Postgame: Huskies Edge Bulldogs In Defensive Battle In Duluth

Minnesota Duluth was unable to finish off a sweep of St. Cloud State on Saturday, falling 2-1 in front of a sellout crowd at Amsoil Arena.

The loss snaps a six-game NCHC winning streak for UMD and caps off a stretch of five games in nine games. UMD went 3-2 during that stretch and after once sitting in a tie for last in the league, is now part of a three-way tie for third with Western Michigan and North Dakota.

Below are my thumbs up and thumbs down from the Bulldogs loss, plus my three stars of the night.

Thumbs up to the Bulldogs defensive play this weekend

Back in October, a battered and bruised Bulldogs team got lit up by St. Cloud State in St. Cloud, losing 5-3 and 5-0. This weekend the Huskies could only muster three goals against the Bulldogs.

The Huskies came to Duluth this weekend with the nation’s best scoring offense, averaging 3.86 goals per game. In NCHC play, SCSU was averaging 4.17 goals per game.

Don’t get me wrong, UMD sophomore goaltender Hunter Shepard made a few big saves this weekend. But as he’ll tell you, he wasn’t under constant bombardment in this series. He faced 25 shots on Friday (24 saves) and 28 shots Saturday (26 saves).

“The guys have been playing really good in front of me for the most part,” Shepard said. “The way the D-core has been playing during this stretch here, it’s made it easy for me. I make 2-3 tough saves a game and that’s generally it for the most part.”

Offense has obviously been at the forefront for UMD lately. Since Christmas UMD is averaging 3.78 goals per game while going 6-2-1. Defensively, though, the Bulldogs have been really strong as well giving up an average of 1.89 goals per game.

Thumbs down to an energy push that came too late for UMD

You can’t blame the Bulldogs for showing some fatigue tonight playing their fifth game in nine days, and all five of those games were against top 10 competition. You’re very likely to see all three opponents from the last nine days in the NCAA tournament come March.

But 10 shots on goal through 50 minutes is just unacceptable, especially when UMD showed in the final five minutes it had plenty of push left in it to challenge the Huskies by doubling their shots on goal total.

It didn’t help tonight the Bulldogs had to kill off five SCSU power plays — including a lengthy 5-on-3 SCSU advantage in the first period — while getting just one PP of their own. That doesn’t help your energy levels from a physical or mental standpoint.

But when you see UMD make the charge that it did in the final minutes after it fell behind a goal, it leaves you wondering. That was the case for coach Scott Sandelin and junior assistant captain Parker Mackay.

“I wish we would have had a little bit more of that during the game,” Sandelin said of the final minutes. “But that happens. You’re pressing to get a goal and you find that, but I wish we would have found some of that earlier.”

“We needed to show that earlier in the game,” Mackay said. “It’s tough. You can’t wait to be down a goal to make a push like that. You need to do it earlier. Another learning process.”

Matt’s Three Stars of the Night

3. UMD freshman wing Nick Swaney: After getting two assists Friday, he adds a goal on Saturday. He’s bounced back strong from his latest injury.

2. SCSU sophomore wing Jake Wahlin: He scored the game-tying goal for the Huskies 10:00 into the first period, tipping a shot off the faceoff by junior defenseman Will Borgen.

1. SCSU junior wing Patrick Newell: He scored the game-winning goal with 5:10 to play in the game and eight seconds after the Huskies fifth power play of the night expired.