Home sweep home, Bulldogs advance to NCHC semifinals

Bulldogs meet at center ice to commemorate their sweep. Photo by: Therese Norton

Bulldogs meet at center ice to commemorate their sweep. Photo by: Therese Norton

In the six seasons the Bulldogs have been part of the NCHC, they have secured five home playoff berths.

During their first two seasons in the NCHC, the Bulldogs failed to get past the first round of the playoffs. They have turned it around the last three seasons, advancing to the NCHC Frozen Faceoff and winning it in 2016-17.

Coming into the series, Minnesota Duluth and Nebraska-Omaha have never faced each other in the playoffs. UMD won the season series against the Mavericks by sweeping them on Jan. 25 and 26 at AMSOIL.

It was a sloppy first period for the Bulldogs in many ways. The puck wasn’t going where it needed and UMD was called for having too many men on the ice twice. One was on a power play, which killed any momentum the Bulldogs had.

“It was playoff hockey for sure,” head coach Scott Sandelin said. “We didn’t have a good period, our overall 60 minutes needs to be a lot better, we found a way to grind it out.”

They even dodged a bullet late in the period. Junior forward Tristan Keck missed a shorthand breakaway goal. He came down the middle of the ice and tried to put the moves on UMD goalie Hunter Shepard and ended up putting the shot wide left of the net.

A day before the game, it was announced that Shepard is a semifinalist for the Mark Richter Award-- nation’s top goalie-- as well as a finalist for the NCHC Player of the Year.

The second period has been the Bulldogs best offensive period all season long. 45.9 percent of their total goals have come in the second period, highest in the nation. That trend would continue when junior winger Riley Tufte extended his goal streak to four games.

Team captain Parker Mackay found Tufte with a cross-ice feed at the top of the left faceoff zone. Tufte let the wrist shot fly and found the right corner of the net to give the Bulldogs a 1-0 lead.

“The shift before I was out there with Kriegs [Peter Krieger],” Tufte said. “Kriegs lost the puck, but I saw that same opening I tried to find that again and it was there.”

Getting that goal in the second put UMD in a situation where they have been great all season, taking a lead into the third period.

This year the Bulldogs are 16-1-0 when taking a lead into the final period and have also given up the fewest third period goals this season with 16.

Jackson Cates (20) puts up a shot against Omaha Friday night. Photo by: Therese Norton

Jackson Cates (20) puts up a shot against Omaha Friday night. Photo by: Therese Norton

With 1:35 left in the game, Omaha pulled their goalie and 40 seconds later tied the game up off a Jack Coley goal. A rebound went to Shepard’s blindside, the puck found Coley and connected on the one-timer.

The Bulldogs have cashed-in on bonus hockey, going unbeaten in 22 of their last 23 overtime games with the lone loss coming last week against top-ranked St. Cloud State.

With just over six minutes left in overtime, sophomore Jade Miller's pass was blocked. The puck was in the middle of the ice in no-mans-land and sophomore Nick Swaney was right there to put the puck past the goalie for the win.

“I knew it was coming at me slow,” Swaney said of his game-winner. “I know [Omaha goalie] didn’t see where the puck was and I don’t want to wait, so I didn’t have time to pressure me. I waited for a second and lucky it paid off.”

Carrying over to Saturday, the Bulldogs were looking to what they did earlier this season and sweep the Mavericks.

“They’re going to be ready to go,” Sandelin said. “They don’t want their season to end, we’ve got to be a better team to.”

The second didn’t get off to the start that the Bulldogs were expecting.

Omaha pushed the puck on the break and freshman Tyler Ward got behind the defense to get a wide open look at the net and took full advantage.

UMD would answer short after with a goal. Mikey Anderson, who extended his point streak to six games, shot hit the board behind the net and ricocheted right to Jackson Cates on the other side for the putback goal.

“I didn’t see a clean lane to the net,” Anderson said of the first goal. “So I figured I’d just try to get [the puck] off the back wall and got a good kick off the plate and came back to Jackson who had a good lane to the net.”

Bulldogs almost took the lead at the end of the period, but the puck did not pass the line before time expired.

They would capitalize on that in the second period, like they have all season.

Bulldogs would connect on the power play at 12:46 in the second. Mikey Anderson found Kobe Roth in front of the net and chipped it past the goalie for the 2-1 lead.

The Bulldogs would add another one right before the end of the period. Justin Richards and Cole Koepke had a 2-on-1 and Richards found Koepke for the one-timer to extend the lead to 3-1.

“The second period where we killed those penalties and they didn’t get anything and we got the late goal from Cole was huge,” Sandelin said. “It gave a two goal lead going in and I thought our third period aside from a couple of shifts was solid. A much better game, something we can build off moving forward into next weekend.”

UMD would net a fourth goal, this time from Peter Krieger. Noah Cates found Krieger all alone for the one-timer to put it away.

Bulldogs will head to St. Paul next weekend to take on the winner of Colorado College and Western Michigan.