54. Herbert was credited with his second goal of the game, and fifth of the season, with 2:37 left in the period as he drove to the net and had the puck go off Mankato defenseman Joe Schiller, a converted forward.
“It would be easy to get down when looking at the shot clock, but when you go down and bury a few pucks it lifts your spirits,” said Reiter. “Mankato is a hungry team and they were tough to play against.”
When Reiter’s shutout bid was broken 1:27 into the third period on a Eriah Hayes power-play rebound, it took just 94 seconds for UMD to respond. All-American center Jack Connolly connected from the right circle to make it 4-1, effectively taking away any steam from the Mavericks. Oleksuk added his WCHA-leading 12th goal of the season, putting in his own rebound off a pipe 2:35 later.
The victory was the 200th for coach Scott Sandelin in 12 years at UMD.
“Kenny made some great saves, especially in the first period, we got out of that onslaught and Oleksuk’s line was the difference,” said Sandelin. “We stayed patient and got a hard-fought win.”