DULUTH, Minn. — Before the final faceoff of the night, Minnesota-Duluth center Travis Oleksuk asked teammate J.T. Brown to move a little bit to his left in the offensive zone.
Oleksuk then proceeded to win a centering draw cleanly, straight back to Brown on the inside edge of the right circle, and Brown leaned heavily into a shot. The puck beat Colorado College goalie Josh Thorimbert to the far side, past his blocker.
No. 4 UMD defeated No. 16 Colorado College, 4-3, with two minutes left in a five-minute overtime Friday night in a Western Collegiate Hockey Association men’s game before 6,346 ecstatic fans at Amsoil Arena.
Brown, a sophomore winger, had missed last weekend’s series because of an upper-body injury, but returned to practice Tuesday. His 19th goal of the season, and 35th in 73 games at UMD, and the only shot on goal of sudden death, gave the Bulldogs their first overtime win of the season and kept them within two points of first-place Minnesota, which won 3-2 in overtime at Nebraska-Omaha.
“You don’t feel the injury, you don’t even think about it,” said Brown. “The adrenaline kicks in and you don’t want to hold back. I’ve been feeling good all week.”
The Bulldogs (21-7-5 and 15-6-4 in WCHA) led 3-0 with a second-period barrage, then saw Colorado College (16-13-2 and 13-11-1) rally to force OT, helped by two third-period goals.
While the victory kept UMD in the hunt for the MacNaughton Cup, symbolic of the league regular-season championship, the loss dimmed Colorado College’s quest for home ice for the league playoffs with three games left. The Tigers remained tied four fourth and need to finish in the top six.
“We don’t have anything to hang our heads about,” said Colorado College coach Scott Owens. “UMD’s a good team that can beat you any number of ways. A tie probably would’ve been the outcome which best reflected the game.”
After nothing to report on the scoreboard for half the game, the teams combined for four goals in the last 10 minutes of the second period. UMD raced ahead with two goals in 2:40 and three in 4:35. The first two came on UMD’s first two power plays.
Jack Connolly connected from the lower half of the right circle with 9:51 left in the period, knocking the puck off a falling Thorimbert, who leads the WCHA with a .924 save percentage for all games. Caleb Herbert blasted a shot while along the far left boards with 7:11 to go, and fellow freshman Justin Crandall made it a three-goal cushion with 5:16 left.
Max Tardy smacked a shot off the end boards, and it caromed to the left edge of the Colorado College crease. Crandall, a right-handed shot, caught the puck on his backhand and then made a spin-o-rama move to get it on his forehand, and nudged a shot inside the near post.
“Our team has been composed most of the season. Even though (the Tigers) came back, that didn’t bug us,” said Crandall. “We played well at the end of the third period and in overtime (helped by a power play). The win is a testament to how calm we stayed. We got two points.”
The Tigers, in their Amsoil Arena debut, scored with 23.9 seconds left in the second period on an Alexander Krushelnyski rush at the crease. Defenseman Mike Boivin and scoring leader Rylan Schwartz connected for goals 72 seconds apart midway through the third period to get the Tigers even. UMD goalie Kenny Reiter said he didn’t see the puck in either third-period score.
Colorado College defenseman Arthur Bidwell was called for interfering with Herbert 18 seconds into overtime, but the Tigers blocked a number of ensuing power-play shots and had a good short-handed chance when intercepting a Reiter clearing pass.
Then it came down to Oleksuk repositioning Brown for a faceoff, and the top-scoring team in Division I cashed in. For the game, UMD was 45-33 in winning faceoffs, including Oleksuk at 21-9. He earned his second assist of the game and 108 career points in 126 games, making UMD 1-1-5 in OT this season and 11-5-1 at home. Of Colorado College’s 13 losses, 11 have been by one or two goals.
“(The Tigers) are a good team that can get up-and-down the ice, and they came after us in the third period, and really got pucks to the net,” said Minnesota-Duluth coach Scott Sandelin. “Overall it was pretty even, but we played really well in the second period and good in overtime, and got a good character win.”