Junior center Justin Richards scored shorthanded and junior wing Nick Swaney tipped through the game-winning goal to give top-ranked Minnesota Duluth a 2-1 victory over UMass-Lowell at Amsoil Arena.
Richards scored off an excellent pass from sophomore wing Cole Koepke in the second and Swaney tipped a shot by junior defenseman Scott Perunovich in the third period just 91 seconds after the River Hawks tied the game.
Below are Saturday’s thumbs ups and three stars from News Tribune college hockey reporter Matt Wellens
Thumbs up to the Bulldogs' penalty kill
In addition to finishing the night a perfect 8-for-8, the Bulldogs penalty kill also scored Saturday as senior defenseman Nick Wolff sprung Koepke and Richards on the shorthanded rush.
The Bulldogs killed off a pair of Lowell two-man advantages. The first was 80 seconds long in the first period and the other just 19 seconds in the third. UMD was missing two of its top defensemen, juniors Scott Perunovich and Dylan Samberg, for both kills as both were in the penalty box at the same time.
The Bulldogs penalty kill was a source of strength last season, finishing 10th in the country at 85.7 percent with three shorthanded goals. UMD killed 33-straight penalties at one point last year. The killers appear to be picking up where they left off last season.
“Anytime we’re on the penalty kill, we’re pretty confident in ourselves,” Richards said. “We think we’re going to get the job done and kill it off. We had two 5-on-3s tonight and there was no panic at all. We knew we could do it and everyone was dialed in. We played as one unit out there.”
Thumbs up to UMD 'scoring by committee'
When Bulldogs coach Scott Sandelin said his team will be one that scores by committee this season, he means you’ll have a variety of different goal scorers each night.
Saturday against Lowell, “scoring by committee” took on a bit of a different meaning. A committee was actually involved in scoring each of the Bulldogs’ two goals.
Let’s start with Richards’ shorthanded goal. Yeah, he was the one to put the puck in the net, but it was Koepke who made the perfect pass to Richards, giving the assistant captain little to do at the end but finish the play. Of course, Koepke doesn’t have a puck to pass without a great dish by senior captain Nick Wolff out of the defensive zone.
“The puck kind of popped out to Wolff and I saw Richie take a step on their guy, so I tried to go wide,” Koepke said. “Wolff made a smart play by not just throwing it down and gave it to me wide. Richie had the step and I was able to throw it to an area where he was able to get it.”
Swaney’s game-winning goal was again a great example of teamwork as he was able to tip a shot by Perunovich through to put UMD back on top 2-1.
While plays like that may seem like luck, they aren’t. It’s a well-orchestrated dance, as Swaney explained.
“Earlier, I think the first period, we had a play like that, but it kind of tipped my backhand and it hit a body in front,” Swaney said. “It was in the soft area, it was kind of open, they kind of collapsed back to the middle, I got above their guys. The same kind of play happened in the third period. I saw that open area and Scotty is one of those guys who can just make plays whenever he has the puck. So just get to those open areas and get ready for the puck to come because you know it's gonna be there on your stick.”
Matt’s Three Stars
3. UMD sophomore wing Cole Koepke: Heck of a pass by the Hermantown native. I compare it to a Brett Favre pass in this tweet.
2. UMD junior center Justin Richards: He did a great job to get a step on the River Hawk he was racing to catch Koepke’s pass and score.
1. UMD junior wing Nick Swaney: Clutch tip by Swaney after getting into the perfect position for the game-winner, which came right after Lowell had tied the game at 1-1.