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UMD men's hockey: Strong third period leads Bulldogs to convincing 5-1 win over Alaska

Carter Loney, Noah Cates and Kobe Roth finished with a goal and an assist each against the Nanooks while Will Francis makes his return to the ice after battling leukemia.

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Minnesota Duluth forward Carter Loney (33) puts the puck on goal against Alaska goaltender Gustavs Davis Grigals (30) on Friday, Nov. 26, 2021, at Amsoil Arena in Duluth. Clint Austin / Duluth News Tribune

Carter Loney, Noah Cates and Kobe Roth all finished with a goal and an assist Friday for Minnesota Duluth in a 5-1 nonconference victory over Alaska before a crowd of 5,012 at Amsoil Arena in Duluth.

The Bulldogs (9-3-1) — who host the Nanooks again Saturday at 6:07 p.m. in Duluth — took a tight 2-1 lead into the third period, where they got goals from Roth, sophomore wing Blake Biondi and junior forward Ben Almquist.

UMD coach Scott Sandelin said his team got outworked in the second period — they were sloppy with the puck, had some turnovers — but he liked the third period his team put together.

“We got to be better from start to finish (Saturday),” Sandelin said. “I’m going to take the third period and give our guys the thumbs up on that. Let’s make sure we turn that into three good periods (Saturday), because they’re going to be ready to give us another great game.”

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Minnesota Duluth forward Noah Cates (21) celebrates with teammates after scoring a goal against Alaska during the second period on Friday, Nov. 26, 2021, at Amsoil Arena in Duluth. Clint Austin / Duluth News Tribune

Cates, the captain and senior winger, scored the go-ahead goal for the Bulldogs with 1:16 to play in the second after Alaska tied the game on the power play earlier in the period.

Roth, the fifth-year senior wing, picked up his third goal of the year 3:41 into the third period. A little over seven minutes later, Biondi scored his team-leading sixth goal and team-best 11th point of the season to make it 4-1.

Almquist added a goal for UMD in the final minute, netting just his second of the season.

“I liked our third period,” Sandelin said. “I thought our guys played much better. It was nice to see different guys score.”

Loney, a freshman center, gave UMD a 1-0 lead via a power play goal in the first period by finishing off a pass by Cates. After being credited with four assists in his first 12 games, it was his first collegiate goal.

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“It was a relief,” Loney said of the goal. “It was good to get the first one.”

Loney later assisted Roth early in the third for his sixth point in 13 games at UMD. He’s proven to be the Bulldogs' most versatile center, playing much of the season on the fourth line with a rotating cast of wingers, and now on the second line between Roth and fifth-year senior Koby Bender.

Called a responsible player by Sandelin on Friday, you can also find him on the penalty kill with senior Tanner Laderoute and power play with Cates.

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Minnesota Duluth players celebrate after Minnesota Duluth forward Carter Loney (33) scored a goal against Alaska on Friday, Nov. 26, 2021, at Amsoil Arena in Duluth. Clint Austin / Duluth News Tribune

Loney said he’s feels comfortable and confident no matter where he’s playing, and who he’s playing with.

“It’s not that hard,” Loney said. “Everybody on this team is really good, so everybody is easy to play with. In practice, it’s talking, lots of communication. It really helps.”

Bulldogs junior goaltender Ryan Fanti had 10 saves, as the Bulldogs held the Nanooks to just 11 shots on goal.

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Alaska junior goaltender Gustavs Grigals stopped 22 of the 24 shots he faced before leaving the game in the final minute of the second due to an injury. He did not return, leaving freshman backup Daniel Allin as the only other goaltender dressed for the Nanooks on Friday. Allin finished with 10 saves on 13 shots.

Francis makes debut

Bulldogs freshman defenseman Will Francis made his collegiate debut on Friday as the seventh defenseman. Not counting Da Beauty League this summer or the exhibition against Wisconsin in Chippewa Falls, it was Francis’ first regular season game since suiting up for the Cedar Rapids Roughriders in the United States Hockey League on Nov. 2, 2019.

Since then, the 6-foot-5, 207-pound Anaheim Ducks draft pick out of Centennial High School has spent the past two years recovering from knee surgery and leukemia.

READ MORE: Francis puts cancer behind him and looks to his Bulldogs debut

“It was unbelievable,” Francis said of his debut. “Looking back two years ago, or just a year ago with what I’ve gone through the past 18 months, a lot of people didn’t know if I was ever going to play again. I always had it in my head that I’m going to get out there, that’s my goal, that’s where I want to be. It felt unbelievable. I had family here, some friends. It’s just awesome. It is awesome.”

Francis was informed Thursday after practice that he would be playing Friday, which he said drew a cheer from his teammates. Francis said his family was “50-50” on whether they were coming up for this weekend’s series, but after hearing he’d play, there was no doubt they’d be in Duluth this weekend.

Francis said his dad even took off from coaching his younger brother in a pee-wee tournament to be at Amsoil Arena on Friday.

“He’s been through a lot,” said Sandelin, who listed Francis’ debut Friday among the positives, next to the team’s third period. “It was good to get him some shifts and some minutes and get him in the game. Aside from the (puck) that bounced over his stick, I thought he did a good job.”

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Minnesota Duluth defenseman Will Francis (23) surveys the ice while playing against Alaska on Friday, Nov. 26, 2021, at Amsoil Arena in Duluth. Clint Austin / Duluth News Tribune

Injury report

The Bulldogs were without sophomore defenseman Wyatt Kaiser and senior center Casey Gilling due to illness on Friday. Their illness-related absence comes a week after playing in Grand Forks, where North Dakota was without numerous players due to a non-COVID-19 illness.

  • The Bulldogs did get sophomore defenseman Connor Kelley back in the lineup Friday, and he assisted Cates on the go-ahead goal in the second period. Kelley missed both games last weekend at North Dakota.

  • Junior wing Luke Loheit left Friday’s game in the second period after delivering a couple hits. He went to the bench slowly, and did not return to the game. Loheit missed four games between Nov. 5-13 due to injury before returning last weekend at North Dakota. Freshman center Dominic James also didn’t finish Friday’s game after leaving late. Sandelin didn’t have an update on either after the game.

Boxscore

Alaska 0-1-0—1

Minnesota Duluth 1-1-3—5

First period

1. UMD, Carter Loney (Noah Cates, Kobe Roth), 15:13 (pp)

Second period

2. AK, Markuss Komuls (Jakob Breault, Brady Risk), 8:49 (pp)

3. UMD, Cates (Connor Kelley, Owen Gallatin), 18:44

Third period

4. UMD, Roth (Koby Bender, Loney), 3:41

5. UMD, Blake Biondi (Dominic James), 10:53

6. UMD, Ben Almquist (Gallatin, Quinn Olson), 19:15

Saves — Gustavs Grigals, AK, 22; Daniel Allin, AK, 10; Ryan Fanti, UMD, 10.

Power plays — AK 1-2; UMD 1-4. Penalties — AK 4-8; UMD 2-4.

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