College men's hockey: Bulldogs' penalty kill back on track for NCHC Frozen Faceoff

After a rough end to the regular season, Minnesota Duluth's once-vaunted penalty kill is back on track going into this weekend's NCHC Frozen Faceoff at Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul.

t031519 --- Clint Austin --- 031619.S.DNT.UMDMPUX.C12 --- Hunter Shepard (32) of Minnesota Duluth makes asave against Nebraska Omaha during Friday's first round NCHC conference playoff game at Amsoil Arena in Duluth. --- Clint Austin /
Minnesota Duluth junior goaltender Hunter Shepard (32) of Cohasset makes a save against Nebraska-Omaha during Friday's NCHC quarterfinal game at Amsoil Arena in Duluth. Often credited as the Bulldogs' top penalty killer, Shepard made six penalty kill saves Friday and had to make none on Saturday thanks to the work of those in front of him. Clint Austin /

After a rough end to the regular season, Minnesota Duluth's once-vaunted penalty kill is back on track going into this weekend's NCHC Frozen Faceoff at Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul.

The second-seeded Bulldogs take on fourth-seeded Denver at 7:38 p.m. on Friday in the league semifinals with top-seeded St. Cloud State facing sixth-seeded Colorado College in the early game at 4:08 p.m.

UMD's penalty kill was perfect last weekend in the two-game NCHC quarterfinals sweep of Nebraska-Omaha, killing all eight Mavericks power plays in the 2-1 overtime and 4-1 wins. The Mavs failed to get a shot on goal during their four power plays on Saturday.

The Bulldogs' penalty kill allowed just eight goals in the first 29 games of 2018-19 and led the nation with a 92.2 percent kill rate. That rate dropped to 44.4 percent over the last five games of the regular season as UMD gave up 10 goals during that span.

"We were really working and creating a lot of energy off our penalty kill. That kind of went away," UMD defenseman Mikey Anderson said Saturday. "(Last) week we slowed everything back down, looked at what made us successful at the start of the year and tried to get back to that."


Omaha may have finished the 2018-19 season with just nine wins, but that was no fault of its power play. That group finished the regular season ranked 10th nationally at 24 percent. Two of the eight goals UMD gave up in the first 29 games this year were courtesy of the Mavericks.

The Bulldogs played with fire early both nights against Omaha, taking a pair of too-many-players-on-the-ice penalties in the opening 8:29 of Friday's game and then got called for holding late in the first that night.

On Saturday, junior defenseman Nick Wolff was sent to the box twice in the opening 6:31 of the game.

While by no means ideal, Anderson said killing early penalties can create a surge of momentum, similar to scoring early goals, though not as effective.

On the opposite end, a team can get down on itself and fall back on its heels when it can't convert on an early advantage, Anderson said. That seemed to happen to Omaha last week as the Mavs went from generating six shots on goal on four advantages Friday to getting nothing on UMD junior goaltender Hunter Shepard on Saturday.

"Any time you kill one, you build confidence," Anderson said. "Whether it's Shep making big saves, we're getting blocks, good clears - all of that stuff builds positive energy for the penalty kill. Once you get one, you try and make it two and just ride off it."

For Bulldogs coach Scott Sandelin, the biggest kills of the weekend for his team came late in the second period on Saturday up just 2-1 on Omaha. UMD killed off an interference call that came at the 12:33 mark and a hold that was whistled at 16:22. Freshman wing Cole Koepke then scored an even-strength goal with 5.8 seconds to go in the second to put UMD up by two.

That span was the turning point in the game Saturday and it was all thanks to momentum created by the penalty kill, Sandelin said.


"The killers, they needed that," the coach said Saturday. "They needed to bounce back. We spent some time on it. It's like everything. Sometimes it's a confidence thing. I've told you all year sometimes we've lived off some luck. Sometimes that luck runs out. Then you have to work harder to create your own luck. Maybe (last) weekend we created that again."

Perunovich back for Frozen Faceoff?

The Bulldogs were without sophomore defenseman Scott Perunovich for the NCHC quarterfinal series against Omaha due to an undisclosed injury that dates back to late February. Perunovich missed the March 1 game against Miami before playing in the final three regular season games, and then taking last weekend off.

Perunovich is second on the team in scoring with three goals and 24 assists. He was named to the All-NCHC first team last week and is nominated for the league's top offensive defenseman award. Sandelin said after Saturday's game he's hopeful to have Perunovich back for the Frozen Faceoff.

UMD's coach will have plenty of chances to address the injury this week as he is expected to talk with the media during a teleconference Tuesday, during his weekly press conference at Amsoil Arena on Wednesday and a final time Thursday during a post-practice press conference at Xcel Energy Center.

UMD remains fourth in polls

The Bulldogs enter the Frozen Faceoff ranked fourth in the latest USCHO and USA Today/USA Hockey Magazine polls. That's also where the Bulldogs sit in the Pairwise rankings following Colorado College's upset win over Western Michigan on Monday in Game 3 of an NCHC quarterfinals series.

The Pioneers, who UMD meets in the Frozen Faceoff semifinals for the second year in a row, sit fifth in the national polls and sixth in the Pairwise.



2019 NCHC Frozen Faceoff

Xcel Energy Center, St. Paul

Friday's Semifinals

1. St. Cloud State vs. No. 6 Colorado College, 4:08 p.m. (CBS Sports Network)

2. Minnesota Duluth vs. No. 4 Denver, 7:38 p.m. (CBS Sports Network)

Saturday's games

Third place, 3:38 p.m.


Championship, 7:38 p.m. (CBS Sports Network)

Clint Austin / caustin@duluthnews.comMinnesota Duluth teammates Cole Koepke (17) and Justin Richards (19) celebrate after a goal during Saturday's NCHC playoff win over Nebraska-Omaha at Amsoil Arena.
Minnesota Duluth teammates Cole Koepke (17) and Justin Richards (19) celebrate after a goal during Saturday's NCHC quarterfinal win over Nebraska-Omaha at Amsoil Arena. The goal came in the final seconds of the second period, and after two penalty kills late in the period. Clint Austin /

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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