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Thumbs up, thumbs down, three stars: Bender takes advantage of opportunity in Bulldogs win with first college goal

Minnesota Duluth finished off another NCHC series sweep on Saturday with a 3-1 victory over Nebraska-Omaha at Amsoil Arena in Duluth. Sophomore defenseman Dylan Samberg, sophomore wing Koby Bender and senior wing/captain Parker Mackay scored for ...

Clint Austin / caustin@duluthnews.comMinnesota Duluth forward Koby Bender (11) controls the puck near Nebraska-Omaha's Nate Knoepke (7) during Saturday's game at Amsoil Arena.
Clint Austin / caustin@duluthnews.com Minnesota Duluth forward Koby Bender (11) controls the puck near Nebraska-Omaha's Nate Knoepke (7) during Saturday's game at Amsoil Arena.
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Minnesota Duluth finished off another NCHC series sweep on Saturday with a 3-1 victory over Nebraska-Omaha at Amsoil Arena in Duluth.

Sophomore defenseman Dylan Samberg, sophomore wing Koby Bender and senior wing/captain Parker Mackay scored for the Bulldogs while UMD's Hunter Shepard (33 saves) won a goalie duel with Omaha's Evan Weninger (49 saves).

A full game recap can be found here .

Below are the thumbs up and thumbs down from Saturday's win by News Tribune college hockey writer Matt Wellens, plus his three stars of the night.

Thumbs up to Koby Bender

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It's been tough sledding for Cloquet native Koby Bender over the last two seasons at Minnesota Duluth.

The former Cloquet-Esko-Carlton Lumberjacks and Minnesota Wilderness standout has played in only 18 games over the past two seasons. He got beat out by freshmen early this year, resulting in him only getting in nine of 24 games thus far.

Bender was in the lineup Saturday because freshman wing Tanner Laderoute was injured, and Bender made the most of the opportunity given to him. He registered his third collegiate point and first goal as a Bulldog at 11:57 of the second period to put UMD ahead 2-0.

It was a terrific play by Bender, who backhanded a rebound that came off the shot of Hermantown native Cole Koepke, a freshman wing.

"It felt nice, a bit weight lifted off my shoulders," Bender said. "It felt even nicer getting the win. I was just happy for that."

It's unknown how long Laderoute will be out. He was seen walking fine in the locker room after the game. Coach Scott Sandelin - who refused to answer questions by the News Tribune for the second consecutive night in response to a recent article on sophomore defenseman Scott Perunovich - told KDAL's Bruce Ciskie before the game Laderoute is day-to-day.

Laderoute's spot in the lineup is pretty secure (6 goals, 2 assists, 22 games) but maybe Sandelin will be more inclined to dress Bender as that 19th skater in the future instead of an extra defenseman to give the team that extra offensive boost.

"I've just been working hard in practice, never taking days off, trying to improve every day," Bender said. "When my time came, just be ready for it."

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Thumbs down to the Bulldogs start

Complaints were few and far between this weekend for the Bulldogs, but there was one area UMD was unhappy with on Saturday and that was the start.

The Bulldogs ran into an Omaha team whose response to getting routed on Friday was to get physical on Saturday. The Mavs gave UMD little space and weren't shy about laying big hits.

Two Bulldogs - sophomore defenseman Mikey Anderson and junior wing Riley Tufte - were knocked out of the game and forced to take a trip back to the locker room in the first period. Both came back, but the message had been sent.

"They had a push. You don't want to get swept any weekend," Mackay said. "We have to expect those kind of pushes moving forward. At the end of the season we're going to have to win two games on a weekend to move on so we need to start preparing ourselves to show up both nights."

Matt's Three Stars

3. Omaha senior goaltender Evan Weninger: It was an impressive night for the Mavs keeper as he made 49 saves to keep the game close.

2. UMD junior goaltender Hunter Shepard: After testing him little on Friday, Omaha threw everything it had at Shep, who made 33 saves on 34 shots.

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1. UMD sophomore goaltender Koby Bender: The Cloquet native scored the deciding goal on Saturday and it was his first as a Bulldog.

Co-host of the Bulldog Insider Podcast and college hockey reporter for the Duluth News Tribune and The Rink Live covering the Minnesota Duluth men's and women's hockey programs.
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