The University of Minnesota Duluth Bulldogs earned the series split against NCHC foe, the Western Michigan Broncos, after coming out with three goals in the first period on Saturday night at Amsoil Arena in Duluth, Minnesota.
"It was a good, hard-fought win," said UMD coach Scott Sandelin. "We haven't played well in the last two games; we've got away from doing the things we need to do and I think we learned if we do the things we need too, things happen."
The Bulldogs put the first tally on scoreboard just 12 seconds into the game with a goal by freshman Kyle Osterberg. Osterberg dumped the puck in after Tony Cameranesi (Toronto Maple Leafs) created a Bronco turnover, and chased the puck down before meeting the goal line, and fired a shot on net while streaking down the right of Western Michigan's Frank Slubowski, which found it's way in.
Minnesota Duluth's Cal Decowski would find the back of the net much later in the period, with thanks to a nice pass from Derik Johnson. Johnson threw the puck down the boards which met the tape of Decowski's stick as he crossed the blue line. A quick wrister from the middle of the right circle beat Slubowski and gave the Bulldogs the 2-0 lead.
After Decowski's goal, Western Michigan coach Andy Murray retired Slubowski for the night after making 5 saves, replacing him with Lukas Hafner who had helped the Broncos to a victory during Friday's game.
Unfortunately for Hafner, Justin Crandall would bury a third goal during a UMD man-advantage for the Bulldogs with 28 seconds remaining in the period. Anaheim Ducks prospect Andy Welinski started the play with the puck up top, before hitting Osterberg with as pass as he maneuvered towards Welinski and around the circle. Osterberg hit Crandall with a sharp pass, who put a quick shot out front, banking the puck in off of Bronco defenseman Kenney Morrison's skate for the 3-0 lead.
But the Broncos would respond.
Western Michigan's Josh Pitt scored two goals, one late in the 2nd period, followed by another early in the third, cutting Minnesota Duluth's lead 3-2.
The defensemen duo of Jordan Oesterle and Dennis Brown played key roles in both of Pitt's goals. Oesterle was rewarded with two assists, while Brown was issued one, but both players finished the night skating at a +3 rating despite losing the game.
An unassisted goal from Justin Kovacs would tie the game, 3-3, fueling what was bound to be an exciting ending.
"They worked hard and got off to a pretty good start," said Bronco captain and Nashville Predators prospect Chase Balisy. "We had nothing to lose going into the second period, so we worked hard and tied the game."
During another power play opportunity, Alex Iafallo would tie the game to give the Bulldogs the one goal lead with 10 minutes and 24 seconds remaining in regulation.
The final minute of the game was intense, which is debatably an understatement.
After Western Michigan pulled Hafner, the Bulldogs took three penalties with under a minute to go, leading to a Bronco 6 on 3. UMD netminder Aaron Crandall was forced to play on his head, but stood strong as the Bulldogs fought until the finals seconds of the click ticked away, earning the series split.
"It was a battle tonight," said Murray. "We played with a lot of energy tonight and worked very hard.
Western Michigan's play has noticeably increased over the past few games, which sends good vibes through a locker room of men that will try and conquer the Great Lakes Invitational, which starts on December 27th. The Broncos will face the Big Ten's Michigan outside at Comerica Park for the first round of this year's tournament.
Minnesota Duluth on the other hand, will remain idle until they host the U.S. National Under-18 Team on January 3rd at Amsoil Arena in Duluth, Minnesota.
1st Period - UMD (00:12) Kyle Osterberg from Tony Cameranesi
1st Period - UMD (17:57) Cal Decowski from Derik Johnson and Dan Molenaar
1st Period - UMD (19:32) PP Justin Crandall from Kyle Osterberg and Andy Welinski
2nd Period - WMU (18:07) Josh Pitt from Dennis Brown and Jordan Oesterle
3rd Period - WMU (03:36) Josh Pitt from Jordan Oesterle
3rd Period - WMU (06:51) Justin Kovacs
3rd Period - UMD (09:36) PP Alex Iafallo from Cal Decowski and Andy Welinski
Aaron Crandall (UMD): 5-9-12 = 26 (3 GA) - W
Frank Slubowski (WMU): 5-0-0 = 5 (2 GA)
Lukas Hafner (WMU): 1-3-9 = 13 (2 GA) - L
Official Three Stars
1. Kyle Osterberg
2. Alex Iafallo
3. Josh Pitt
- Minnesota Duluth's Justin Crandall has scored the most power play goals in the NCHC conference with 6 notches, and sits at 5th in the country in that category.
- Western Michigan's defensive pair of Jordan Oesterle and Dennis Brown combined for 3 assists on the night while skating at a +3 rating each.
- Bulldog freshman defenseman Dan Molenaar tallied his first point of his career tonight, playing a hand in Cal Decowski's goal in the first period.
- Shane Berschbach tallied his 100th career point in Friday's game with an assist on Justin Kovac's game-tying goal. He joins 52 other Broncos who've reached the 100-point club.
- Minnesota Duluth added another win tally to their all-time record against Western Michigan, skating at 5-1-0 against the Broncos.
- Bulldog junior Derik Johnson blocked a season-high eight shots on Saturday, keeping Western Michigan shot count low.
- Western Michigan outshot Minnesota Duluth 29-22, but failed to convert on all five man-advantage attempts, going 0 for 9 on the weekend.
- UMD has not allowed a power play goal in its last three games, going 11-for-11 on the penalty kill and is now 34-0-4 when it's scored four or more goals, a run which dates back to October 2011.
Matt Christians covers Minnesota Duluth and the NCHC for SB Nation and College Hockey News. You can also give him a follow here -> Follow @matt_christians