No. 2 Minnesota-Duluth traveled south down highway 35 to face in-state rival No. 6 Minnesota in the nightcap of the final North Star College Cup.
Minnesota has had success in the new year, rattling off seven consecutive victories before falling to Big Ten rival Wisconsin last Saturday. The Bulldogs, who have inhabited the top spot in the rankings much of the season, saw to it that their neighbors to the south continued to streak in the opposite direction, prevailing with a 3-2 victory.
The Gophers entered the weekend with the fifth-best scoring offense nationally. Tyler Sheehy, Justin Kloos and Vinni Lettieri each have 11 or more goals.They met their match at the Xcel Energy Center against one of the nation’s best young goaltenders, Hunter Miska. Miska has four shutouts this season and has saved more than 92 percent of the shots he’s faced.
“I thought we started slow in the first period,” said Minnesota-Duluth coach Scott Sandelin. “We gave up a power-play goal but we started getting to the net in the second period.”
After losing sophomore forward Tommy Novak to injury two weekends ago during a series with Michigan, the Gophers have been forced to juggle lines. Novak’s absence on the power play and otherwise was evident, as his teammates failed to capitalize on golden opportunities, including a two-man advantage in the third period.
“I liked the way we played a lot. We had a lot of good looks,” said Minnesota coach Don Lucia. “When you play a team like Duluth, they make you pay for your mistakes.”
As expected in rivalry games, the nightcap in Saint Paul featured bone rattling hits and plenty of post-whistle scrums. Minnesota goaltender Eric Schierhorn, who has struggled at times this season, tried to keep pace with Miska and made some impressive saves, but sacrificed a goal to the Bulldogs in each period. Miska finished the night with 37 saves.
“Our goalie was better than theirs,” said Sandelin.
Alex Iafallo, Avery Peterson and Dallas Stars first-round pick Riley Tufte all lit the lamp for the Bulldogs.
Tufte, who played nearly half a season before notching his first collegiate point, has been scorching hot in 2017, with six goals.
“I was happy to be back at the X,” said Blaine, Minn., native Tufte. “I have a lot of confidence right now. Things are going my way. Avery Peterson, Karson Kuhlmann and I have been having good chemistry.”
With a flair for the dramatic, Minnesota’s Brent Gates scored his second goal of the game with an extra attacker, a power-play goal with 38 seconds left in the third period, but the effort fell short for the Gophers.
“I thought we played well,” said Gates. “We have to minimize turnovers but we know we can compete with anyone.”
The Gophers outshot the Bulldogs in 22-3 in the third period.
“We pushed it at the end and had momentum,” said Lucia. “This taught us how critical each play is.”