DULUTH, Minn. — Breaking out of a rut isn’t easy work, as Minnesota-Duluth is finding out.
The No. 3-ranked Bulldogs played okay on Friday night against No. 16 North Dakota in a WCHA series opener in front of sold-out crowd of 6,760 at Amsoil Arena.
Yet, it wasn’t good enough to topple a resurgent Fighting Sioux team which won 3-1, stifling the top-scoring team in Division I.
The Bulldogs (18-7-4, 12-6-3 WCHA) are 3-4-1 the last eight games overall, 1-3-1 the last five, and barely avoided a second straight shutout at home.
UMD winger J.T. Brown scored on a power play, and with an extra attacker, with 66 seconds to play to break through North Dakota goalie Aaron Dell.
North Dakota (16-10-2, 12-9-0 WCHA) got two goals from junior center Carter Rowney and is 12-3-1 the past 16 games.
“Dell was spectacular and that’s what we needed. He was magnificent,” said Rowney, who has 10 goals this season. “We played a good team game. We rolled all four lines, kept pushing the puck and what we want to do is slowly wear down the other team as the game goes on.”
Rowney scored late in the first and second periods. He put in a wraparound goal to the right of goalie Kenny Reiter with 2:45 left in the first, then took advantage of a UMD turnover in the offensive zone for an unassisted goal with 1:53 left in the second.
A vocal crowd, dotted liberally with green North Dakota garb, was kept from reaching any supporting pitch as UMD was held off the scoreboard. Counting the last game at Amsoil Arena, a 5-0 loss to Michigan Tech, the Bulldogs played slightly more than eight periods in the rink without a goal until Brown broke that mark.
“This was a lot better game than the Michigan Tech loss. Our effort level was higher,” said Brown, who has 17 goals this season, 33 in his career, and six of UMD’s last seven scores. “It was a physical, up-tempo, good, hard game that you have late in a season. It is a little frustrating, but we didn’t play that badly.”
If there was a backbreaking goal, it was the third North Dakota goal as winger Michael Parks scored on power play 2:04 into the third period. A puck he threw on net hit a UMD defender and crossed the goal line. Parks, a freshman, called it the luckiest goal of his life.
It knocked the Bulldogs even further off their stride.
“North Dakota is a tough team and they had the puck in our end for parts of the game and they got some good bounces,” said UMD senior center Jack Connolly, who had an assist. “We matched their physical play and kept our intensity up, but we still need to play better.”
In its only previous Amsoil Arena appearance, North Dakota defeated UMD 5-0 in the rink’s debut on Dec. 30, 2010. The Fighting Sioux, regaining their nickname this week after it had been retired Jan. 1, appeared to be on the way to another shutout until UMD went on a power play with 1:40 to play. Reiter was also pulled for an extra attacker and Brown converted from the bottom half of the left circle.
But it wouldn’t be enough to bring the Bulldogs back.
“We need to play close-to-the-vest, tight-checking hockey,” said North Dakota coach Dave Hakstol. “We want to be hard to play against and score when we can. Three goals is a lot.”
Final shots on goal were 27-27 as UMD led the third period 13-9. By the final period, UMD coach Scott Sandelin, looking for a spark, put his top three scorers, Connolly, Brown and Travis Oleksuk, on the same line.
“We were working hard, but we have to work smarter,” said Sandelin. “When you’re struggling, mistakes are magnified 10 times, and we made a couple of mistakes against a good team.”
The game was played in front of UMD’s four Hobey Baker Memorial Award winners Tom Kurvers (1984), Bill Watson (1985), Chris Marinucci (1994) and Junior Lessard (2004), who were saluted with new banners hanging from the ceiling.