DULUTH, Minn. — After losing their top three scorers from last season, who combined for 65 goals and 160 points, Minnesota-Duluth’s players knew goals would be at a premium in 2012-13.
Instead, goaltending, defense, and special teams are in the spotlight. Those elements led UMD to a 1-0 victory over Michigan Tech as Western Collegiate Hockey Association men’s play resumed Friday night before a crowd of 6,123 at Amsoil Arena.
Freshman Matt McNeely earned his first collegiate shutout with 28 saves, UMD defenders blocked 20 shots, and the penalty killers snuffed three power plays.
“We know we’re going to be part of a lot of close games. That’s our game-plan this year. We’re a hard-nosed team that needs to win close games,” said junior winger Joe Basaraba, who scored late in the first period. “But if we win 5-0 or 1-0, it doesn’t matter.”
The Bulldogs (8-10-3 and 6-6-3 in WCHA) have been in 12 games decided by one or two goals, going 5-7. They are 2-0-1 against Michigan Tech this season, and 9-1-2 the last 12 games in the series.
The outcome broke a UMD two-game losing streak (including a 1-0 loss to Maine in Estero, Fla.), while Michigan Tech (6-11-3 and 3-9-3) had a two-game win streak broken, following consecutive shutouts to win the Great Lakes Invitational.
McNeely outdueled Great Lakes Invitational MVP Pheonix Copley, also a freshman, who made 41 saves, as UMD outshot Michigan Tech 42-28.
“Our offensive creativity was not there, we just seemed out of synch,” said Michigan Tech coach Mel Pearson. “Really, it was one of the poorest games I’ve seen from us in a long time. Give credit to UMD, because they played well and their goalie played well.”
A nice passing play on a split shift put UMD up 1-0 with 2:13 left in the first period. Basaraba came onto the ice, replacing Keegan Flaherty on right wing, and center Max Tardy heard Basaraba yelling for the puck as they crossed into the offensive zone. Tardy made a backhand pass and Basaraba was in alone down the slot and punched the puck through Copley’s legs, just inside the right pipe. That came with 2:13 left in the opening period, giving Basaraba six goals this season and 30 career points, while Tardy earned an assist for his first point of the season.
That goal broke Copley’s shutout streak at 143:32 spanning four games.
“We did the things we have to do to win,” said Tardy, a junior from Duluth. “We battled the whole game and McNeely played unbelievably.”
A scoreless second period had Minnesota-Duluth outshooting Michigan Tech, 22-10, and the Huskies started the third period with 1:37 remaining on a power play. That developed into a five-on-three shift for 22 seconds on a Basaraba penalty, but the Bulldogs survived.
There was some puck luck. Michigan Tech winger David Johnstone hit a pipe one minute into the third period and his brother, Jacob, hit the inside of the left pipe with 9:25 to play.
“We made almost no mistakes in our zone, and that makes my job much easier,” said McNeely, who has made five straight starts. “There were a couple of lucky bounces and I said ‘Thank you’ to the pipes.”
The game referees needed a review of Jacob Johnstone’s shot to confirm the puck didn’t cross the goal line. Copley was pulled for an extra attacker with 63 seconds remaining, and UMD didn’t allow the Huskies a decent chance. That put the Bulldogs 4-4-1 at home this season, 6-3-1 on Fridays, 5-3-1 the last nine games overall and still tied for seventh place in the league. Michigan Tech is 11th.
It was Minnesota-Duluth’s first shutout of the season and the first time Michigan Tech had been held scoreless.
“It was a grind-it-out game,” said Minnesota-Duluth coach Scott Sandelin, who reworked his lineup while three players sat out one-game suspensions. “We blocked a lot of shots, out penalty killers did a good job, we got a nice goal and our goalie got a shutout, which made me happy for him.”