Bulldogs bounce back to gain split with Mass-Lowell
The UMD men’s hockey season got officially underway last weekend, as
both the men and women put their 2019-20 outfits on full display at
AMSOIL Arena, with almost complete success in a pair of doubleheaders.
Men’s coach Scott Sandelin continues to experiment with forward lines,
but he put any remaining anxiety about his defensive pairings to rest
by reuniting senior captain Nick Wolff and junior flash Scott
Perunovich on the No. 1 tandem. It wasn’t as though the rest of the
defense was chopped liver, but after two years of brilliant play by
that tandem, trying new pairs left some fans wondering, after the
Bulldogs opened with a 5-3 exhibition loss to Alberta.
The reunited tandem couldn’t solve everything, however, and a quick,
young UMass-Lowell team stung the Bulldogs 3-2 in the Friday season
opener, ruining the big pregame ceremony to show off the newly raised
2019 NCAA championship banner by building a 3-0 lead in a
second-period barrage that mainly capitalized on UMD turnovers and
careless defensive play. After juggling forward line combinations to
try to get his team clicking, Sandelin looked ahead to Game 2.
The Bulldogs bounced back in a tight, tough rematch Saturday, taking a
1-0 lead in the second period and countering the RiverHawks tying goal
swiftly when a Perunovich bullet from the right point was deflected in
by Nick Swaney for a 2-1 triumph.
The UMD women, meanwhile, opened their WCHA season by sweeping
Minnesota State-Mankato, although the first game for the women was
almost as surprising as the men’s. Mankato led 1-0 and 2-1 before UMD
came alive to win 3-2, when captain Sydney Brodt pounced on a blocked
point shot to score after only 26 seconds of overtime.
The Bulldogs turned up the wick of their performance in the Saturday
rematch, getting a goal in the first two in the second and a fourth in
the third for a 4-0 lead before Sofie Poinar scoured on a rebound for
Mankato in a 4-1 contest.
Sandelin acknowledged that the Wolff-Perunovich tandem set a strong
offensive pace and the Bulldogs forwards followed suit. Center Justin
Richards was very good, as usual, and his left winger, Cole Koepke,
had a fantastic game, making the play of the season — so far — with a
short-handed lead pass to Richards that any quarterback in the state,
including pros, would have admired. Wolff fed a long pass to Koepke,
who broke up the right side 2-on-2 with Richards. Usually, not much
happens on a 2-on-2, but in this case, Koepke flipped a pass toward
the left corner, beyond everyone’s reach, and it inspired Richards to
put on a burst of speed that not only got him past the defenseman on
his side but got him deep enough on his “post pattern” to catch the
pass and make a quick move to score to break the scoreless tie in the
Koepke’s finely threaded pass was slightly deflected by the retreating
defenseman, which Richards pointed out, although when it was suggested
that it was such a great pass, maybe Koepke meant for it to tick the
defender, Richards laughed and said, “If he did it on purpose, then it
was one of the greatest plays I’ve ever seen.”
Koepke was next up to face the media, and when asked about the pass,
he said: “I heard what Richie said, and I’m going to go with that.”
The Bulldogs, outshooting Lowell 38-23 for the second game, seemed in
command, but Andre Lee scored from the right edge at 3:28 of the third
and suddenly it was 1-1. But the Bulldogs were not to be denied.
Perunovich had his first shot blocked, but retrieved the puck and shot
again. This time it went in, and Swaney’s deflection got it to hit the
twine at 4:52. Goaltender Hunter Shepard held on after that, as
penalties ruled the last 15 minutes.
“I liked the response,” said Sandelin. “We came back from the first
game and we were more composed throughout the [second] game. And I
loved the result. It was a good team win, and I thought Perunovich was
easily our best player both nights.”
Perunovich, who helped the Bulldogs to their second straight NCAA
title last April, played at about 85 percent as he recovered from a
nagging back injury. Those who didn’t realize he was restrained in his
play need only to find a video of the Lowell series, because he was
flying both nights. He led the uprising in the third period of the 3-2
overtime loss, scoring the first goal on a power play missile to cut
the deficit to 3-1, then moved the puck in from the point when Noah
Cates ultimately scored with 1:08 left to close it to 3-2.
The Bulldogs had only 4 shots in the first period Friday, and were
blanked on 13 shots in the second, but after 17 shots through two
periods, UMD woke up and outshot Lowell 17-1 in the third. But two
goals by Lucas Condotta followed by one from Chris Schutz had staked
the RiverHawks to that 3-0 lead. Schutz scored after the usually
suite-handed Dylan Samberg half-stumbled as he got the puck out in
front of his own goal, and he left the puck behind for Schutz to get a
shot and score with his own rebound just 49 seconds after Condotta’s
second goal had made it 2-0.
On Saturday, the Bulldogs started from the start, and put things in
order, as Perunovich’s shot produced the winner on Swaney’s tip, and
his speedy escapes from the UMD zones to turn threats-against to
threats-for dominated the game, while Wolff made one forceful rush
where he blew away a Lowell checker who attempted to block his path.