DULUTH – It’s safe to say the series in Madison is in the rear view mirror for the 8th-ranked Bulldogs.
All they needed was to re-establish their recent dominance of another old WCHA rival to get back on track.
An early Quinn Olson goal provided all the offense necessary in another tightly contested game as Minnesota Duluth shut out Minnesota 2-0 on Saturday night at AMSOIL Arena to sweep their non-conference series. UMD is 10-1-1 in their last 12 games against Minnesota dating back to November 2014.
The latest Bulldogs victory in this rivalry was thanks to their trusty formula of stingy defense and stellar goaltending, two things that failed them last week when they were outscored 9-3 while getting swept by the Wisconsin Badgers. The 20th-ranked Gophers did not have many scoring chances all night long, and on most of the chances they did have, it was UMD goaltender Hunter Shepard who made sure they stayed off the scoreboard.
“You’ve gotta give Minnesota credit,” Bulldogs head coach Scott Sandelin said. “Our goalie was pretty good.”
Gophers head coach Bob Motzko agreed with Sandelin.
“That was a much better effort by us tonight,” he said. “That’s a very grizzled hockey team, and that was Shepard’s 92nd [career] game tonight, and he was the difference in the game. We just needed the puck to go through, and we just couldn’t get one to go through.”
Minnesota came out aggressively, and they got a power play just 43 seconds into the contest on a Justin Richards trip. Shepard made sure the Gophers wouldn’t cash in, and after he denied their first four shots of the game, Olson made UMD’s first shot count, tipping one past Minnesota netminder Jared Moe for his first collegiate goal.
Gophers sophomore forward Sampo Ranta, who scored the first goal of his career in his first visit to AMSOIL Arena last season, had two big chances to tie the game in the second period, including one on the doorstep where he somehow missed a wide-open net. Instead, the puck was shot out of play behind Shepard, much to the frustration of Ranta.
“We had some point-blank chances,” Motzko said. “You miss one, and you start gripping the stick a little bit. I always say as long as you’re getting chances, you’re doing the right things.”
Minnesota didn’t seriously threaten again until the middle of the third period, where they finally sustained a forecheck and kept Shepard busy and the defense off-balance. But once again, they couldn’t finish, and they went the final six-and-a-half minutes without a shot on goal. Jackson Cates finished it off with his second goal of the weekend, an empty-netter with 38 seconds left.
“We were playing with fire for a while, and Shep bailed us out,” Sandelin said. “That’s where you need your goaltender to maybe win a game for you. Tonight I felt like he did that.”
While that ornery Bulldogs team got back to playing their game and stifled Minnesota all weekend long, a young Gophers squad (3-3) will take the experience they gained from this series and head into Big Ten play. They shift their attention to the Notre Dame Fighting Irish, who visit Minneapolis next week. They play a similar physical style to Duluth, and Motzko believes his team will come prepared to play after a hard-fought series with the two-time defending national champions.
“This weekend made us better, I’m gonna tell you that,” Motzko said. “We learned a lot, and the truth will be how we respond at home next Friday night.”
The Bulldogs (3-3) will enjoy a bye next week before beginning NCHC play by hosting the top-ranked Denver Pioneers on November 8-9.
Shepard stopped 21 shots to earn his first shutout of the season and the 17th of his career. Moe also had 21 saves as he suffered his first collegiate loss.
UMD goal at 6:04: Quinn Olson (1st collegiate goal). Assisted by Brandon Puricelli (1st collegiate assist) and Jesse Jacques (1).
UMD empty-net goal at 19:22: Jackson Cates (3). Assisted by Kobe Roth (3).
Power plays: MINN 0-2, UMD 0-4.
Shots on goal: MINN 21, UMD 23.