Top-ranked Minnesota Duluth celebrated its first home game in 63 days Friday night with a 2-1 victory over independent Alabama-Huntsville before 6,614 fans at Amsoil Arena. It marked the first game between the schools.
The Bulldogs (16-4-3) hadn’t played at home since a Nov. 19 victory over Minnesota State-Mankato. Since then, UMD had four straight road series, the longest such stretch in program history.
Huntsville (2-23-1) has gone through an emotional season. The only independent program in Division I was told it would be downgraded to club status after 2011-12, but got a reprieve last month as new school president Robert Altenkirch re-evaluated athletic department finances. The Chargers will remain a varsity sport in 2012-13.
UMD, 15-1-3 the last 19 games, led in shots on goal 54-20.
The Bulldogs dominated the first five minutes, getting the game’s first eight shots on goal, but couldn’t dent Huntsville sophomore goalie Clarke Saunders, who is transferring to North Dakota next season.
UMD did get on the board first, with 8:54 left in the opening period, as freshman Justin Crandall tipped in a Wade Bergman point drive at the right edge of the net.
Senior center Travis Oleksuk earned his team-leading 15th goal of the season, and 40th of his career, with 7:39 left in the second period. Just after the end of a UMD power play, Jack Connolly, from behind the extended goal line, passed to Oleksuk at the right circle. An assist extended Connolly’s point streak to a career-best 21 games.
Huntsville defenseman Tom Durnie scored the only goal of the third period, on a power play with 2:55 to play to make it a tense finish.