Bulldogs season sweep Gophers for first time ever

Minnesota-Duluth’s stingy defense allowed only two Gophers goals all weekend.

Lou Raguse

DULUTH, Minn. – With 11 seconds left in Saturday’s Minnesota men’s hockey game against Duluth, frustrated Gophers Keith Ballard and Tyler Hirsch hacked away at the scores of brooms fans at the Duluth Entertainment and Convention Center threw onto the ice.

Minnesota-Duluth forward Luke Stauffacher had just notched an empty-net goal to lock up the Bulldogs’ 4-1 victory against Minnesota. For the Bulldogs, the victory meant they would stand alone atop the WCHA.

The win also marked the first time in school history that Minnesota-Duluth swept both regular-season series from the Gophers.

“I hope this means our program is going in the right direction,” Bulldogs coach Scott Sandelin said.

Minnesota-Duluth is on a 12-game unbeaten streak and has won its last 11 games at home.

But the weekend victories over the Gophers established the Bulldogs as not just a hot team, but as one of the best teams in the country.

Minnesota coach Don Lucia, although disappointed in the series, said the Gophers need to move on as only three weeks remain in the regular season.

“They deserve to be number one in the league,” Lucia said. “We’re still only four points out of third, so next week is important.”

Minnesota-Duluth, who now holds a two-point lead over North Dakota in the WCHA, plays a critical series against the Sioux in two weeks.

“Duluth controls its own destiny now,” Lucia said. “That’s a nice position to be in at the end of the season.”

Friday’s 6-1 loss was the most lopsided for the Gophers this season, and the second period, in which Minnesota was outscored 4-0, was also its worst of the year.

Lucia said he wanted to pull goaltender Kellen Briggs after the fourth goal but decided to wait until the end of the period.

“And then they ended up scoring two more,” Lucia said.

Justin Johnson minded the net for the final period Friday without allowing a goal, and Briggs rebounded for a stronger game Saturday despite losing 4-1.

Power play reversal

Going into the series, Minnesota boasted the nation’s best power play while Minnesota-Duluth held the second spot.

However, the Bulldogs dominated the specialty teams throughout the weekend. They scored three power-play goals each game to go six-for-10 overall while holding Minnesota scoreless in 10 opportunities. It was the first two-game series this season in which the Gophers were shut out on the power play.

“We got beat in the specialty teams battle,” forward Andy Sertich said. “In a big series like this, we have to score. We didn’t do our job this weekend.”

On Friday, Minnesota-Duluth’s top line of Tyler Brosz, Evan Schwabe and Junior Lessard combined for four goals and six assists, with two of the goals coming on the power play.

“They’re having an exceptional year,” teammate Beau Geisler said. “They’re almost to the point where they don’t even have to look anymore – they just know where each other are.”

On Saturday, although the Bulldogs’ top line notched a goal and three assists, the power-play hero was junior Marco Peluso, who found net twice on the man-advantage. Peluso, despite playing on a power-play unit all season, had only three goals going into the series.

“It’s starting to be a different guy stepping up each night,” Sandelin said. “But he’s worked hard all year, and it was nice to see him score a couple.”

Lineup shuffling

Because junior Jerrid Reinholz missed Friday’s game with a broken hand, Lucia had to slightly rework his lines. Then on Saturday, with Thomas Vanek sitting out because of injury, Lucia altered them again.

The changes Friday found Barry Tallackson playing out of position at center. The Bulldogs were able to expose the line for three goals that game.

Reinholz suited up Saturday, and Tallackson moved back to right wing. On the blue line, Mike Vannelli filled in for Peter Kennedy.

“I thought Vannelli stepped in and had his best game of the year,” Lucia said Saturday. “Our effort was there tonight – it’s just hard to win with only one goal.”