DULUTH, Minn. — Scoring four goals, playing a decent third period and being proficient on power plays all led to Minnesota-Duluth breaking its longest winless streak in more than a decade Friday night at Amsoil Arena.
The Bulldogs defeated independent Alabama-Huntsville 4-2 to open a nonconference series before a crowd of 5,792, the smallest of the season.
It didn’t matter that UMD was expected to win or that Huntsville hadn’t played a game in three weeks. After going 0-7-2 and winless in February, the home team was seeking something good to happen. The Bulldogs hadn’t won since Jan. 18 at Colorado College in a 3-2 victory.
“We’ve been getting better and better, especially the last two weeks [at Bemidji State and Minnesota] and it was important to get a win, get that momentum and take that with us,” said UMD freshman center Cal Decowski, who had two assists, and has four the last four games. “We’re continually getting better and it was nice to be rewarded.”
The Bulldogs (11-17-5) broke a streak that was just short of a 0-9-1 stretch from Nov. 2 to Dec. 1 in 2001. They scored their most goals in 12 games, had their most shots on goal (43) at home this season and had a third-period goal after being outscored 16-2 in the final period the previous nine games.
Huntsville (3-20-1) has 10 straight losses against Division I opponents and is 0-8-1 against the WCHA. Yet despite not playing since Feb. 9, skating in just three counting games the past two months and being outshot 43-27, the Chargers put up a fight. Junior winger Lasse Uusivirta scored 8:16 into the game for a 1-0 lead.
“We come out and work hard, play honest and compete the best we can – that’s the kind of team this is,” said Huntsville first-year coach Kurt Kleinendorst, a Grand Rapids native who has coached in the National Hockey League and American Hockey League. “We played Nebraska-Omaha tough, played Wisconsin tough, played Minnesota State tough. But it’s usually the case that just can’t find a way to win.”
Huntsville, formerly a member of College Hockey America, is finishing its 2012-13 season in Duluth and then will be part of the reconfigured 10-team WCHA in 2013-14.
The Bulldogs got untracked after falling behind, helped by two straight power plays, including 50 seconds of a five-on-three advantage in the opening period. UMD finally broke through with 12 seconds left in the period as Joe Basaraba drove a shot from the slot. Huntsville goalie John Griggs knocked the puck aside, but freshman center Tony Cameranesi was there to sweep in the rebound.
Goals early and late in the second period put UMD up 3-1. Defenseman Chris Casto launched an attempt from the right circle that beat Riggs high to the near side at 2:25 and senior winger Cody Danberg converted a Keegan Flaherty rebound with 3:27 left.
“The last three or four games, we had done some good things and hadn’t won,” said UMD coach Scott Sandelin. “(Friday) we kept at it and I don’t care who it is you’re playing, it’s important to get that winning feeling. We know we can play a lot better, but give Huntsville credit.”
Justin Crandall, on a power play 3:52 into the final period, gave UMD its final margin following a Doug Reid goal for Huntsville at 83 seconds.
Matt McNeely had 25 saves for the Bulldogs.
Not everything went well for UMD, however. Senior winger Flaherty took an open-ice hit to a leg and had to be helped off the ice with six minutes to play. Sandelin said he didn’t expect Flaherty to play in Saturday’s rematch.
“I don’t think Huntsville gets the credit they deserve because of their record, but they’re tough to play against, they hung around and they made us work,” said Crandall. “We know there are no easy games.”