DULUTH, Minn. — Minnesota Duluth has been living dangerously atop the Division I polls the past two weeks.
In a four-game stretch this month, the Bulldogs had a pair of one-goal home wins over Alabama-Huntsville, a loss at Nebraska-Omaha and a tie with Michigan Tech on Friday, after leading by four goals.
UMD hit a low point in Saturday’s rematch, showing little cohesiveness in a 5-0 loss to Michigan Tech before a sold out crowd of 6,776 at Amsoil Arena.
The Huskies (12-12-2, 9-7-2 WCHA) scored four first-period goals on the way to surpassing its win total in the league for the previous three years combined. Michigan Tech, after scoring the final four goals Friday in a 4-4 overtime tie, came right after top-ranked UMD.
“The first period Friday just wasn’t us and after that, it was important that we play for a little bit of pride,” said Michigan Tech captain Brett Olson. “Winning puck battles and skating, those are our biggest assets, and we knew we had to keep doing those things because we know how dynamic UMD is.”
What Michigan Tech did was shut out the highest-scoring team in Division I for the final 109:47 to complete what first-year coach Mel Pearson called the best weekend of play this season.
It was UMD’s most one-sided loss since an 8-2 defeat by St. Cloud State on Feb. 11, 2011, the first shutout loss since North Dakota won 5-0 to open Amsoil Arena on Dec. 30, 2011 in a non-league game and the first shutout loss in the league in 105 games.
The Huskies scored the final nine goals of the series and senior goalie Josh Robinson stopped the final 52 shots he saw. Michigan Tech led 32-29 in shots on goal Saturday and 71-66 in the series.
“It comes down to effort and they outworked us plain and simple,” said UMD senior goalie Kenny Reiter, who was replaced after the first period. “They won battles and buried their chances and their goalie played well. I wasn’t happy with how I played, I let in two bad goals, and that’s not good when you want to keep your team in the game.”
UMD was 16-1-4 the previous 21 games, but had no answer against Michigan Tech in the final five-plus periods.
Olson got the Huskies going by taking advantage of a UMD turnover and rifling a shot over Reiter’s left shoulder unassisted 9:25 into the game.
Things got worse for the home team as Michigan Tech scored consecutive power-play goals on their first two man-advantage shifts, 1:49 apart, from freshmen left wingers Blake Pietila and David Johnstone.
Center Jacob Johnstone, David’s older brother, connected with 1:59 left in the opening period and it was 4-0. Aaron Crandall replaced Reiter to start the second period.
The Huskies added a third-period goal from Tanner Kero.
“We got outworked for 60 minutes and it showed on the scoreboard. It was unacceptable,” said UMD senior defenseman Brady Lamb.
UMD coach Scott Sandelin changed his four forward lines after Friday’s game, a lineup that had remained the same for 16 games, but not much worked for the revamped roster. Entering the rematch, the Bulldogs were 8-0-1 the last nine home games and 7-0-1 the last eight games overall against Michigan Tech.
The Bulldogs came into the game averaging 3.96 goals a game. Their power-play woes continued, 0-of-2, and 0-of-21 the past six games.
“It wasn’t even close who the better team was from start to finish,” said Sandelin. “I liked our first shift of the game and that was about it. There weren’t many positives. It was an old-fashioned butt kicking.”
Among Michigan Tech’s wins this season were 7-2 over Denver and 3-2 in overtime against Minnesota, both rated teams. The last three years in WCHA play, the Huskies were 2-24-2, 4-24 and 2-19-7, and coach Jamie Russell was let go and former Michigan Tech forward and Michigan associate head coach Pearson was brought in.
“Our guys got a little confidence Friday and that effort continued [Saturday],” said Pearson. “To basically shut out the nation’s leading scoring team for the last five periods was a great tribute to our players, especially players like Brett Olson, who have played through some rough years.”
The loss dropped second-place UMD five points behind Minnesota in the WCHA race following a Minnesota 3-2 win at St. Cloud State. The Bulldogs head on the road this weekend at last-place Alaska Anchorage.