DULUTH, Minn. — The final home game as a Western Collegiate Hockey Association member marked the end of an era for Minnesota-Duluth Saturday night.
The Bulldogs joined the most successful league in Division I in 1965-66, and have since played 1,392 games in the conference.
Duluth went out in style with a 6-0 victory over No. 16 Nebraska-Omaha before a crowd of 6,144 on Senior Night at Amsoil Arena to complete a weekend sweep.
It was a fourth straight win for the Bulldogs (14-17-5, 10-13-5 WCHA), a season best. The Bulldogs are 4-0-1 in their last five.
Omaha (18-16-2, 14-12-2) lost a fourth straight game.
“The big thing we’ve stressed is concentrating on effort,” said Duluth captain Cody Danberg. “We came out with a good first period, and everything stemmed from there. It was pretty special night all around.”
Duluth tied a school record with five power-play goals, scoring on its first four chances, and scored two goals per period. Junior winger Joe Basaraba led the way with a pair of goals, and junior goalie Aaron Crandall recorded a second straight shutout (fourth of his career) with 32 saves.
The Bulldogs faced relative newcomer Omaha in the regular-season finale. The Mavericks, with former North Dakota coach Dean Blais at the helm, moved from the Central Collegiate Hockey Association to the WCHA three years ago.
After a 5-4 loss Friday, Blais said he chewed out his team Saturday morning, especially about undisciplined penalties. The Mavericks, 2-7 the last nine games, were called for two checking-from-behind majors Saturday. The loss left them seventh in the league, one spot from home ice in next week’s first round of the league playoffs. Minnesota-Duluth finishes ninth.
“Maybe I was too hard on them, because in the first period, we were fragile and turned the puck over,” said Blais, a former North Dakota coach. “We knew that home ice was still on the line for us, and we played up tight.”
UMD’s resurgent power play, 14-of-32 the past six games, sparked a 2-0 first period lead. Freshman Austin Farley tapped in a Mike Seidel pass at the right edge of the crease at 9:56, and freshman Cal Decowski followed 6:15 later as his pass from the right circle found the inside of the far pipe and the puck trickled behind goalie Ryan Massa. Over the past six games, Farley has 13 points with six goals and seven assists.
Basaraba had a nice backhand shot 7:53 into the second period and freshman Andy Welinski scored with 47.2 seconds left on a powerful drive. Massa was replaced by senior John Faulkner for the second straight night to start the third period.
“Omaha is a great team, and we knew we had to match their intensity and push forward,” said Seidel, who leads Duluth with 17 goals. “We were moving well, we were moving quickly, and the chemistry on the power play was there.”
In the third, Basaraba got his second, on a tip, for his 20th career goal, and Seidel added an open-net rebound with 5:41 left at even strength. Omaha led in shots, 32-27.
The 11 goals matched a season-high for a series while finishing a fourth sweep. It was Duluth’s most lopsided victory since a 6-0 decision over Alaska-Anchorage on Oct. 23, 2010.
“This was a good game from start to finish,” said UMD coach Scott Sandelin. “We had a lot of passion, and played smart and aggressive.”
The Bulldogs will be on the road to open the best-of-three playoffs, which will take them most likely to Wisconsin or Minnesota State. They haven’t played at either this season. However, the league’s final standings won’t be determined until Sunday afternoon, following an 11 a.m. (MST) game between Denver and Alaska Anchorage in Denver.