Fifth-ranked Minnesota Duluth used an opportunistic night to knock off top-ranked and NCHC-leading St. Cloud State on Friday night, scoring a 3-1 win in league play before a crowd of 6,370 at Amsoil Arena.
The Bulldogs (12-5-2 overall, 5-3-1 NCHC) were outshot 31-18 by the Huskies (14-3-2, 6-1-2), but scored three goals off three turnovers while getting 30 saves by junior goaltender Hunter Shepard to spoil the return of Brett Larson to his hometown and alma mater.
"That's why you forecheck hard and those guys are good, smart players," said Larson, the Huskies' rookie head coach who played four seasons at UMD before helping the program win two national championships as an assistant coach. He'll get another shot at his former school at 7:07 p.m. today at Amsoil. "They had good angles, good sticks. They forced the turnovers. You've got to give them credit because they play the right way and were able to generate those chances."
Sophomore wing Nick Swaney, freshman wing Noah Cates and sophomore center Justin Richards were the Bulldogs to cash in off the giveaways with the goals by Swaney and Cates coming via a strong forecheck.
The Bulldogs took a 1-0 lead 8:50 into the first period on a pickpocket play by senior center Peter Krieger, who gave Huskies freshman defenseman Nick Perbix a little bump along the end boards to free up the puck. Krieger backhanded a pass to Swaney, who easily buried his shot while streaking up the middle for his sixth goal of the season.
"I kind of got a lucky body and stick on it. Swanes came down the slot in a great spot and ended up putting it in the back of the net," Krieger said. "Something coach has harped on is forechecking and moving our feet. It paid off for a couple goals tonight."
The Huskies turned the puck over behind their own net again just before the midway point of the third period, leading to the second UMD goal. Senior defenseman Jon Lizotte fumbled behind the blue line and then knocked the puck out to the top of his own crease, where Cates was waiting to score his fifth goal of the season.
Cates was one of three Bulldogs, along with sophomore defensemen Mikey Anderson and Dylan Samberg, who were playing in their first college game since winning a silver medal with Team USA at the World Junior Championship in British Columbia.
There was no fatigue after playing seven games in seven days the previous two weeks at the World Juniors, just confidence, Cates said.
"I'm pretty fresh, really confident," said Cates, who as part of a shuffled lineup was bumped up to the top line with Krieger and Swaney. "Playing at that level for a lot of games was really fun and then coming here, I'm really confident. It's been fun with these guys."
Richards scored on a solo breakaway with 1:38 remaining in regulation to give the Bulldogs a 3-1 lead and clinch the win. He was off to the races after Huskies sophomore wing Easton Brodzinski at the blue line bounced a puck off the shin of Richards while trying to keep the puck in the UMD zone.
The Huskies' lone goal came with under four minutes to play in the second when a shot by junior defenseman Jack Ahcan was wide, but deflected through by senior wing Robby Jackson. Ahcan's shot was set up by Jackson, who dug the puck out of the corner before finding Ahcan at the blue line.
St. Cloud State had chances much better than that from point-blank range, but Shepard was steady as could be in goal. That was especially true on the Bulldogs' nation-best penalty kill (93.2 percent), which finished 5-for-5, getting five saves from Shepard.
"Our best player was our goalie," said Bulldogs coach Scott Sandelin, who was an assistant coach on the U.S. World Junior team and making his return to UMD as well. "Sometimes when your team is not playing great, your goalie has got to be your best player and tonight Shep was for sure."
St. Cloud State 0-1-0-1
Minn. Duluth 1-0-2-3
First period - 1. UMD, Nick Swaney 6 (Peter Krieger), 8:50. Penalties - Nick Wolff, UMD (high sticking), 11:22; Easton Brodzinski, SCSU (interference), 12:12; Louie Roehl, UMD (slashing), 12:32; Cole Koepke, UMD (tripping), 17:50.
Second period - 2. SCSU, Robby Jackson 9 (Jack Ahcan, Sam Hentges), 16:20. Penalties - Jackson Cates, UMD (hooking), 17:22.
Third period - 3. UMD, Noah Cates, 9:53; 4. UMD, Justin Richards 6, 18:22. Penalties - Krieger, UMD (holding), 4:50.
Shots on goal - SCSU 14-12-5-31; UMD 6-4-8-18. Goalies - David Hrenak, SCSU (18 shots-15 saves); Hunter Shepard, UMD (31-30). Power plays - SCSU 0-of-5; UMD 0-of-0. Referees - Gino Binda, Timm Walsh. Linesmen - Sterling Egan, Brandon Schmitt. Att. - 6,370.