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College men's hockey: Miska stars in sweep, helps Bulldogs extend NCHC lead

OMAHA, Neb. -- Minnesota Duluth athletic director Josh Berlo reached Baxter Arena just before the second period began Saturday night after completing a three-and-a-half hour drive from Welch Stadium in Emporia, Kan., where the UMD football team s...

OMAHA, Neb. - Minnesota Duluth athletic director Josh Berlo reached Baxter Arena just before the second period began Saturday night after completing a three-and-a-half hour drive from Welch Stadium in Emporia, Kan., where the UMD football team saw its season come to an end in the NCAA Division II playoffs.

“What did I miss?” Berlo asked.

The truth is, Berlo didn’t miss much in the first period. UMD freshman goaltender Hunter Miska was there on time to make 16 of his 33 saves. His teammates, meanwhile, must have come with Berlo because it wasn’t until the second period that they erupted for three goals en route to a 3-2 NCHC victory over Nebraska-Omaha.

The second-ranked Bulldogs (10-2-2 overall, 7-1-0 NCHC) who lead the NCHC standings by seven points going into a two-week layoff, only produced five shots on goal in the opening 20 minutes and didn’t get a puck on the Mavericks’ net until there was just 5:25 to play in the opening period.

The Bulldogs scored their three goals and held on from there for their first sweep of Omaha since Jan. 10-11, 2014.

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“It was a hard-fought win. Obviously we didn’t have a good first period, but we knew they were going to come out. Dean’s teams always come out,” UMD coach Scott Sandelin said, mentioning Nebraska-Omaha coach Dean Blais, who coached and worked with Sandelin previously at North Dakota. “I knew exactly what we were going to see and we saw it. Hunter held us in there, played a great game right from the start.”

Sophomore center Adam Johnson of Hibbing broke open a scoreless game by extending what seemed like a failed scoring chance an extra second. He used that last gasp to slip the puck past Omaha rookie goalie Kris Oldham, who was making just his fourth collegiate start.

The Bulldogs’ special teams produced the next two goals with senior wing Alex Iafallo feeding senior captain and center Dominic Toninato the puck in the neutral zone for a shorthanded breakaway. Senior wing Kyle Osterberg then scored on a power play to give the Bulldogs a 3-0 lead just past the midway point of the second period.

The assist for Iafallo on Toninato’s goal was his league-best 19th point of the season, his league-best 15th point in NCHC play and it extended his scoring streak to eight games. He has a point in 12 of 14 games this season.

“I saw (Iafallo) had the puck, didn’t see a (defender) back there so I took off and gave a holler,” Toninato said of his goal and Iafallo’s set-up. “He made a heck of a play getting it out there to me and I was lucky enough to finally put a breakaway away.”

Like in the Bulldogs’ 6-4 win Friday, the Mavericks made a game of it late via power-play goals. Omaha picked up a pair from senior defenseman Ian Brady and junior wing David Pope in the opening four minutes of the third period to cut the margin to one.

Omaha finished 2-for-6 on the power play Saturday after going 4-for-7 on Friday. The Bulldogs only had five power plays all weekend, scoring twice.

The Bulldogs’ penalty kill came into the weekend tied with Denver for best in the NCHC at 84.4 percent, but couldn’t seem to stop Omaha this weekend, especially in the third period when the Mavericks scored on four of six chances.

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UMD had one third period power play all weekend and it came late in Saturday’s game.

“The first message was to stay out of the box for the third period, but we knew they weren’t going to quit,” Sandelin said. “We just didn’t want to give them any life. We gave them life and they took advantage of it. Our guys held their ground and Hunter made some key saves and we got out of here with a win.”

Minnesota Duluth................... 0-3-0-3

Nebraska-Omaha.................... 0-0-2-2

First period - No scoring. Penalties - Brenden Kotyk, UMD (holding), 9:47; Mason Morelli, UNO (hooking), 17:18.

Second period - 1. UMD, Adam Johnson 7 (Kyle Osterberg), 1:17; 2. UMD, Dominic Toninato 4 (Alex Iafallo), 5:15 (sh); 3. UMD, Osterberg 8 (Jared Thomas), 10:20 (pp). Penalties - Carson Soucy, UMD (holding), 4:45; Joel Messner, UNO (hooking), 9:14; Jade Miller, UMD (cross-checking), 16:27; Morelli, UNO (tripping), 18:07.

Third period - 4. UNO, Ian Brady 2 (Steven Spinner, Kris Oldham), 2:04 (pp); 5. UNO, David Pope 5 (Tyler Vesel, Jake Randolph), 3:49 (pp). Penalties - Kotyk, UMD (roughing), 0:48; Nick Wolff, UMD (hooking), 2:52; Soucy, UMD (slashing), 7:33; Luke Snuggerud, UNO (tripping), 17:34; Hunter Miska, UMD (roughing), 20:00; Snuggerud, UNO (roughing), 20:00.

Shots on goal - UMD 5-11-4-20; UNO 16-8-11-35. Goalies - Hunter Miska, UMD (35 shots-33 saves); Kris Oldham, UNO (20-17). Power plays - UMD 1-of-4; UNO 2-of-6. Referees - Gino Binda, Tom Sterns. Linesmen - Nate Stanton, Scott Fitzpatrick. Att. - 6,058.

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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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