DULUTH – The message was clear on Saturday night. Moments before pregame introductions, Amsoil Arena’s theatrics began with its video board reminding fans that “For the first time in three years, they’re on our ice.”
Minnesota Duluth wanted its record-breaking crowd of 7,424 to know the No. 1 Gophers were back in town and their return wouldn’t be pleasant. It wasn’t.
The Bulldogs scored 28 seconds into the game on Dominic Toninato’s poke in front of the net. The Bulldogs would add what felt like a knockout blow at the end of the first period when Karson Kuhlman deflected in a power-play goal. The early offensive surge held for a 2-1 victory and the No. 13 Bulldogs (8-4-0) swept the Gophers for the first time since 2009.
Finnish freshman goalie Kasimir Kaskisuo shut out the Gophers (7-3-0) for 111-plus minutes, stretching over two games deep into the third and finished with 24 saves in just his fifth career start.
“It’s huge. No. 1 team in the nation and we sweep them,” said Toninato, a Duluth native. “It’s a great feeling and we got a lot momentum going the last two weekends and we’ve got to keep it going.
Swedish freshman forward Leon Bristedt ended the Gophers’ scoreless drought with a goal midway through the third period. The Gophers got off five attempts in the final minute, but Justin Kloos’ shot as time expired was blocked by Toninato.
Adam Wilcox had 32 saves and kept the U in the game after the bad first period.
“It’s a little frustrating,” he said about the team’s scoring problems. “We just gotta get back to our fundamentals of working hard and just getting back to the basics, ‘cause we’ve got the skill.
“I like playing in an environment like this, it keeps it lively. I don’t see it as a disadvantage. … I think overall as a team point of view we just have to go out there and work harder.”
The Gophers’ depth was in question this weekend as they entered the series without a veteran defenseman and two forwards from their top three lines. Sophomore center Vinni Lettieri returned for Saturday’s finale and the Gophers changed their line combinations, but the Bulldogs’ physical presence continued to disrupt their offensive rhythm.
The Gophers got off just five shots on goal in the first period and were outshot 34-25.
“We’re in a little bit of an offensive dry spell right now, and that’s going to happen,” U coach Don Lucia said. “We didn’t always play smart all the time. We missed a center off a draw 30 seconds into the game and [I thought] where is this game headed. But I thought we rebounded … and had good push right to the end, we just didn’t score. Our forwards have one goal in seven periods of hockey. You need some goals to give yourself some momentum and we just couldn’t get momentum …”
UMD coach Scott Sandelin expected more Gophers offense after the shutout at Mariucci Arena. The Gophers saw a slight uptick late in the game, but the Bulldogs held on for their fifth straight win and back-to-back sweeps against ranked in-state rivals.
“We knew we had a team coming in here that wasn’t happy with how we played [on Friday] and we wanted to make sure we were satisfied with how we played,” he said. “But it’s emotional and the atmosphere helps bring that out. That’s what you want to play in. … it’s a lot better than the 500 people we played in front of in Notre Dame.”