GRAND FORKS, N.D. — Fourth-ranked Minnesota Duluth had a chance to overtake league-leading and sixth-ranked North Dakota in the NCHC standings this weekend, or at least pull even with the Fighting Hawks after three-weeks of conference play.
However, the Bulldogs fell 2-1 in the series finale Saturday at sold out Ralph Engelstad Arena in Grand Forks, missing out on what could have been their first NCHC sweep of the season in three tries.
“Having the opportunity to sweep here, it kind of hurts a little bit,” Bulldogs captain Noah Cates said. “We played a good game Saturday, but great teams find a way to win on the road, win two on the road against good teams. We’re still building. We’re getting better and we have some big games coming up.”
A trio of transfers made sure the Hawks finished the weekend four points up on the third-place Bulldogs, instead of two points back with Denver in second.
Junior fourth-line winger Brendan Budy — a former Denver Pioneer — scored North Dakota’s game-winning goal 5:05 into the third period on a two-on-one attack that Bulldogs senior defenseman Hunter Lellig did everything he could to disrupt. Hawks junior wing Ashton Calder — formerly of Lake Superior State — was still able to get the puck to Budy, who pushed it past UMD junior goaltender Ryan Fanti.
Fanti finished with 21 saves for UMD while Hawks senior Zach Driscoll — the former Bemidji State goalie — made 22 saves, including one with his noggin in the final minute when Fanti was on the Bulldogs bench for an extra attacker.
“Every time we play them, you’re always fighting for space on the rink,” UMD coach Scott Sandelin said. “They made one more play, they scored on the power play, so that was the difference in the game. We had a few chances. We hit a couple crossbars, Blake (Biondi) had some point-blank. And what ended up being the winning goal, we did a poor job of coverage. That’s the way it is.”
The Bulldogs (3-2-1 NCHC, 8-3-1 overall) and Hawks (5-1, 8-4) went into the third period tied 1-1 after both teams failed to find the back of the net for the opening 34-plus minutes.
UMD broke through first almost 35 minutes in when freshman center Dominic James threaded a pass to the slot for sophomore wing and linemate Blake Biondi. The Hermantown native sniped through his fifth goal of the season to break the scoreless tie and give UMD the 1-0 lead.
“That was a tremendous play by Dom,” Biondi said. “I just tried to get myself in open space and he found me. I just ripped it.”
UMD had a chance to tie the game on a power play that began with 9:31 remaining in regulation. It included a chance by Biondi from the slot late in the advantage, but Driscoll got a pad on the shot to make the save.
That was one of four saves Driscoll made on that UMD power play, while also getting an assist from the crossbar on a blast by fifth-year senior wing Kobe Roth.
“Chances were coming there,” Biondi said. “Pucks just have to find the back of the net.”
The Hawks did convert on the power play Saturday, tying the game with 5.4 seconds left in the second period. The goal by junior defenseman Ethan Frisch 61 seconds into the advantage snapped a run of 25 straight kills by the Bulldogs.
UMD’s penalty kill streak started at the open of NCHC play back on Nov. 5 at Western Michigan, spanned six games and and lasted for 51 minutes, 10 seconds. It included two major penalty kills, including a standalone boarding major called on freshman center Carter Loney 5:59 into Saturday’s game in Grand Forks.
North Dakota again played Saturday’s game minus star sophomore defenseman Jake Sanderson, who was one of three Hawks out with a non-COVID illness.
Minnesota Duluth 0-1-0—1
North Dakota 0-1-1—2
Saves — Ryan Fanti, UMD, 21; Zach Driscoll, ND, 22.
Power play — UMD 0-2; ND 1-2. Penalties — UMD 3-9; ND 3-6.