MINNEAPOLIS – It turned out Minnesota Golden Gophers head coach Bob Motzko was right about Minnesota Duluth being an ornery team coming into their non-conference series this weekend.
At the very least, that was the case on Friday night.
A goal, two assists and an all-around outstanding game from defenseman Scott Perunovich helped lift the 8th-ranked Bulldogs to a 5-2 victory over the 20th-ranked Gophers at 3M Arena at Mariucci.
Considering UMD was coming off two frustrating losses to the Wisconsin Badgers, head coach Scott Sandelin liked what he saw from his team.
“I thought we scored some big goals, some timely goals. Tonight we had guys step up,” Sandelin said.
As for his talented junior defenseman, not only did Perunovich contribute with three points on the scoresheet, but he was all over Minnesota defensively, and Motzko took notice.
”The game caught traction a couple times, and every time we did, I would see Perunovich. He was the difference in the game,” Motzko said. “It’s hard [to shut him down]. He’s one of the best players in college hockey.”
The Bulldogs were determined to come out strong after getting swept in Madison a week ago, and an aggressive approach on offense and defense paid off in the first 20 minutes. Kobe Roth scored the game’s first goal via a beautiful tip-in out front as Perunovich fed him from the blue line, and on the other end, UMD had an answer for everything Minnesota tried to do. They got down low, clogged passing lanes and limited the Gophers’ scoring chances.
”Nice to play with the lead and get the first goal,” Sandelin said.
The Gophers showed some life in the first five minutes of the second period with more offensive zone time, but the Bulldogs promptly snatched back control of the game as Brandon Puricelli gave them a 2-0 lead, beating Gophers goaltender Jack Lafontaine to his right by tipping in a Nick Wolff shot from the high slot. With Minnesota reeling after the goal, UMD continued their physical domination, and after the teams traded penalties, Jackson Cates increased the lead to three with a power-play goal.
”We knew that they were gonna come hard right away. We knew that we were gonna have to weather the storm for the first few minutes, and I think we did a great job doing that,” Perunovich said.
Needing some kind of answer to make it a game again, Ben Meyers responded to the call by scoring the first goal of his career with 10.6 seconds left in the second period, putting Minnesota on the board and cutting the Bulldogs’ lead back to two.
The Gophers made it a one-goal game when Sammy Walker, who’s off to a terrific start this season, scored on a great centering feed from Meyers. But UMD had a perfect response just 1:09 later on a Koby Bender goal, and Perunovich capped a brilliant performance with a power-play goal with under five minutes left to put the game away. You can’t ask for much more than that after a game tightens up in the final period.
”There wasn’t any panic,” Sandelin said. “That was a big response.”
UMD is a very well-coached team with a lot of their roster having experienced up to three Frozen Four trips, three national championship game appearances and two titles. It just about always comes down to making plays at the right time, and that’s just what the Bulldogs did. A young team like the Gophers could definitely benefit from a game like this.
“It was a grow up game for our team. I think it’s a game that is gonna make us better,” Motzko said. “We’re gonna be better tomorrow. We’re gonna be more prepared to play a game tomorrow.”
”They’re a great team. They’re a veteran team,” Walker added. “They’re great defensively, and they’re gonna shut things down. We didn’t capitalize [on our chances], and they did.”
Lafontaine took the loss for Minnesota, making 19 saves before getting relieved by Justen Close after the Perunovich goal. Close had one save. Hunter Shepard earned the victory for Minnesota Duluth with 18 saves.
The longtime in-state rivals complete their nonconference series at 7:00 CT on Saturday night in Duluth. The Gophers and Bulldogs opened their seasons last year with a 1-1 tie at AMSOIL Arena.
UMD goal at 7:31: Kobe Roth (1). Assisted by Scott Perunovich (3) and Jackson Cates (2).
UMD goal at 7:24: Brandon Puricelli (1st collegiate goal). Assisted by Nick Wolff (2) and Quinn Olson (2).
UMD power-play goal at 14:53: Jackson Cates (2). Assisted by Perunovich (4) and Noah Cates (2).
MINN goal at 19:49: Ben Meyers (1st collegiate goal). Assisted by Sammy Walker (3) and Jackson LaCombe (3).
MINN goal at 8:36: Walker (4). Assisted by Meyers (3) and Blake McLaughlin (3).
UMD goal at 9:45: Koby Bender (1). Assisted by Jade Miller (1) and Luke Loheit (1).
UMD power-play goal at 15:11: Perunovich (2). Assisted by Nick Swaney (4) and Dylan Samberg (4).
Power plays: UMD 2-3, MINN 0-2.
Shots on goal: UMD 25, MINN 20.