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UMD men's hockey: Biondi, linemates put Bulldogs in position to sweep Omaha following 5-1 win Friday

Blake Biondi, the Hermantown native, along with linemates Quinn Olson and Dominic James, scored two first period goals to jump start the Bulldogs on Friday at Nebraska Omaha. The penalty kill took over from there to put UMD in position to sweep the series Saturday at Baxter Arena.

UMD Men's hockey faces Omaha at Baxter Arena
Minnesota Duluth forward Blake Biondi (7) celebrates after Minnesota Duluth forward Quinn Olson (15) scored on the power play against Omaha on Friday, Jan. 21, 2022, at Baxter Arena in Omaha, Nebraska.
Clint Austin / Duluth News Tribune
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OMAHA, Nebraska — Hermantown native Blake Biondi finished with a goal and two assists on Friday to pace No. 7 Minnesota Duluth to a 4-1 victory over No. 16 Nebraska Omaha in the NCHC series opener at Baxter Arena.

Biondi helped set up his linemates Quinn Olson and Dominic James for a pair of goals in the first period and then clinched the Bulldogs’ win with a goal of his own in the third.

The victory puts UMD in position to pick up its first NCHC sweep of the 2021-22 season Saturday when the series with the Mavericks concludes at 7:07 p.m. in Omaha.

“We all know Saturdays are harder, no matter who you are playing. It showed last week,” said UMD junior wing Luke Loheit, referencing the Bulldogs’ 2-2 overtime tie and shootout loss to Miami at home last Saturday following a 4-1 win Friday. “We have to carry the momentum from tonight into tomorrow. We just have to play Bulldog hockey like we did tonight, 60 minutes, and everything will take care of itself from there.”

Loheit had a shorthanded goal in the second period and then assisted freshman center Carter Loney on a goal in the final minute Friday. The other three goals all came from the Olson-James-Biondi line, which put the Bulldogs on top 2-0 in the first period.

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It started with James scoring 4:20 into the game after driving off the end wall to the side of the net for his shot. It was just the third goal, but 11th point, of the season for the freshman center. Olson, a junior wing, got the next goal at the 12:31 mark, putting a puck top-shelf on the power play for his fifth goal and 16th point.

Biondi assisted on both goals in the first period, and then buried the dagger into the Mavericks with 2:34 to go in regulation, scoring his team-leading 10th goal and team-leading 18th point of the season.

“That felt really good,” Biondi said of his line’s night Friday. “Getting a goal on the power play was really big for our line. I just felt like we had the energy going. We wanted to kick-start a couple (goals) for the boys and thankfully we did. We needed those right away, too.”

The Bulldogs took six minor penalties in the series opener on Friday, including four in the second period alone.

The Bulldogs killed all four minor penalties in the second — with Loheit scoring the shorty on the second of the four kills to go ahead 3-0 — but finally got burned on their sixth and final kill of the night midway through the third period when Mavericks junior wing Jack Randl scored off a deflection to spoil the shutout of UMD junior goaltender Ryan Fanti, who finished with 24 saves.

UMD Men's hockey faces Omaha at Baxter Arena
Minnesota Duluth goaltender Ryan Fanti (39) guards the net against Omaha forward Matt Miller (27) on Friday, Jan. 21, 2022, at Baxter Arena in Omaha, Nebraska.
Clint Austin / Duluth News Tribune

“In games like that, especially when they score early, we’ve got to produce on the power play there,” Omaha coach Mike Gabinet said. “Got one there to make it within 3-1 and it was a nice deflection by Randl.”

Bulldogs coach Scott Sandelin said he liked his team’s start on Friday, and like Biondi, thought the power play goal was big in the first. Getting off to a good start will be important again Saturday, he said.

“I loved the jump, we were playing on our toes and we got rewarded,” Sandelin said.

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What Sandelin was not a fan of was the second period on Friday. One of his keys to winning this series was not taking penalties against Omaha, and that’s what UMD did, giving the Mavs four consecutive power plays in the second period.

“I don’t care what team it is in this league, you can’t give them that many (penalties), certainly four in a row,” Sandelin said. “We’re just playing with fire.”

UMD Men's hockey faces Omaha at Baxter Arena
Minnesota Duluth forward Kyler Kleven (22) moves the puck against Omaha defenseman Victor Mancini (23) on Friday, Jan. 21, 2022, at Baxter Arena in Omaha, Nebraska.
Clint Austin / Duluth News Tribune

Perkins commits to Bulldogs

The Bulldogs have received a verbal commitment from Matthew Perkins of Balgonie, Saskatchewan. A first-year forward for the Humboldt Broncos of the Saskatchewan Junior Hockey League, Perkins’ commitment was announced by the franchise on his 18th birthday Friday .

A contender for SJHL Rookie of the Year, Perkins has 19 goals and 27 assists in 40 games. He’s fifth in the SJHL in scoring and third among SJHL rookies.

“From a young age it’s been a dream of mine to get a scholarship and play college hockey,” Perkins said in the announcement . “It means a lot to me and my family, and this has truly been a mind-blowing experience and opportunity.”

Box score

Minnesota Duluth 2-1-2—5
Omaha 0-0-1—1
First period
1. UMD, Dominic James (Blake Biondi), 4:20
2. UMD, Quinn Olson (James, Biondi), 12:31 (pp)
Second period
3. UMD, Luke Loheit (Noah Cates, Hunter Lellig), 6:10 (sh)
Third period
4. UNO, Jack Randl (Brandon Scanlin, Taylor Ward), 10:16 (pp)
5. UMD, Biondi (Jacques, Matt Anderson), 17:26
6. UMD, Carter Loney (Loheit, Cates), 19:11
Saves — Ryan Fanti, UMD, 24; Isaiah Saville, UNO, 19.
Power play — UMD 1-3; UNO 1-6. Penalties — UMD 6-12; UNO 3-6.

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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