Bulldogs best falls short of taking Denver

John Gilbert

Maddy Clough scores shootout goal against Hailey MacLeod to give St. Thomas a 2-1 extra point after tying UMD Saturday. Photo by John Gilbert.

Never mind the big-time sports events all over the world last week, there were enough dramatic firsts at AMSOIL Arena during two UMD doubleheaders to satisfy the cravings of any sports fan.
Speaking of sports fans, we always like to boast about how sharp and perceptive UMD hockey fans are, that they understand the game. If that’s the case, where were they all during the UMD series against Denver, the No, 1 team in the country?
I don’t care how many season tickets have been sold; there were almost as many empty seats as filled ones at AMSOIL. Maybe it was ticket prices, which can climb up to $40 apiece for certain games.
I have a media pass, but my wife, Joan, and I decided that as much of an attraction it is to watch the No. 1 team in the land, we didn’t think we could afford the ticket price.
So maybe there is justification for the no-shows. All they missed was the two best games we’ll see at AMSOIL all season, even though UMD lost both games.
The Bulldogs played with the sort of intensity they’ve sought all season in Game 1, jumping ahead 2-0 on power-play goals by Dominic James and Ben Steeves, only to give up goals late in the second and early in the third for a 2-2 tie.
The game hinged on some calls by the hyper refereeing gang that tried to call every touch but missed some major turning points.
At the 11:50 mark of the third period, UMD was trying to score  but a Denver defenseman checked the UMD shooter into the right edge of the crease, where Denver goalie Magnus Corona appeared to bump him just outside the crease.
The puck got through, squirting out the left side, where Dominic James plunked it into the open net. The refs reviewed the goal at length then waved it off, claiming goaltender interference.
The game continued with the same intensity, ending only when Tristan Broz scored at 2:14 of overtime on a deadly shot from the slot.
Game 2 also had a disheartening finish for UMD, but it was even more intense, and the Bulldogs played the bigger and more experienced Pioneers even tougher.
All four lines played well, and this time James scored to gain a 1-1 tie in the first period, and Tanner Laderoute put UMD up 2-1 on a slick play where Laderoute rushed up the right side, fed Jesse Jaques who was wider on the right while he cut to the slot and was in perfect position to drill the return pass at 10:42 of the second. 

Protecting a 2-1 lead is a large chore, especially against Denver, and Carter Mazur tied the game at 1:22 of the third. At 10:53, Luke Mykymok flicked a backhander in for a rebound goal and a 3-2 UMD lead.
There might have been only two misplays by the Bulldogs, but they were yet to happen. With 5 minutes left in the third, a UMD player facing the right boards chose to make a cute, puck-pulling pass back through his own feet. It was so slick it fooled his linemate, and Denver wound up with the puck, and McKade Webster ultimately scored without UMD ever regaining possession.

That made it 3-3 and overtime again.
After 3 minutes, UMD defenseman Wyatt Kaiser, who had played brilliantly but to exhaustion, summoned up the energy to stop a speedy Pioneers winger rushing up the right boards. Kaiser stripped the puck from him, clean as a whistle, and it might have gone as the play of the game except for one thing – Denver’s Sean Behrens left his check in the 3-on-3 segment and followed up the play, swiping the puck back from Kaiser and whirling to charge the net.

He crossed the crease, right to left, and tried to jam in his shot, but goalie Matthew Thiessen stayed with him and smothered the shot. Behrens went flying over Thiessen and when he landed, he found the puck had come through with him, so he quickly lunged and poked the rebound under Thiessen and out in front.

