DULUTH – Get a lead, play a structured defensive game and let goalie Hunter Shepard lock down the victory.
It’s a formula that’s served Minnesota Duluth well during its back-to-back national championship seasons and one that was on display Saturday night at Amsoil Arena in a 2-0 win over the Gophers that completed a home-and-home series sweep.
Shepard made 21 saves and freshman Quinn Olson scored on Minnesota Duluth’s first shot of the game as the eighth-ranked Bulldogs (3-3) rebounded from being swept last weekend at Wisconsin. The No. 20 Gophers, who got 21 saves from freshman goalie Jared Moe, fell to 3-3. UMD’s Jackson Cates scored an empty-net goal with 38 seconds left to set the final score in front of 6,655.
“That was a much better effort from us tonight. … That’s a very grizzled hockey team,’’ Gophers coach Bob Motzko said of the Bulldogs. “That was Shepard’s 92nd game tonight, and he was the difference.’’
Shepard made three saves on a Minnesota power play in the game’s first two minutes, then stopped Gophers leading scorer Sammy Walker on a breakaway and subsequent rebound shot later in the period, setting the tone for the evening.
“We were playing with fire for a while,’’ UMD coach Scott Sandelin said, “and Shep bailed us out.’’
Showing more jump than they had early in Friday’s 5-2 loss to UMD, the Gophers didn’t allow the Bulldogs to get their first shot on goal until 6:04 had expired.
Of course, the Bulldogs made that shot count with Olson beating Moe for a 1-0 lead. The play began when UMD forced a neutral-zone turnover. Jesse Jacques passed to Brandon Puricelli and Puricelli fed Olson, who was crashing the net.
“Three games in a row we let the first one in, so he’s got that down, but he also bounced back and was very strong tonight,’’ Motzko said of Moe, who suffered his first loss. “He gave us a chance all night long.’’
Said Moe: “We gave effort to [win] it, but we just couldn’t find the back of the net. It was a tough night not scoring, but it will come.’’
Along with Walker, Gophers sophomore forward Sampo Ranta also was snakebit on scoring chances. About 30 seconds into the second period, Ranta was all alone in front of Shepard but shot the puck over the net. Thinking he had scored, Ranta lifted his arms in celebration. Later in the period, the Finn had another breakaway but backhanded the puck high.
“We had some point-blank chances,’’ Motzko said. “… You miss one and you start gripping the stick a bit.’’
When Minnesota made a big push at the 13-minute mark of the third, Shepard denied Walker at the doorstep.
“They played better tonight,’’ Shepard said of the Gophers. “When you win the game on Friday night, you’re usually going to get pushback, and that’s what they did.’’
In the game’s final 6:30, the Bulldogs clamped down, not allowing a shot on goal. With UMD controlling the puck, the Gophers couldn’t get Moe off the ice for an extra attacker until only 55 seconds remained. Cates’ empty-net goal sealed the sweep.
“We came out with more intensity and a little more grit,’’ Gophers freshman forward Jonny Sorenson said, “but we’ve got room to improve.’’