Over 20 years
Minnesota-Duluth hadn’t swept North Dakota since 1995. To put that in perspective, the Ralph Engelstad Arena hadn’t been built at that point. It was even longer since the Bulldogs had performed that feat at home, 1992 to be exact. Most of the current Bulldogs players hadn’t even been born when that last happened. In fact, only two Minnesota-Duluth players, Sammy Spurrell and Brenden Kotyk, had been born the last time the Bulldogs swept North Dakota in Duluth.
Special teams were very important in both games. The Bulldogs opened the scoring Friday with a power-play goal at 5:46 of the first by Alex Iafallo, and got another power-play goal from Neal Pionk at 8:32 of the third to make it 4-2 after North Dakota had come back from a 3- deficit in the second to make it 3-2 on goals from Rhett Gardner and Shane Gerisch in the last minutes of the second.
North Dakota will rue its missed opportunities even more from Saturday. The Fighting Hawks had nearly a minute of five-on-three power play in the first period on which they were held scoreless. The power play then proved even more ineffective in the second period, as North Dakota gave up two short-handed goals sandwiched around a Duluth power-play goal. Kyle Osterberg assisted on the first short-handed goal by Karson Kuhlman, and then scored the second one at 19:02, on which Kuhlman returned the favor with an assist. Freshman Hunter Miska made 30 saves to earn his second collegiate shutout.
Getting swept on the road is a rare happening for North Dakota. It’s only happened twice in the last five years, once last year against Denver in February and once in Nov. 2011 against Minnesota.
Special teams key for Denver
Heading into a tough weekend series against Western Michigan at home to open conference play, Denver coach Jim Montgomery stressed the importance of special teams, as the Broncos had one of the country’s best power plays, which was clicking at almost 30 percent, and a penalty kill that was clicking at 87 percent. Denver won the special teams both nights to earn a tough weekend sweep, beating Western Michigan 3-1 on Friday and 4-2 on Saturday. On Friday, Western Michigan got a power-play goal, but Denver killed off four other chances the Broncos had and rode a 25-save effort from Tanner Jaillet to get the win. Saturday, Denver got a five-on-three goal from freshman phenom Henrik Borgström to open the scoring. After Western got a five-on-three power-play goal of its own from Mattheson Iacopelli to take a 2-1 lead at 9:49 of the second, Denver’s Jarid Lukosvicius got a power-play goal to tie it up, and then Dylan Gambrell struck for a power-play goal at 2:29 of the third, which proved the game-winner.
Gambrell’s return was a bonus for Denver. He had been out for the last two weekends with an upper body injury, and wasn’t expected back until Thanksgiving. He had a goal and an assist Saturday, and also got a goal on Friday. Borgström meanwhile, had a goal and two assists and leads the Pioneers in scoring with nine points, a 1.12 points-per-game average.
Denver has won its last six games. Coincidentally, the Pioneers have also scored first in each of those games. In Denver’s two losses on opening weekend in the Ice Breaker, they gave up the first goal to Ohio State and Boston College, respectively.
Omaha earns a split
Unranked Omaha split with No. 5 Massachusetts-Lowell. After opening the series in Omaha with an impressive 5-1 win, the Mavericks couldn’t get the sweep, as Lowell got a third-period goal from John Edwardh at 15:42 to break a 2-2 tie. Joe Gambardella added an empty-netter at 19:53 of the third to seal the win. The Mavericks’ power play was lethal on the weekend, registering three goals on Friday and two on Saturday. Omaha also got a short-handed goal from Tyler Vesel Friday. Vesel had also scored a power-play goal at the one-minute mark of the second in what was Omaha’s first win of the season at home, where the Mavericks only have a 1-2-1 record. Austin Ortega, who is expected to be a key contributor to Omaha’s success, got a goal and an assist Friday, and also got an assist Saturday. He and Vesel lead the team in scoring with seven points. For the first time this season, Omaha coach Dean Blais also started sophomore Evan Weninger in both games. Of the four goals Weninger gave up on the weekend, one was a penalty shot (Lowell’s second goal Saturday), and another was a power-play goal.