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The National Collegiate Hockey Conference selects the most spectacular five plays of the weekend to display on its Twitter account, and they’re always fun to watch. This past weekend, they included as the No. 3 goal of the weekend a power-play tally by Scott Perunovich that was the result of two brilliant passes by brothers Noah and Jackson Cates.
The play started in congestion behind the Fighting Hawks goal, with UMD having just tied North Dakota 1-1 in the third period Saturday night. Noah Cates came up with the puck, but had to pivot away from the play to protect the puck, still behind the net on the left side. As he was about to be the victim of a big hit, Cates, with his back to the left faceoff circle, pulled a deft pass backward between his own legs, and right on the stick of brother Jackson Cates in the left circle. Jackson Cates had no time to plan, he simply leaned to his left and pulled a hard backhand pass to the slot. Call those “tic” and “tac,” and “toe” came when Perunovich, who had drifted into the area, caught the pass and immediately fired a 30-foot shot that beat goaltender Adam Scheel’s glove to the upper right for a 2-1 UMD lead.
The Bulldogs ultimately lost a tough 3-2 game on two goals barely a minute apart later in the final period, by Matt Kierstad and Jonny Tychonik, to gain a split for the weekend series. But we also must go back to the Friday night series opener, when Cloquet’s Westin Michaud scored a dazzling goal for North Dakota against the Bulldogs. Michaud, who is a graduate transfer from Colorado College where he had a red-shirt season among his four years, burst through two UMD defensemen to get to a puck, then, reaching around to the right of UMD’s Louie Roehl he tapped the puck right-to-left to where he retrieved it and quickly shot to beat Hunter Shepard. That was the first goal in Friday night’s superb game at AMSOIL Arena, and it came in No. 4 among the top goals of the weekend.
Getting two of the top five highlight goals indicates what a great game, and series, the two teams played, but I think the NCHC still missed what I thought was the No. 1 goal of the weekend. It came Friday night, at almost the precise midpoint of a game where the Bulldogs were playing an excellent game, but had just fallen behind
3-1 earlier in the second period. The Bulldogs had found scoring tough against Western Michigan two weeks earlier, and found it impossible one week earlier in losing twice at St. Cloud State. So coming back against the resurgent Fighting Hawks was a major challenge, and here they were, playing well but trailing 3-1.
Roehl was called for tripping at 9:06 of the middle period Friday, so not only were the Bulldogs struggling to score, they now had to go on the penally kill. Cole Koepke, a top-line winger from Hermantown, hustled out to cover North Dakota’s point man, who got the puck past him and back deep into the UMD zone. Koepke, who had stepped past him, was sort of trapped out of the zone, but when he started to come back in, he noted that Perunovich, his highly skilled teammate on defense, had gained possession of the puck.
We can’t be certain of all this, but it reminded me of some guys playing a pickup touch football game, and I say to you, “Go deep up the right and I’ll hit you long.” Koepke made eye contact with Perunovich, then wheeled and took off, just as Perunovich, playing the role of Pat Mahomes if you’re a Super Bowl fan, lobbed a long pass up the right boards. It was hard enough to go deep, but not hard enough to reach the far end boards. Koepke, who is fast, raced after it past the Fighting Hawks defense, got the puck and cut hard for the net. He made his move a high speed, and when Adam Shcel blocked his try, Koepke’s quick hands were quick enough to convert his own bang-bang rebound.
The short-handed goal, at 10:44 of the second period, ended the long goal-scoring drought and ignited a spectacular outburst of goals. It was like touching a flame to a fuse, and that significance helped make that goal my favorite of the series.
After getting only one goal through the first period and a half, the Bulldogs scored five consecutive goals — with Quinn Olson and Nick Swaney scoring before the second period ended, and Tanner Laderoute and Noah Cates scoring midway through the third period to thrust UMD from a 3-1 deficit to a 6-3 lead. Jasper Weatherby knocked in a power-play rebound for North Dakota to make it a 6-4 game, but Kobe Roth, who had gotten UMD’s first goal of the game for a 1-1 tie in the first period, got a perfect breakaway feed from Nick Wolff and tore out of UMD’s zone ahead of two scrambling defenders. Roth sailed in on a breakaway and at the last instant, shifted to his backhand and flicked his shot up and in off the crossbar, extreme upper right.
That ended the scoring and UMD had a 7-4 victory. Come to think of it, Roth’s breakaway goal could also have been one of the NCHC’s top five goals of the weekend! That 7-4 victory helped fill AMSOIL for the second game, with a record crowd of 7,711 showing up, and it didn’t hurt that goaltender Hunter Shepard, who had tied the collegiate record for consecutive starts Friday night, set the record with his 105th consecutive start Saturday night.
The split assured all the Bulldog fans that this team is still capable of winning the title, although the NCHC title now looks doubtful because North Dakota is back 8 points ahead, and Denver, of all teams, has been on a hot streak that has carried them past the Bulldogs and into second place in the NCHC.
So just in case everybody is not yet properly focused on this sensational race, this week UMD goes to Denver for an immense series that could settle second place. The season is fast running out, and it looks fairly certain that the four home teams for the first round of playoffs will be North Dakota, Denver, UMD and Western Michigan. None of them has a guarantee on advancing, but those four would make a fantastic final face-off at Xcel Energy Center.
UMD WOMEN SEEK HOME ICE AT GOPHERS
Once again, the UMD women’s hockey team finds itself needing a couple victories to claim the fourth and final home-ice slot for the playoffs, but they find a major hurdle in their way — a series at Minnesota this weekend. The Bulldogs were tied by St. Cloud State last weekend, gaining an important extra point in the second overtime, before winning 5-2. The Gophers, fighting tooth and nail with arch-rival Wisconsin for first place in the WCHA and No. 1 in the nation, lost two excruciating games at Wisconsin to drop to No. 2 in the league and No. 3 in the national ratings.
That means there will be no sneaking up on the Gophers for UMD, which finally achieved a .500 league record at 7-6-3, but solving a Gopher outfit sure to be in a surly mood is a tall order in Ridder Arena.