Third-ranked Minnesota Duluth scored a pair of power-play goals in the third period Tuesday to open the 2020-21 season and NCHC Pod in Omaha, Nebraska, with a 5-3 victory over host Nebraska-Omaha at Baxter Arena.

The Bulldogs trailed 2-1 heading into the third period before scoring four goals to start a season delayed by the COVID-19 pandemic, and played before cardboard cutouts of fans — both human and canine.

“It was a good atmosphere. They did a good job,” said UMD senior wing Kobe Roth. “The little fake fans, actually, it was kind of nice to have something in the seats. We stayed positive on the bench the whole game. That is going to be crucial for us.”

The Bulldogs’ two third-period power-play goals came from the Cates brothers, junior centers Jackson and Noah.

Minnesota Duluth players crowd forward Koby Bender (11) after he scored on Nebraska Omaha in the first period Tuesday, Dec. 1, at Baxter Arena in Omaha. (Tyler Schank / tschank@duluthnews.com)
Minnesota Duluth players crowd forward Koby Bender (11) after he scored on Nebraska Omaha in the first period Tuesday, Dec. 1, at Baxter Arena in Omaha. (Tyler Schank / tschank@duluthnews.com)

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Older brother Jackson tied the game at 2-2 just 63 seconds into the third. Younger brother Noah put UMD ahead 4-2 with 4:18 to play by getting a piece of a rocket by senior wing Nick Swaney.

Senior wing Kobe Roth recorded the go-ahead goal 11:18 into the third period when he slipped a puck past the near post and junior defenseman Hunter Lellig netted a shorthanded empty-netter in the closing minute to clinch the win.

“The power play was huge for us in the third period there. Just the execution was the biggest difference maker. That’s the difference between winning and losing a game, and execution is what it comes down to.”

UMD senior wing Koby Bender recorded the first goal of the NCHC season and pod in Omaha just 1:52 into Tuesday’s game, however, the Mavericks power play and senior wing Martin Sundberg put the Bulldogs down 2-1 at the first intermission.

Sundberg set up Mavs sophomore center Nolan Sullivan for the tying goal at the 6:38 mark — 10 seconds after UMD had killed Omaha’s first power play — and then put the hosts on top late in the period, with just three second remaining on their second advantage.

“I’m real proud of our guys. They had a good third period and took advantage of the power plays to even the game,” said coach Scott Sandelin, whose Bulldogs turn around and play Denver at 7:35 p.m. Wednesday in the team’s second of nine games over the 19 days. “Our guys had a good third and showed some character.”

Thumbs up to Ryan Fanti

The first start of the post-Hunter Shepard era at UMD went to sophomore Ryan Fanti of Thunder Bay, Ontario on Tuesday. Playing in his first collegiate game and making his first collegiate start, Fanti made 26 saves for the win.

Minnesota Duluth players gather around goaltender Ryan Fanti (39) before the first period against Nebraska Omaha on Tuesday, Dec. 1, at Baxter Arena in Omaha. (Tyler Schank / tschank@duluthnews.com)
Minnesota Duluth players gather around goaltender Ryan Fanti (39) before the first period against Nebraska Omaha on Tuesday, Dec. 1, at Baxter Arena in Omaha. (Tyler Schank / tschank@duluthnews.com)

“He’s worked hard all offseason, he deserves it,” Jackson Cates said. “As the game went on, you could tell he had a little more confidence and I’m excited to see how he does moving forward.”

Fanti, who played in Cloquet for the Minnesota Wilderness of the North American Hockey League before coming to UMD a year ago, sat behind Shepard all of last season. Fanti only saw the ice for a period of an exhibition to start the season.

Sandelin said he went with Fanti on Tuesday because of the goaltender’s strong start to the team’s practices during the extended preseason.

“I thought his game today was good,” Sandelin said. “They were a team that we knew was going to throw some pucks at the net and I thought he was seeing some pucks well. The nice thing is he can play the puck. I thought he helped out in that area too. It was a good start for him. It’s a good confidence builder for him to come in and get a win. I thought he played solidly and hopefully it’s a great building block for him.”

Thumbs down to special teams

It was a rough start for the Bulldogs’ special teams, which was put to the test early against a Mavericks power play Sandelin warned his team about in the leadup to Tuesday’s opener.

And while UMD did finish the night 2-for-5 on the power play — including a pair of key power-play goals in the third — and 5-for-6 on the penalty kill — with a shorthanded empty-netter from Lellig to clinch the win — Sandelin said there was plenty of room for improvement after Tuesday’s win.

“I didn’t think our power play was particularly sharp. We didn’t get enough pucks to the net, we were losing faceoffs all night, which was a concern. They scored when they had to,” Sandelin said. “Overall I thought our PK did a pretty good job. Our power play did a pretty good job, but certainly improvements to be made.”

Minnesota Duluth forward Kobe Roth (10) knocks down Nebraska Omaha defenseman Nate Knoepke (7) as Minnesota Duluth forward Blake Biondi (7) attempts to gain control of the puck in the second period Tuesday, Dec. 1, at Baxter Arena in Omaha. (Tyler Schank / tschank@duluthnews.com)
Minnesota Duluth forward Kobe Roth (10) knocks down Nebraska Omaha defenseman Nate Knoepke (7) as Minnesota Duluth forward Blake Biondi (7) attempts to gain control of the puck in the second period Tuesday, Dec. 1, at Baxter Arena in Omaha. (Tyler Schank / tschank@duluthnews.com)

Matt’s Three Stars

3. Senior wing Koby Bender — The Cloquet native finished with a goal and an assist, breaking the ice in Omaha with the first goal of the pod less than two minutes in Tuesday.

2. Junior center Jackson Cates — After missing the last five games of the 2019-20 season with a shoulder injury, Cates also scored a momentum shifting goal, tying the game on the power play in the opening 63 seconds of the third period.

1. Senior wing Kobe Roth — Roth was all over the front of the net, especially in the third period. He finished with six shots on goal and scored the go-ahead goal for UMD with under 10:00 to play. Sandelin called Roth’s goal from the tough angle, “big-time” on Tuesday.



Minnesota Duluth 1-0-4—5

Nebraska-Omaha 2-0-1—3

First Period

1. UMD, Koby Bender 1 (Matt Cairns, Darian Gotz), 1:52.

2. UNO, Nolan Sullivan 1 (Martin Sundberg), 6:38.

3. UNO, Sundberg 1 (Jack Randl, Kirby Proctor), 15:03 (pp).

Second Period

No scoring

Third Period

4. UMD, Jackson Cates 1 (Cole Koepke, Nick Swaney), 1:03 (pp).

5. UMD, Kobe Roth 1 (Bender), 11:18.

6. UMD, Noah Cates 1 (Swaney, J. Cates), 15:42 (pp).

7. UNO, Jack Randl 1 (Tyler Weiss) 18:52.

8. UMD, Hunter Lellig 1, 19:04 (en, sh)

Saves — Ryan Fanti, UMD, 11-8-7—26; Isaiah Saville, UNO, 8-8-6—22.

Power play — UMD 2-5; UNO 1-6. Penalties — UMD 6-12; UNO 5-10.