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Time is running out on this 2019-20 hockey season, but there seems to be just enough time for the UMD men’s hockey team to hit high gear, and maybe even get into overdrive for their NCHC and NCAA playoff bid.
And there is even less time for the UMD women’s hockey team, which is already in top gear and making a surprising rush into WCHA contention. Before we get into the rather fantastic details — and add a nod toward both the UMD man’s and women’s basketball teams, which return to Romano Gym this weekend to bolster their Northern Sun championship bids — a word of apology. For those who tend to read these missives to
keep up with what’s going on in sports in the area, last week’s thick Reader crammed with explanations about the annual “best of” categories, there might have been some curiosity about the headline on my article saying the Bulldogs men needed a big effort at Denver this weekend. Well, “this weekend” was a week old reprint of my previous week’s piece, because the Reader changed up and called for a day earlier deadline — Monday night instead of Tuesday night — for all the copy. Thanks to some peculiar electronic gremlins, my notification went to that enormous e-mail depository in the sky and I never received it. After attending a high school hockey game Monday night, I went to bed, quite tired, and sometime around 1 a.m. I noticed a “reminder” for the notice I had never gotten. Too late. I blew it. So the Reader ran a reprint to fill the void.
Oh well, not much happened that previous weekend. There was something called the Super Bowl, and UMD swept both games at Denver, behind the brilliant goaltending of the incomparable Hunter Shepard, to recapture
second place from the Pioneers and regain their spot in hot pursuit of league-leading North Dakota. And, the UMD women were blown out 5-0 at Minnesota, but then bounced back behind the incomparable Maddie Rooney to stun the Gophers 2-0.
That brings us up to date, in a way, and both UMD hockey teams returned to AMSOIL Arena to post impressive series sweeps. In both cases, the teams got brilliant goaltending again, and also both came up with spectacular goals to decide the sweeps on Saturday night.
The men have had problems scoring, but only through being swept at St. Cloud State, 2-1 and 2-0, on January 17-18. One goal for the weekend? Since then, the Bulldogs erupted to beat North Dakota 7-4 before falling 3-2 to the NCHC leaders, then UMD went to Denver and vaulted past the Pioneers in the standings on the strength of 3-2 and 4-1 victories. That brought the Dogs home to face Nebraska-Omaha.
The Bulldogs held on for a 3-2 victory Friday over the Mavericks, and were locked in a 1-1 tie in the final minute of the second period Saturday. UNO put on some stirring offensive pressure in that final minute, and as Shepard lunged in anticipation of a rebound try by Omaha’s Nolan Sullivan, in the slot, right where the rebound had landed. Meanwhile, defenseman Scott Perunovich scrambled back to help his netminder, which put him on a perfect trajectory for Shepard, who lunged and got his stick blade on Sullivan’s shot, deflecting it off toward the left corner by the narrowest of margins.
In that moment, Perunovich crashed into the sprawling Shepard, knocking his blacker glove off his hand and sending it sliding toward the corner, right after the puck. Nick Wolff, Shepard’s co-captain, and Perunovich’s defensive partner, was scrambling back to his feet near the corner when he saw the puck and the blocker glove sliding toward him. Wolff knew time was running out, and he was desperate to swat the puck out of the zone. He did both, sending the puck out and across the neutral zone to sophomore winger Tanner Laderoute. In a
flash, Laderoute zoomed in at the UNO goal and scored, with 17 seconds left in the second period. That broke the 1-1 tie and put UMD up 2-1.
In the third period, Laderoute also carried up the left boards 2-on-2 and sent a perfect pass to the slot for Jade Miller, who got a step on his coverage and converted the feed at 2:52 for a 3-1 lead. It should have become 4-1 but the officials blew a goal by Nick Swaney, who broke for the net in a scramble. A shot was blocked by the UNO goaltender and it popped up back out the slot just as Swaney arrived. He braced himself to let the puck bounce off his chest, then he alertly bunted it with the shaft of his stick, chest-high, right - not the net.
As Swaney celebrated, one ref waved it off. They took a long time reviewing it, but left the no-goal call stand. After the game, and after Cole Koepke made it 4-1 anyway with an empty-net goal, I caught up to Swaney and he confirmed my view of the play — blocked off his chest, and then a perfect bunt for hockey’s version of a suicide squeeze. Yes, Swaney used to play baseball, and yes, he was a good bunter.
Now the men get a weekend off before starting their closing road trips to Western Michigan and Colorado College, before a closing series at home against St. Cloud State. Their 5-1 surge the last three weekends
has lifted UMD in both the Pairwise and USCHO ratings to stand No. 4, behind North Dakota, Minnesota State-Mankato, and Cornell, and an eyelash ahead of Denver, as the NCHC have three in the top six.
Not to be outdone, the UMD women came out of their impressive split at Minnesota to face Ohio State at AMSOIL in a pair of afternoon matinees. The Buckeyes had beaten UMD 3-1 and after tying the second
night, OSU won in the second overtime. But in the rematch, the Bulldogs snatched the Friday game 5-4 in overtime on Anna Klein’s goal, and then the Buckeyes — steamed at losing their large margin between their third place and UMD’s fourth — came out flying Saturday, outshooting the Bulldogs 47-28. Ah, but Maddie Rooney was zoned in, and stopped everything for a 4-1 victory and a sweep. OK, almost everything. She gave up one on a perfect shot by Emma Malgtais at 2:53 of the third period to cut it to 3-1.
But after Sydney Brodt’s first-period goal, Ashton Bell scored a power-play goal early in the second, and then, at 17:12 of the middle period, Gabbie Hughes scored a highlight video goal for a 3-0 cushion. Brodt was battling a Buckeye for the puck and knocked it ahead to the right boards for Hughes, who stickhandler out of her end and made a brilliant pass off the right boards to elude another defender, then rushed up the right with what was developing into a 2-on-1. Hughes pulled up abruptly and cut left, eluding the last defender as she got
to her forehand, then she fired a perfect missile into the upper right extremity of the net.
So it was really nothing much when Hughes got the puck with two minutes left and the OSU net empty, and she fired a 95-footer into the net for the 4-1 final — her 17th goal of a brilliant sophomore season.
The Bulldogs head for Mankato this weekend, then come home to take on Wisconsin — a powerhouse team that was upset by Mankato last weekend — in the season finale.
That gives UMD fans the chance to focus on the basketball teams, joining up for a pair of doubleheaders at Romano Gym. The women, 16-2 and leading the NSIC North, finish their home schedule against Northern State at 5:30 Friday, and MSU-Moorhead at 3:30 Saturday. The men, 13-5 and one game behind Northern State’s 14-4, face Northern at 7:30 Friday in the biggest game of the year, and then take on Moorhead at 5:30 on Saturday.
Both UMD teams have colorful leaders, with sophomore Brookje Olson leading the women in scoring and rebounds, while senior Brandon Myer will move into second place on UMD’s career scoring list as he directs the Bulldog offense Friday.