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College Hockey:
Late Mersch goal completes Wisconsin rally as Badgers tie Minnesota-Duluth

— Losing a two-goal lead and settling for a tie Saturday night wasn’t exactly what No. 14 Minnesota-Duluth wanted, but the Bulldogs were more upbeat than expected afterward.

UMD and Wisconsin finished 2-2 in overtime before 6,302 fans at Amsoil Arena in a second-straight closely-fought Western Collegiate Hockey Association men’s game.

“We’re happy with the way we played, the way we competed, and our physical play,” said UMD sophomore defenseman Derik Johnson. “We moved the puck extremely well. It was one of our best games so far. We weren’t happy with giving up a lead, but we made progress, and that’s the important thing.”

After losing 2-0 Friday, the Bulldogs were in the midst of only a third losing streak in 97 games the past two years, and they had scored just one goal in 145 minutes and 59 seconds over three games. Coach Scott Sandelin tinkered with all four lines and his team responded, while freshman goalie Matt McNeely started again. Sophomore Joel Rumpel was superb in a second straight start for Wisconsin, making 35 saves.

The first period was better than any period Friday for the Bulldogs in outshooting Wisconsin 12-4. An Andy Welinski shot from the right point caromed off a Wisconsin skate at the crease and to UMD freshman center Tony Cameranesi. He fired from the lower left circle with 2:00 left in the period for his second goal of the season. The Bulldogs led 1-0 at the break.

“We played with a purpose and everyone was going; compared to Friday, the difference was night and day,” said Sandelin.

There was no letup in the second period, as UMD led 2-0 and outshot Wisconsin 14-6. Senior Keegan Flaherty of Duluth rushed up right wing and had an open shot, knocking the puck to the far side with 5:00 left in the period. It was his first point of the season.

The Badgers, who started the season with consecutive losses versus Northern Michigan, primarily due to poor third periods, rallied. Mark Zengerle scored from in close 96 seconds into the period, and Michael Mersch’s drive from the slot with 5:13 left in regulation looked to go off a teammate’s stick and past McNeely.

“We played as well as we have for two periods, we had more fire, and our third period wasn’t bad,” said Flaherty. “We’re not ever satisfied when we don’t win, but we played well against a good team.”

UMD (2-3-1 and 0-1-1 in the WCHA) had the only shot of overtime. Wisconsin (1-2-1 and 1-0-1) was 0-of-4 on power plays (including the last 1:46 of regulation) and UMD 0-of-5. The Bulldogs led in total shots on goal, 37-21

“UMD was fiercely competitive, and Rumpel gave us a chance to get our feet underneath us,” said Wisconsin coach Mike Eaves. “We didn’t have a good third period either night against Northern Michigan, and this was our best so far.”

The Bulldogs, 5-3-2 the last 10 games in the series, may have been seeing the Badgers a final time for the foreseeable future. The teams do not meet again during the regular season and don’t play in 2013-14, when they head to separate leagues. UMD will be part of the National Collegiate Hockey Conference and Wisconsin the Big Ten’s new hockey conference.

The schools have met 165 times, with Wisconsin leading 89-61-15. Eaves said there’re no immediate plans to schedule UMD, but noted that he hopes the rivalry will resume.

After the first period, UMD’s 1992-93 team was saluted. The Bulldogs won their third, and most recent, MacNaughton Cup that season, emblematic of the WCHA regular-season title. Assistant coach Derek Plante was captain and scoring leader that season as a Hobey Baker Memorial Award finalist.

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