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UMD men's hockey: Bender hat trick gives Bulldogs a 5-2 victory at St. Cloud State

Minnesota Duluth takes a 1-0 lead over the Huskies in the best-of-three NCHC quarterfinal series in St. Cloud. Game 2 is at 6 p.m. Saturday at Herb Brooks National Hockey Center.

Minnesota Duluth faces St. Cloud State in final conference series of the season
Minnesota Duluth forward Koby Bender (11) takes the puck up against St. Cloud State defenseman Jack Peart (23) on Friday, March 4, 2022, at Amsoil Arena in Duluth.
Clint Austin / File / Duluth News Tribune

ST. CLOUD, Minn. — For the second consecutive night, Bulldogs fans were forced to part with their headwear in East Central Minnesota.

Fifth-year senior wing Koby Bender registered a natural hat trick in the second period Friday to lead fifth-seeded Minnesota Duluth to a 5-2 victory over fourth-seeded St. Cloud State in Game 1 of a best-of-three NCHC quarterfinal series at Herb Brooks National Hockey Center in St. Cloud.

Just 24 hours earlier in Minneapolis, UMD senior center Gabbie Hughes picked up her first collegiate hat trick in a 4-0 win for the Bulldogs over Harvard in the first round of the NCAA women’s hockey tournament.

While Hughes’ 'hatty' took place over two periods, Bender’s first college hat trick came in a span of about seven and a half minutes in the second period.

Bender scored his first two goals 30 seconds apart to give UMD a 3-2 lead midway through the second. His third goal came at the 16:44 mark of the period and sophomore wing Blake Biondi followed with a goal 34 seconds later to give UMD a 5-2 lead heading into the third period.

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"It was pretty nice to have that feeling of getting a hat trick," Bender said. "Our whole our whole team was buzzing tonight and it was a great team win."

A Cloquet native, Bender finished with four points on Friday while his new linemate, senior captain and wing Noah Cates, finished with a goal and two assists as they moved the Bulldogs to within a victory of their sixth consecutive appearance in the NCHC semifinals, which once again are back at Xcel Energy Center next weekend in St. Paul as part of the Frozen Faceoff.

UMD and SCSU play Game 2 at 6 p.m. Saturday in St. Cloud. A Huskies win would force a Game 3 at 6 p.m. Sunday back at the National Hockey Center.

"We kind of flushed the regular season. We had some had some good and had some bad. We took the good and we're just having fun again," said Cates, who had the primary assist on Bender's second and third goals, and was set up for a score by Bender. "Playing with him was was fun, but the team just had a different mindset and got back to what made us successful."

The Bulldogs took an initial 1-0 lead 14-plus minutes into the game after a shot from the left faceoff circle by Bender bounced right to Cates, who was set up on the opposite side of the rink. Cates easily found the open net for his ninth goal of the year.

The Huskies tied the game in the final minute of the first period, however, when senior wing Micah Miller out of Grand Rapids tossed a puck toward the net that deflected in off fifth-year center Kevin Fitzgerald.

A cross-checking minor on sophomore Dominic James at the buzzer for the first intermission gave the Huskies a power play to start the second, and they converted 96 seconds in via a goal by senior center Nolan Walker to pull ahead 2-1.

The Bulldogs responded with four unanswered goals in the second, however, in what coach Scott Sandelin said was a resilient period for his team, as they also had a second power play goal overturned by video review because of a hand pass.

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"Our guys stayed calm on the bench," Sandelin said of the second. "(SCSU) got the goal and it was, 'Alright, let's go play,' and we found a way to tie it and go ahead and extend the lead. I think that's that's the critical thing (extending the lead) that maybe we haven't been able to do much of."

SCSU backup goaltender Jaxson Castor, a junior, got the start Friday in Game 1 after fifth-year senior starter David Hrenak and senior defenseman and captain Spencer Meier were ruled out with a reported flu-like illness, but not COVID-19.

Meier has appeared in 33 of 34 games for the Huskies this season on the blue line, while Hrenak has started 31 of 34 games this season in goal for SCSU.

Hrenak was in net for all four regular season meetings against the Bulldogs — a shootout win, shootout loss, OT loss and regulation win — posting a .948 save percentage stopping 110 of the 116 shots he faced against UMD.

Friday was Castor’s first start since a 5-2 Huskies home win on Jan. 1 against Bemidji State, though he did play 50 minutes in relief of Hrenak in a 5-1 loss at Omaha on Feb. 19. He finished with 33 saves on 38 shots.

"The second period was really good, there were some really nice plays," Sandelin said. "I thought Koby and Noah made some great plays. It was nice to get a power play goal. Everybody contributed. It was a really good team effort."

Minnesota Duluth 1-4-0—5

St. Cloud State 1-1-0—2

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First period

1. UMD, Noah Cates (Koby Bender, Owen Gallatin), 14:07

2. SCSU, Kevin Fitzgerald (Micah Miller, Jack Peart), 19:22

Second period

3. SCSU, Nolan Walker (Nick Perbix, Easton Brodzinski), 1:36 (pp)

4. UMD, Bender (Darian Gotz, Gallatin), 9:09

5. UMD, Bender (Cates, Wyatt Kaiser), 9:39 (pp)

6. UMD, Bender (Cates), 16:44

7. UMD, Blake Biondi (Dominic James, Quinn Olson), 17:18

Third period

No scoring

Saves — Ryan Fanti, UMD, 21; Jaxson Castor, SCSU, 33.

Power plays — UMD 1-3; SCSU 1-3. Penalties — UMD 4-8; SCSU 4-11.

Co-host of the Bulldog Insider Podcast and college hockey reporter for the Duluth News Tribune and The Rink Live covering the Minnesota Duluth men's and women's hockey programs.
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