DULUTH, Minn. — The USA Hockey Under-18 team had already made its point against Division I opponents —- tying No. 1 Minnesota and No. 7 Notre Dame, and beating Michigan, Michigan State, and Merrimack.
Minnesota-Duluth didn’t want to be listed among the victims of the talented high-school-age team from Ann Arbor, Mich.
The Bulldogs scored early and never trailed in a 3-1, non-counting men’s exhibition victory before 5,920 fans Saturday afternoon at Amsoil Arena. Yet it took a disallowed U-18 goal at the end of the first period and a five-on-three UMD power-play goal midway through the final period to secure the win.
“We wanted to win, whether it was an exhibition or not; at this time of the year, you can’t afford to lose any games,” said UMD winger Justin Crandall, who had a goal and an assist. “Give them credit, that’s a good team and they had their chances. I thought we played a pretty solid game all around.”
The Bulldogs (10-11-3) were coming off a 5-1 loss at Colorado College while looking ahead to the most challenging part of their schedule, playing four ranked opponents in the season’s final six weeks.
Three goalies each played a period, with former U-18 player Matt McNeely stopping all 15 shots in the first 20 minutes. UMD led 34-25 in shots on goal, going 26-10 the last two periods, and held its composure just enough in what became a chippy encounter.
The U-18s (22-13-4) were called for 13 penalties for 56 minutes, and had two players ejected for a hit from behind and contact to the head. They are 9-6-4 against college competition this season, and 6-5-2 in D-I.
“That was as a chaotic game as we’ve been in all year,” said U-18 first-year coach Don Granato, a former University of Wisconsin forward. “But what you can do is learn from the experience and the environment, and the challenges we faced. You have to learn to manage the chaos, but for a time our focus shifted from our objectives.”
UMD scoring leader Mike Seidel provided a 1-0 lead 6:24 into the game as he zipped straight down the slot to beat Boston College recruit Thatcher Demko of San Diego, Calif. Western Michigan recruit Mike McCarron, a right winger, tied it 89 seconds into the second period on a power play. Crandall responded less than three minutes later, converting his own rebound at the right edge of the crease.
The game turned when UMD freshman Tony Cameranesi tried to regain possession of a puck during a breakaway and ran out of room, driving into Demko, Then all heck broke loose. Seven penalties were assessed, including two to Cameranesi, who said the hit to the goalie was not intended.
“That caused more drama than I wanted,” he said.
McCarron was lost to a hit from behind on UMD’s Tim Smith late in the second period. In the third period, the Bulldogs had two five-on-three power plays, and Caleb Herbert scored from the slot with 9:13 to play.
The Bulldogs subdued a team which had blanked Michigan State 3-0 Tuesday in East Lansing, Mich.
“This was important for us; it was a good, competitive game against a good team,” said UMD coach Scott Sandelin.
McNeely, a freshman from Burnsville, Minn., knew the significance more than others. He was in goal two years ago for the U-18s when the Bulldogs won, 4-1, at Amsoil Arena during their NCAA title season.
“We treated this like any other game, not an exhibition, and we knew it would be tough,” said McNeely. “We came out ready to play and took care of business.”
The U-18s play Wisconsin-Superior at 5 p.m. tomorrow at Wessman Arena before busing home.
UMD is home this Friday and Saturday against No. 10 Denver.