Before any Bulldogs could intervene, Adam Thompson put it away and Denver had a sensational 4-3 victory.
“There are no such things as moral victories,” said UMD coach Scott Sandelin.
But evaluating these two games, we will respectfully disagree with Sandelin.
Denver proved it is the No. 1 team in the country, and UMD played them dead even both games, and the Bulldogs were only a ridiculously bad call away from a split.
Both games followed the UMD wo-men playing St. Thomas, which is in Year 2 of building itself into a Division I team.
The Bulldogs jumped ahead 3-0 with a 20-shot first period, and romped to an 8-1 win.
Game 2 on Saturday was a tribute to Sophie’s Squad, a fund-raising operation organized by Gabbie Hughes and her family to contribute to helping athletes suffering with any kind of mental health issues.
The game was a strict departure, as St. Thomas battled the powerful Bulldogs through a scoreless first period. The Bulldogs gained a 1-0 lead on Manson McMahon’s power-play goal in the second, and it stayed 1-0 as the Bulldogs appeared to think that even with a 19-5 shot edge in the third period, they could coast to victory.

But with 5:29 to go, St. Thomas tied the game 1-1 with a power-play goal by freshman Haley Maxwell – her first collegiate goal.
The game ended 1-1 despite Luci Bianchi speeding through the UMD defense for several breakaways, all of which were blocked by Hailey MacLeod, getting a rare start in place of Emma Soderberg.
So the Bulldogs took their 49-15 shot advantage through a scoreless overtime, sending the ultimate result to a shootout.
In three rounds, Naomi Rogge and Maggie Flaherty gave UMD a 2-1 edge over the Tommies and goal-scorer Maija Almich, but Luci Bianchi – daughter of former Bloomington Jefferson star Steve Bianchi – sped in and scored the equalizer, sending it to a fourth round. Tovsa Henderson was stopped by Maurer, and Maddy Clough, a sophomore defenseman from Andover, beat MacLeod for the biggest goal in St. Thomas’s brief history.

It counts as a tie, but we all know St. Thomas won 2-1.
The drama inside AMSOIL properly prepared us for the Vikings getting outplayed and whipped by the Detroit Lions. The surprise was that Vikings quarterback Kirk Cousins was absolutely brilliant, making it the first game of an amazing season where the quarterback came through while the rest of the team faltered, and the Lions won 34-23.

Detroit quarterback Jared Goff was 27-30 passing for 3 touchdowns and 330 yards and a 120.7 rating. But Cousins was 31-41 for 2 touchdowns and a personal best 425 yards and a 124.5 rating.
It helped Cousins that Justin Jefferson caught 11 of his passes for 223 of those yards, also a personal best. Star running back Calvin Cook carried 15 times for only 23 yards as the Vikings were outgunned 134-22 in the ground game.
Just a guess, but early returns in high school hockey indicate that Hermantown, our own Single-A powerhouse, again might be the best team in Northeastern Minnesota despite the enormous loss of the Plante clan, which moved to Chicago with their dad, Derek, who is associate head coach of the Chicago Blackhawks this year.

Max, who would be a junior, is playing for the U.S. Development team in Ann Arbor, while Zam, who would be a senior and clearcut favorite for Mr. Hockey, has just recovered from a shoulder injury suffered last year in the Hawks championship crusade, and is playing for the Chicago Steel of the USHL. Because he’s played with the Steel while the Hawks have started, he would now be ineligible to rejoin them. Ninth-grader Victor Plante is skating for a Triple-A Bantam team in Chicago.

From a selfish standpoint, I thought it would be a unique highlight for everyone if Hermantown coach Pat Andrews had told the Plante family that if they stayed, he would play all three on the same forward line.
I don’t know if that would be enough incentive to stay and play for the Hawks, but without question, the all-Plante line would have been the biggest attraction in the history of high school hockey.
Hermantown started off beating a cluster of AA teams in the Twin Cities, getting goals from seven different players while beating Cretin-Derham Hall 6-3 after trailing 3-1, then beating Hill Murray 3-1, in a game that saw senior winger Kade Kohanski go down with a fractured wrist. “He’ll be out at least a month,” said Andrews. He, of course, has become the best at replacing front-liners who are out of the lineup, for whatever reason.

Putting all the fun and games aside, former UMD hockey coach Mike Sertich was headed for another checkup with renewed optimism in his battle against pancreatic cancer. “Last week, my doctor laid it on the line and told me ‘It’s treatable, but curable.’ That’s the best news I’ve gotten, because if it’s treatable, I’ll fight it.”