DULUTH – “Tuuunes!!’’ Minnesota Duluth hockey players shouted across Amsoil Arena to game operations staff as they started their stretching drills in the concourse. “Turn on the tuuunes!’’
A couple of minutes later, “WOW’’ by Tiesto thumped through the speakers, and the two-time defending national champions yelled in approval. Shortly after that, students began racing into the UMD Penalty Box section, the quickest ones claiming the coveted seats on the glass in the Bulldogs’ double-attack zone.
It was a festive Friday evening along Canal Park as Minnesota Duluth raised an NCAA championship banner to the delight of an enthusiastic crowd of 6,041 and began its quest for a three-peat, something that hasn’t happened in Division I men’s hockey since 1953.
Of course, there was a game, too.
And when coronation gave way to competition, somebody forgot to tell UMass Lowell that this was the Bulldogs’ party.
Lucas Condotta scored two goals and Chris Schutz had a goal and an assist in a three-goal, second-period outburst as the River Hawks stunned Minnesota Duluth 3-2.
“We dug ourselves a hole and couldn’t get out of it,’’ Bulldogs coach Scott Sandelin said. “We made some blatant mistakes, and they capitalized on them.”
Defenseman Scott Perunovich scored a power-play goal early in the third period and winger Noah Cates scored late with the goalie pulled for an extra attacker for the Bulldogs, who for the second consecutive year did not win on an NCAA banner-raising night. Last year, the Bulldogs and Minnesota tied 1-1 in UMD’s opener.
Goalie Tyler Wall made 32 saves for Lowell (3-0), while Bulldogs goalie Hunter Shepard stopped 14 shots. UMD outshot the River Hawks 34-17, including 17-1 in the third period.
“There were some better things in third period, but it’s not good enough,” Sandelin said. “One period in a game usually doesn’t get you a win.”
One period, however, did swing the game toward the River Hawks, who pounced on UMD mistakes in the second and stunned the crowd.
First, Condotta, a fourth-line center, grabbed the puck from behind the net and poked it past Shepard for a 1-0 Lowell lead at 5:22. Shortly after, Wall denied Nick Swaney on a breakaway to preserve the lead.
Then came the two big blows to UMD. At 15:00 of the second, Condotta made it 2-0 when he tapped in rebound after Shepard made an initial save on a two-on-one. Only 49 seconds later, Bulldogs defenseman Dylan Samberg lost a puck to Schutz in the UMD zone, and Schutz beat Shepard for a 3-0 lead.
“I’ve got to make a save in the second period. I’ve got to do my job,’’ Shepard said. “… I just couldn’t come up with the second save on a couple of those. That one’s on me.”
Given a heightened sense of urgency the third period, the Bulldogs looked more like the team that has played in the past three NCAA finals. They won puck battles and quickly used their power play to get back in the game. With Jackson Cates screening Wall, Perunovich blasted in a shot from the point at 1:59, cutting Lowell’s lead to 3-1.
“Jackson has been doing a great job of getting in [the goalie’s] eyes, and I saw an opening,” Perunovich said.
The Bulldogs got another power-play chance with 6:43 left in the third, only to have the River Hawks kill it, with Wall making two huge saves on Kobe Roth.
“He was pretty good,’’ UMD forward Justin Richards said of Wall. “We wanted to get as many pucks as possible on him, and we didn’t really do that in the first two periods.”
Sandelin pulled Shepard for an extra attacker with 2:21 to play, and Noah Cates beat Wall to cut the lead to 3-2 with 1:08 left. The Bulldogs had a couple of shots in the final minute, but Lowell hung on to spoil the party.
“We need urgency,” Richards said, “right from the puck drop.”