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Bulldogs sweep their way to St. Paul

DULUTH — After watching his team win the past three games against Western Michigan by a combined score of 19-1, Minnesota Duluth coach Scott Sandelin finally got the tight, intense and physical game he'd been expecting all along against the Broncos on Saturday, March 10.

As for Western, it finally got a decent performance out of its goaltender.

The result was still the same, however, as the third-seeded Bulldogs pulled out a 2-0 victory over the sixth-seeded Broncos in front of 4,391 fans at Amsoil Arena to sweep the best-of-three NCHC quarterfinal series.

UMD (21-14-3) now advances to its third straight NCHC Frozen Faceoff, which this year will take place Friday and Saturday at Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul. The Bulldogs, who are the defending NCHC postseason champions, will play an opponent yet to be determined at either 4 or 7:30 p.m. in the semifinals.

"You'd like to win every one 5-0 like it was Friday night, but these are the types of games you're going to see down the stretch, especially next weekend down in the Cities and hopefully in regionals and beyond that," UMD senior wing and captain Karson Kuhlman said. "It's good for our group, especially the younger guys to see what it takes to win these postseason games."

Western sophomore goaltender Ben Blacker — who stopped 11 of 12 shots in relief Friday — made 23 saves on 24 shots Saturday, but Bulldogs sophomore goaltender Hunter Shepard stopped all 19 shots he faced for his school-record eighth shutout of the season.

Three of those blankings have come in the Bulldogs' past four games against Western, with UMD winning 8-0 and 6-1 two weeks ago in Kalamazoo and 5-0 on Friday night in Duluth.

"There's a breakdown here or there, but it doesn't happen often. I just make 2-3 saves a game," Shepard said of his shutouts, shifting praise to those in front of him. "I just try to manage the game, control rebounds. I haven't had to do a ton. It's a credit to the guys in front of me."

Bulldogs freshman defenseman Louie Roehl gave UMD a 1-0 lead less than two and a half minutes into the game. Roehl put away a rebound for his second goal of the season after Blacker bobbled a blast by UMD junior wing Billy Exell.

Senior center Jared Thomas later clinched the win on an empty-net goal with less than a second left.

UMD — which held Western to two shots on goal in the first 20 minutes — looked primed to extend that one-goal lead seven and a half minutes into the first period when Broncos sophomore center Hugh McGing was given a five-minute major for boarding after hitting UMD junior center Peter Krieger high into the glass.

The Bulldogs, who scored on their first three power plays Friday night, mustered just a single shot on goal during the five-minute man advantage and two shots all night on their three failed advantages.

Despite the struggles on the power play Saturday, the Bulldogs are still playing next weekend, while the Broncos (10-13-1) head back to Kalamazoo to begin their offseason.

"It was a good, hard-fought game," Sandelin said. "Defensively they played better, but we still limited their opportunities, and when they did get some, Shep was there."

• After being listed as questionable earlier in the week, Bulldogs junior wing and assistant captain Parker Mackay returned to the lineup Saturday after missing eight games due to injury. UMD wasn't completely healthy, however. Freshman wing Kobe Roth was out Saturday due to an injury. He had appeared in 18 straight games since Christmas, posting four goals and four assists in that span.

Western Mich. 0-0-0—0 Minn. Duluth 1-0-1—2

First period — 1. UMD, Louie Roehl 2 (Billy Exell, Jade Miller), 2:24. Penalties — Hugh McGing, WMU (boarding major), 7:26; Peter Krieger, UMD (slashing), 19:27; McGing, WMU (cross checking), 19:27.

Second period — No scoring. Penalties — Corey Schueneman, WMU (tripping), 4:01; Jared Thomas, UMD (slashing), 6:48; Jade Miller, UMD (roughing), 14:25; Paul Washe, UMD (roughing), 14:25; Thomas, UMD (goalie interference), 19:22.

Third period — 2. UMD, Thomas 9, 19:59 (en). Penalties — Nick Wolff, UMD (high sticking), 2:18; Carson Vance, WMU (tripping), 5:41.

Shots on goal — WMU 2-6-11—19; UMD 10-10-5—25. Goalies — Ben Blacker, WMU (24 shots-23 saves); Hunter Shepard, UMD (19-19). Power plays — WMU 0-of-3; UMD 0-of-3. Referees — Tom Sterns, Joe Sullivan. Linesmen — Sterling Egan, Jeff Schultz. Att. — 4,391

Matt Wellens

College hockey reporter for the Duluth News Tribune covering the Minnesota Duluth Bulldogs men's and women's teams, as well as the NCAA Division III programs at St. Scholastica and Wisconsin-Superior.

(218) 723-5317
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