OMAHA, Neb. — No. 14-ranked Minnesota Duluth finished off an important six-point weekend at Baxter Arena on Saturday, holding on to beat No. 18 Nebraska-Omaha 4-3 to sweep their final NCHC series of 2019.
Sophomore wing Cole Koepke of Hermantown and junior center Justin Richards scored in the first period for the Bulldogs, junior wing Kobe Roth added another goal during a power play early in the second and sophomore wing Jackson Cates registered a key insurance goal in the third that proved to come in handy late.
For UMD coach Scott Sandelin, it was a nice bounce back weekend for his team after a pair of losses last week at home to top-ranked Minnesota State-Mankato.
“It’s huge,” Sandelin said of the sweep. “I thought our guys battled tonight, which it always is on a Saturday. The team on the other side we knew wasn’t going to quit either. They made it interesting, but we responded with goals. We bent a little, but we didn’t break.”
Saturday’s victory combined with Friday’s wild 6-3 win slots the Bulldogs second in the NCHC standings at the holiday break, just four points back of league-leading North Dakota. The Fighting Hawks swept Western Michigan 1-0 in overtime and 8-2 in Kalamazoo, Mich. this weekend.
The Bulldogs and Hawks will return to league play a month from now with the Broncos at Amsoil Arena and the Mavericks in Grand Forks.
“Better to be four points back than seven points back,” UMD senior defenseman and co-captain Nick Wolff said. “It’s always nice to get a confidence boost before the break. It gets guys motivated to come back and keep the streak going. We played a really good weekend, especially last night. I thought we played really well.”
Koepke and Richards scored within three minutes of each other on unassisted breakaways late in the first to turn a 1-0 deficit into a 2-1 UMD lead at the first intermission.
Koepke stole the puck just inside the Mavericks’ zone and finished with a backhander for his third goal of the weekend and sixth of the season. Richards scored on a shorthanded break despite getting slashed and hooked on his way to the net, going top shelf for his fourth goal of the year.
Roth made it 3-1 in the second, hesitating just enough before ripping through his sixth goal of the year. That prompted a change in the Omaha net as freshman Isaiah Saville — who made 13 saves on 16 shots, was replaced by freshman Austin Roden.
Jackson Cates — with assists by his younger brother, Noah, and junior wing Nick Swaney — put UMD back ahead by two with under nine minutes to go in the third. He took a pass from Noah and sniped the puck near post for his sixth goal of the season.
“It was a huge weekend getting goals from everyone,” Swaney said. “It showed we can score in multiple ways.”
The Mavericks got goals from freshman center Joey Abate in the first, senior wing Zach Jordan early in the third and sophomore wing Taylor Ward on the power play in the final minute.
Jordan’s goal came just 99 seconds into the third period to cut the Bulldogs’ margin to 3-2. Ward pulled Omaha back within one in the final minute via an extra-attacker, power play goal with 37 seconds left.
Noah Cates ate a shot in the final seconds and slid it to safety to clinch the win as UMD got 26 saves from senior goaltender Hunter Shepard. The Cohasset native made 12 in the third when the Bulldogs were outshot 14-3.
“Like coach said, we bent but we didn’t break,” Wolff said. “That’s a big thing for our team. We fight through adversity and come out on top on the other side.”
UMD senior center Jade Miller thought he had his first goal of the season with eight and a half minutes remaining in the second to put UMD ahead 4-1, however, video review revealed he directed the puck in with a high stick.
Sophomore center Jesse Jacques of Hermantown was a healthy scratch for the Bulldogs Saturday after dressing in 21 consecutive games going back to last year’s NCHC Frozen Faceoff. In 15 games this season, Jacques had a single assist and was just 28.2 percent on faceoffs. Freshman forward Brandon Puricelli took his spot in the lineup Saturday.
The Bulldogs will take a full three weeks off now for final exams and Christmas before traveling to North Andover, Mass. to play Merrimack Dec. 29-30 in a two-game, Sunday-Monday series just before New Years. That’s the Bulldogs, who are 3-5 outside the NCHC this year, last two nonconference games of the season. Associate head coach Jason Herter will coach the team at Merrimack while head coach Scott Sandelin coaches the U.S. National Junior Team at the World Junior Championship in Czech Republic.
Minnesota Duluth 2-1-1—4
First period — 1. UNO, Joey Abate 6 (Kirby Proctor, Jason Smallidge), 10:06; 2. UMD, Cole Koepke 6, 14:20; 3. UMD, Justin Richards 4, 17:04 (sh).
Second period — 4. UMD, Kobe Roth 6 (Scott Perunovich, Nick Swaney), 5:59 (pp).
Third period — 5. UNO, Zach Jordan 6, 1:39; 6. UMD, Jackson Cates 6 (Noah Cates and Nick Swaney), 11:32; 7. UNO, Taylor Ward 7 (Kevin Conley, Weiss), 19:23 (pp, ea).
Shots on goal — UMD 12-17-3—32; UNO 9-6-14—29. Goalies — Hunter Shepard, UMD (29 shots-26 saves); Isaiah Saville, UNO (16-13); Austin Roden, UNO (16-15). Power plays — UMD 1-of-5; UNO 1-of-5. Penalties — UMD 6-12; UNO 6-12. Referees — Nick Krebsbach, Nathan Wieler. Linesmen — Todd Lacina, Nate Stanton. Att. — 5,312.