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College men's hockey: Tufte, Bulldogs' power play close regular season strong

News Tribune file photo Minnesota Duluth's Riley Tufte has been on a recent goal-scoring burst heading into the NCHC playoffs.

Minnesota Duluth’s penalty kill may have faltered at the end of the regular season, but on the opposite end of the rink, its power play flourished.

So while this weekend’s best-of-three NCHC quarterfinal series at Amsoil Arena may pit the second-best team in the league, UMD, against the second-worst, Nebraska-Omaha, it also will feature two of the top power-play units in NCAA Division I men’s ice hockey.

The Mavericks (9-22-3 overall, 5-17-2 NCHC) power play sits 10th nationally at 24 percent. The Bulldogs’ power play comes in ranked seventh in the nation at 25 percent and has posted seven goals in the last five games, converting on a whopping 43.8 percent of its advantages in that span.

“We’re getting pucks back,” UMD junior wing Riley Tufte said about the key to the power play’s recent success after it went 3-for-7 in a pair of losses at top-ranked St. Cloud State to close the regular season. “The breakout is huge getting in the zone and setting it up. We talked about that before the game. But getting pucks on net is huge for us.”

Tufte is on a power-play unit that consists of senior captain Parker Mackey, sophomore center Justin Richards and sophomore defensemen Dylan Samberg and Mikey Anderson. That unit has not only put pucks on net, they’ve put them in by scoring four power-play goals for UMD (21-11-2, 14-9-1) in the last three games.

Three of those four have come off the stick of Tufte, who takes a three-goal streak into the postseason. After finishing last season with 16 goals — including five on power plays — he’s up to eight this year, with seven coming on power plays.

“It’s fun having the puck on your stick and scoring goals,” said Tufte, the 2016 first-round draft pick of the Dallas Stars who scored on a one-timer and three-on-one rush last weekend in St. Cloud. “I know for myself I can score goals. You see last year I had 16 goals. I know it’s there. I just have to find it. It’s starting to come to me, which is a positive. Going down the road here I’m going to try be more offensive and more of an offensive threat. My linemates help me out with that a lot.”

Despite the success the power play is having, UMD coach Scott Sandelin said after the last series he would like to see better decisions made. Faceoffs need to improve not just with a man advantage, but on the disadvantage too, the coach said.

The UMD penalty kill led the nation through 29 games at 92.2 percent, allowing just eight goals. It’s now allowed 10 in the last five, killing just 44.4 percent of opponents’ chances.

“We got work to do,” Sandelin said of going into the NCHC tournament. “This week is a week of preparation, to clean up some of those things and get confident and get ready for the playoffs.”

Noah Cates leads all-rookie team

Freshman wing Noah Cates became the fifth Bulldog in the six-year history of the NCHC to land on the league’s all-rookie team Tuesday.

Cates, of Stillwater, Minn., was the leading vote-getter on the seven-member team — there was a tie at goaltender — garnering 19 points and six of a possible seven first-place votes. A Philadelphia Flyers fifth-round draft pick in 2017, Cates has nine goals and 12 assists this season with six goals and nine assists coming in UMD’s 24 league games. His 15 league points are tied for third among NCHC freshmen.

Cates joins current sophomore defenseman Scott Perunovich (2017-18), as well as Joey Anderson (’16-17), Kasimir Kaskisuo (’14-15) and Alex Iafallo (’13-14) as NCHC all-rookie picks.

The league’s all-conference team will be released Wednesday. This year’s full all-rookie team: Cates; Omaha forward Taylor Ward; St. Cloud State forward Nolan Walker and defenseman Nick Perbix; Colorado College defenseman Bryan Yoon; Denver goaltender Filip Larsson; and North Dakota goalie Adam Scheel.

Slap shots

Among the NCHC’s statistical leaders at the close of the regular season is UMD junior goaltender Hunter Shepard. He finished with the top goals-against average (1.92) and was fourth in save percentage (.914). Sophomore wing Nick Swaney tied for third in goals with 11 while sophomore defenseman Mikey Anderson Perunovich tied for third among defensemen in scoring with 16 points each.

  • Two Bulldogs — one former and one future — won state titles over the weekend at the Minnesota boys hockey tournament. Jack Smith, a junior forward who is verbally committed to UMD, won a Class A title with St. Cloud Cathedral, totaling four goals and two assists. Curt Giles, who starred at UMD from 1975-79 and had his number retired in 2017, won his fourth Class AA title as head coach of Edina.
Matt Wellens

College hockey reporter for the Duluth News Tribune covering the Minnesota Duluth Bulldogs men's and women's teams, as well as the NCAA Division III programs at St. Scholastica and Wisconsin-Superior.

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