CHN Staff Report
Minnesota-Duluth has won a pair of national championships in recent years with a similar formula: playing tough down the stretch into the postseason, and finding ways to win close games in the third period.
It seemed like it was all coming together again for UMD heading into this weekend, having won its last six games. But then the Bulldogs ran into Alex Aslanidis.
The freshman Western Michigan goaltender was just two minutes away from consecutive shutouts of the two-time defending national champs. In the end, he had to settle for making 46 saves on 47 shots for the weekend, and earning a sweep of the Bulldogs, while helping lift WMU into fifth place in the NCHC.
It was a big turnaround from when Aslanidis allowed eight goals in four periods at Duluth a few weeks ago.
“Our goaltender up in Duluth was below average and it was great to see Alex play the way he played this weekend,” Broncos coach Andy Murray said. “The thing for him, for any young player, you have big nights like the last two, you just have to make sure your nights aren’t bad. You can be average but not bad. That’s what you’re working towards.”
UMD’s power play was 0-for-7 on the weekend, and has been a sore spot much of the season.
“We gotta get pucks to the net. Let’s start there,” UMD coach Scott Sandelin said.
Cole Koepke got the only Duluth goal, his 12th of the season. He has a personal hot streak going, but that’s not much of a salve.
“This wekeend was not ideal,” Koepke said. “It is what it is, and we have to learn from it. It was a big eye opener, for the young guys especially. This time of year is crucial, every game matters. We have to look at each other and come together as a group. We can go one of two ways, either fall apart or come together as a team and learn from it.
“It’s not that we didn’t have a great effort, it was definitely better than last night, but they had a plan and executed. They won more battles than us. That’s something as a group we have to learn from.”
Ronnie Attard scored twice for Western Michigan in a 10-second span of the second period. The first was on a delayed penalty, and the latter came while the penalty was being served. It was the second straight game a WMU forward scored twice — Josh Passolt did it Friday.
“I was a little concerned about us in the first five or six minutes because we knew they were going to come out determined,” Murray said. “We were back on our heels a bit. But our pushback started at the six-minute mark. … We talked during the TV timeout. ‘We can’t continue (like that), we have to establish our game. We can’t just keep accepting punches right now.'”
While the penalty kill was great all weekend for the Broncos, it was more about not having to kill many penalties, especially Saturday, when it was only two.
“We learned our lesson at Duluth when we took nine penalties,” Murray said. “It’s not just a fact that the other team can score on the power play, it’s that you have to play defense, forwards get worn out killing. It’s physical every time we play Duluth. It’s like North Dakota. Both like to go north and south, like to go hard, and there’s going to be a confrontation when they get to the puck.
“We had to be physically engaged and on the right side of the puck. The offense we generated was a by-product of being in good position defensively. It was a thing we emphasized in the third.”
WMU has no games this upcoming week. Meanwhile, UMD will be looking to bounce back in a makeup game with Colorado College on Thursday.
“It’s time to play big-boy hockey, it’s that time of the year,” Sandelin said. “We played a team that played great hockey, their goalie was sharp, they played well as a team. They did a lot of things really well that made things difficult. We have to do the same thing. We have to be committed. We have a good team too, but we have to all be committed to being a hard team to play against.”
North Dakota 5, Denver 2
Jasper Weatherby scored twice and goalie Peter Thome stopped 18 shots to lead host North Dakota to a 5-2 win over Denver at Ralph Engelstad Arena.
Thome was playing for injured No. 1 goaltender Adam Scheel. Scheel suffered a minor injury in his 3-0 shutout Friday, and should be fine for next week. It was Thome’s third start of the season. ND forward Grant Mismash also sat out with a minor injury.
“I couldn’t be happier for him,” North Dakota coach Brad Berry told the Grand Forks Herald about Thome. “Peter is a guy that’s a team guy. He works his tail off. His career hasn’t been the easiest for him at North Dakota. When he’s gotten an opportunity, he’s usually made the most of it. Coming in after not playing for a while, I know our guys were fired up. When we knew he was going into the lineup, guys were very happy and just wanted to play hard for him. You could see it, especially in the last 40 minutes, guys were digging in for him.”
Shane Pinto, who had two including an empty netter Friday, scored his 14th goal of the season. At the time, it gave UND a 2-1 lead. He now has a goal in six straight games.
Denver tied the game on a nice shot from freshman Carter Savoie. But North Dakota regained the lead when Collin Adams, during a power play, tried to put the puck in front from behind the net, and it went off a defender and in. That seemed to deflate the Pioneers, who didn’t have an even-strength shot over the game’s final 23 minutes.
North Dakota is now 15-4-1, and certain to stay No. 1 in the CHN Power 16 this week. The Hawks have won 24 of their last 25 at REA, dating back to 2018-19. Denver (7-11-1) slips to sixth place in the NCHC, and can no longer finish in the top four.
UND will ends its regular season with four straight games with Omaha. The first series is at Ralph Engelstad Arena for Friday and Saturday night games before they play a home-and-home over the final two weeks of the regular season.
“That win tonight puts us in the driver’s seat,” Thome said, referring to the Penrose Cup as NCHC regular-season champs. “It’s a good spot to be in, but it doesn’t mean we can take our foot off the gas or anything. We’ve got Omaha coming in. We split with them this year so far and we split with them both times last year. It’s going to be another battle.
Nebraska-Omaha 3, Colorado College 2
Omaha overcame a 2-0 deficit to not just rally for the win, but clinch a top-four spot in the NCHC. Thanks to this wacky year, that will not mean getting to host a quarterfinal best-of-3 series — instead UNO will nevertheless be considered the home team in a neutral-site game in Grand Forks, when the time comes.
“That’s a huge accomplishment in this league,” UNO coach Mike Gabinet said.
UNO handed it to CC on Friday, 7-1, but the Tigers responded in this game.
“They came out and played really well. They responded well,” Gabinet said. “They carried the play in the first, the second was more even. In the third we got back to our identity and we did what we needed to be successful.”
Grant Cruikshank, who missed six games prior to this series with appendicitis, scored twice to stake CC to a 2-0 lead. Matt Miller’s power-play goal late in the second help get UNO back on track, coming during a five-minute major. In the third, Tyler Ward picked up his 10th, and then Kirby Proctor won it late.
“We find a way to win hockey games,” Gabinet said. “We stayed calm on the bench and did what we had to do in the third period. … Sometimes after having a successful first night where you put up a lot of points, you get into individual puck play where you’re trying to make individual plays to make it happen. And in this league, you have to play a team game, and unfortunately this game demands you to do the right thing over and over again even if you don’t get rewarded. It’s a tough way to play and we got back to that in the third period.”
The Mavericks won all six meetings between the teams this season.
Basse finished with 29 saves for the Tigers (3-13-3), who lost their ninth straight game.
St. Cloud 4, Miami 2
St. Cloud State scored three times in the third period to stave off a sweep at the hands of Miami in Oxford this weekend.
Junior defenseman Brendan Bushy scored the first goal of his career, tying the game early in the third. Kevin Fitzgerald scored eight seconds later to give his team the lead, and added an empty netter late.
A night earlier, Miami had scored two goals in 13 seconds to take a 2-1 lead. St. Cloud tied it 10 seconds after that, in a wild sequence, only to see Miami get the game winner a couple minutes later.