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College men's hockey: Bulldogs out of NCHC title race after 7-4 loss at Western Michigan

KALAMAZOO, Mich. -- For the first time this season, Minnesota Duluth found out what it felt like to get blown out of the barn. The No. 3-ranked Bulldogs fell behind 4-0 early in the second period, made the game interesting late and then finally s...

KALAMAZOO, Mich. - For the first time this season, Minnesota Duluth found out what it felt like to get blown out of the barn.

The No. 3-ranked Bulldogs fell behind 4-0 early in the second period, made the game interesting late and then finally succumbed to No. 8 Western Michigan 7-4 in NCHC play Friday night at Lawson Ice Arena.

The loss snapped an 11-game unbeaten streak (8-0-3) for UMD, and also allowed Denver to clinch the NCHC regular-season title during its game at Nebraska-Omaha. The Pioneers went on to beat the Mavericks 4-2, meaning the Penrose Cup would have been heading back to Denver no matter what UMD did Friday in Kalamazoo.

UMD - which once led the NCHC and was ranked No. 1 in every human and computer poll - is locked into second place in the NCHC. The Bulldogs will host seventh-place Miami next weekend in an NCHC quarterfinal series at Amsoil Arena.

UMD wraps up its regular season at 6:05 p.m. today at Western Michigan, which came into the weekend already locked into third place.

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“We all want to win, especially this late in the season. We were still in the running for it (the NCHC title),” UMD junior wing Karson Kuhlman said of Friday’s performance. “It sucks, but you got to learn from it.”

UMD trailed by four goals on three occasions Friday - 4-0, 5-1 and 6-2 - before making it somewhat interesting in the final minutes with its net empty for an extra attacker. Senior defenseman Brenden Kotyk and sophomore center Adam Johnson scored 27 seconds apart to make it 6-4 with 3:11 to play in regulation.

Senior wing Sheldon Dries sealed the Broncos’ victory and Denver’s title with his third goal of the night - this one into an empty net - with under a minute to play.

“Going from here, we got to not put ourselves in those situations for one,” Kuhlman said. “Do everything we can to not get down in a game, especially by that margin. We did a good job. We battled to the end. We got a few to make it a two-goal game, then they got an empty-netter. I give us credit. We battled.”

The three-goal margin of defeat was the largest of the season for the Bulldogs (20-6-7 overall, 14-5-4-3 NCHC). Four of those six losses have been by a single goal, with a 3-1 home loss to Notre Dame being the other defeat.

The four-goal deficit UMD faced on three occasions also was the largest of the season. The largest deficit UMD faced in a game prior to Friday was 4-1 during the second period Oct. 7 at Massachusetts-Lowell. That three-goal deficit lasted 4 minutes, 8 seconds and the Bulldogs came back to tie Lowell 4-4.

“It’s not a good feeling, but you know what? We didn’t give up,” UMD senior captain Dominic Toninato said. “And that’s how our team has been all year. We fought right till the end. We made it a two-goal game. We had chances. I’m proud of the team for sticking with it when we could have easily packed it in.”

Western Michigan (20-8-5, 13-8-2-1) turned a 2-0 first-period lead into a 4-0 margin just 3:05 into the second period, prompting the pulling of freshman goaltender Hunter Miska. The reigning two-time NCHC rookie of the month finished with just four saves on eight shots.

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Miska was replaced by freshman Hunter Shepard, a former Grand Rapids goalie. In just his second action of the season - the other being a start in the 3-1 loss to Notre Dame - Shepard made 12 saves on 13 shots. Five of those saves came during an extended Broncos power play UMD killed off completely. It included a 5-on-3 Broncos advantage for 1:37.

Since NCHC play began, Miska had played every minute for the Bulldogs while Shepard and redshirt freshman Nick Deery - who is not on the trip to Kalamazoo - either sat on the bench or watched from the stands.

As the only NCHC goalie prior to Friday to have played every minute of every league game for his team this season, Miska entered the night with a 2.07 goals-against average and .926 save percentage in conference play.

Miska had been especially good the last two months, which is how he nabbed the league’s rookie of the month honor back-to-back. He posted a 1.84 GAA and .932 save percentage in January, then improved those number in February with a 1.76 GAA and .933 save percentage.

“He’s been great for us,” Sandelin said. “Goalies are going to have some off nights, whether it’s the guys in front of them or not. Sometimes it just doesn’t go their way. Unfortunately tonight, on a couple of them we weren’t tight enough. The first goal, right in the slot. The second one on the power play was off a rebound. We had two guys there.

“We have to play tighter. Close is not good enough. We have to tighten those things up.”

Dries and freshman wing Hugh McGing both scored off rebounds on power plays for a 2-0 lead after the first period, despite the Bulldogs leading in shots on goal 14-6.

Freshman defenseman Luke Bafia and Dries then scored in the opening 3:05 of the second to chase Miska, with Bafia’s goal being his first in college. Freshman wing Lawton Courtnall added another in the final two minutes of the second to make it 5-1.

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Dries and junior wing Frederik Tiffels recorded the empty-net goals in the final 6:07 of regulation.

In addition to Johnson’s and Kotyk’s late scores, sophomore wing Parker Mackay and Kuhlman scored for UMD.

Minnesota Duluth..................... 0-1-3-4
Western Michigan.................... 2-3-2-7
First period - 1. WMU, Sheldon Dries 13 (Griffen Molino, Matheson Iacopelli), 9:12; 2. WMU, Hugh McGing 6 (Molino, Wade Allison), 18:13 (pp). Penalties - Molino, WMU (holding), 11:52; Iacopelli, WMU (interference), 14:09; Adam Johnson, UMD (boarding), 17:17.
Second period - 3. WMU, Luke Bafia 1 (Chris Dienes), 2:12; 4. WMU, Dries 14 (Molino, Iacopelli), 3:05; 5. UMD, Parker Mackay 6 (Nick Wolff, Avery Peterson), 4:24; 6. WMU, Lawton Courtnall 3 (Scott Moldenhauer, Dries), 18:18. Penalties - Dominic Toninato, UMD (slashing), Neal Pionk, UMD (cross checking), 13:11; Courtnall, WMU (boarding), 16:05; Allison, WMU (interference), 18:39; Michael Rebry, WMU (interference), 19:40.
Third period - 7. UMD, Karson Kuhlman 6 (Willie Raskob, Peterson), 1:21 (pp); 8. WMU, Frederik Tiffels 7 (Rebry, Courtnall), 15:53 (en); 9. UMD, Brenden Kotyk 2 (Alex Iafallo), 16:22; 10. UMD, Johnson 15 (Kyle Osterberg, Raskob), 16:49 (ea); 11. WMU, Dries 15 (McGing, Molino), 19:08 (en). Penalties - Jared Thomas, UMD (slashing), 2:09; McGing, WMU (slashing), 6:48; Colt Conrad, WMU (tripping), 13:00; McGing, WMU (tripping), 17:00.
Shots on goal - UMD 14-10-14-38; WMU 6-11-6-23. Goalies - Hunter Miska, UMD (8 shots-4 saves); Hunter Shepard, UMD (13-12); Ben Blacker, WMU (38-34). Power plays - UMD 1-of-8; WMU 1-of-4. Referees - Todd Anderson, Joe Sullivan. Linesmen - Dan Cohen, John Philo. Att. - 3,263.

Related Topics: BULLDOG SPORTS
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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