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Minnesota-Duluth is comfortable and confident playing at Mariucci Arena

The rare case of a visiting team which can win in Dinkytown and not be intimidated. The more Minnesota-Duluth gets comfortable on the road, the more the Bulldogs find out about themselves.

Austin Farley (11) and UMD goalie Kasamir Kaskisuo (33) celebrating the Bulldogs' 3-0 win Friday
Austin Farley (11) and UMD goalie Kasamir Kaskisuo (33) celebrating the Bulldogs' 3-0 win Friday
Matt Christians

MINNEAPOLIS- Minnesota-Duluth defenseman Dan Molenaar didn't hesitate Friday on or off the ice.

Asked whether or not he was comfortable coming into Mariucci Arena - a building where the home team was riding a 16 game unbeaten streak stretching nearly a year - the sophomore from Eden Prairie (15 miles southwest of Minneapolis) didn't need a second to mull things over. He didn't need a second word, either.

"Absolutely," he said

Molenaar's declaration with the confidence of a man who scored his first collegiate goal in front of friends and family was in line with what the Bulldogs (7-4-0, 4-2-0-0 NCHC) did Friday night to Minnesota in UMD's 3-0 win. There was no hesitation. Coming off a road series sweep against St. Cloud State, Scott Sandelin's team continued the trend both away from Duluth and against the Gophers.

Yet that confidence mixed with execution from someone not wearing a Gopher sweater is rare in a building where visitors routinely are searching for words to praise their opponent.

"We're not intimated by these guys," said Molenaar. "You have to respect them because they have an unbelievable amount of skill and they are a great team. But you can't come in intimidated and I think that was the key to our success. We weren't stunned playing in front of the big crowd."

Minnesota (7-2-0, 0-0-0-0 Big Ten) has won three of the six non-conference games the two teams have played (a fourth was won in a shootout though for official purposes it goes down as a tie) since both went their separate ways following the 2012-13 season. All have been entertaining. Meanwhile, the only two losses at Mariucci Arena - ones which have left Gopher head coach Don Lucia decrying his team's lack of discipline - for the home team during that time period came at the hands of the Bulldogs.

That's right. That 16 game unbeaten streak covers the time between UMD games, a 6-2 win last November.  No college team outside the University of Minnesota system has won a game at Mariucci since Denver did so on March 1, 2013 - a span of over 20 months.

Friday reached a point where a person stumbling across the game on television would be hard pressed to remember which team wearing maroon and gold uniforms was hosting the other. Minnesota entered Friday night out-scoring opponents 7-1 this season in the confines of home during the first period. Seven times in the opening eight games the Gophers have needed less than two minutes to score in a period.

Minnesota-Duluth, out-shooting the normally puck possession-happy Gophers 38-17, looked much at home on the Olympic-sized ice thanks to fast starts and not letting off the gas pedal.

It was a lesson Sandelin tried to make clear to this players all week leading up to the game.

"We harped on getting a good start like we did last weekend and we did that. Obviously we had a very good first period and again got a lead and made them pay," said the Minnesota-Duluth head coach, whose team had a 13-1 shot advantage in the first ten minutes thanks to a trio of Minnesota penalties. "It's what you need against this team - you can't let your guard down - and I thought they did a good job the whole night."

The same goes for staying out of the box. UMD entered the weekend shorthanded more than every team except Alaska-Anchorage. Friday the Bulldogs only were penalized two times while Austin Farley and Dominic Toninato (Toronto Maple Leafs) each lit the lamp on a penalty kill missing several key components.

Friday, however, was just as much about the Minnesota-Duluth players being just as comfortable with themselves as they are inside Mariucci of late.

Freshman goaltender Kasimir Kaskisuo had no experience playing in front of 10K hostile fans. He was one of those who let the Minnesota score in the opening two minutes this year. In fact Kaskisuo, who is second among freshmen in save percentage (.928%) so far, was the first when he gave up a goal to Sam Warning 30 seconds into both teams' season opener October 10th on the road (for both teams) in South Bend, Indiana.

This time around the Finnish frosh denied everyone, making 17 saves for his first collegiate shutout.

"I think now that he's played a few more games (Kasimir) has a lot more confidence, he's been challenging shooters," said Molenaar about the difference a month has made for his goaltender. "Everyone else is playing well in front of him too, which helps, but he's made some huge saves which have helped keep us in the game. He's confident right now and that's a huge part of goaltending."

A benefit of playing the Gophers at regular intervals has been a chance for UMD to test itself against a top-ranked team and see what has changed. Several times this year slow starts have hampered the Bulldogs. Several times discipline has been a problem. Neither was a problem Friday.

"You got to skate," said Sandelin. "When we skate and you can get above people and even if you're a little late and keep back pressured and keep moving your feet it helps. I thought we did a great job the whole night moving our feet."

When no one else can, the Bulldogs have made it look easy of late against its in-state brother school. Not just by winning at Mariucci for a second time in two years - something no one else has done once - but growing and doing things on the ice to Minnesota few have home or away over that same stretch. At its best Sandelin's team looks more like a mirror image with the play rather than uniforms.

And that is what makes Molenaar's confidence on the road Friday all that much genuine.

"Honestly it's all about effort. It took a few games to get the chemistry going and everything, but we're clicking now," he said while adding a caveat for Saturday's return trip to Duluth.

"We can't be satisfied."


Nathan Wells is a college hockey columnist for SB Nation. You can also follow him on Twitter --