Saturday was quite the unfamiliar feeling for this UMD hockey team.
UMD fell 3-1 to Nebraska-Omaha, marking the team's first loss since Oct. 15. It broke a 17-game unbeaten streak that set a program record. That streak propelled UMD to the top spot in the WCHA (tied with Minnesota), as well as the No. 1 position in both national polls, the RPI (Ratings Percentage Index, one of the tools used to compare teams for NCAA Tournament consideration), and the Pairwise (a ranking system that mimics the actual NCAA Tournament selection process).
UMD fell behind in each game against Western Michigan, and both of them were tied (1-1 Friday and 2-2 Saturday) going into the third period. Each night, UMD got a power play goal to take the lead, then added two more for good measure.
In last Friday's win over Nebraska-Omaha, sophomore JT Brown scored goals 28 seconds apart in the third period to cap his first career hat trick.
The common thread here is the third period dominance for UMD. The Bulldogs outscored opponents 31-10 over their 17-game run, and 10-0 over the last three games of the streak.
Saturday's loss was surprising, largely because UMD could not take down another team in the third period. Give credit where it's due, because Nebraska-Omaha goalie Ryan Massa was nothing short of outstanding, making 44 saves, including 17 in that frantic third period. That UMD outshot UNO 17-3 in the third was made even more impressive by the fact the entire stanza was played five-on-five after UNO was done killing off a five-minute major that carried over for the first 1:53 of the third period.
It just wasn't meant to be.
This weekend, UMD returns home for the first time in nine weeks. The home fans missed six wins and a tie over eight largely solid road games.
Jack Connolly still hasn't been held off the scoreboard since an Oct. 8 loss to Notre Dame. Travis Oleksuk still leads the team in goals. Brown's speed still dazzles. Brady Lamb and Wade Bergman are as solid as any defensive pairing you'll find. Kenny Reiter is still playing very well in goal.
This weekend's games against Alabama-Huntsville mark UMD's final non-conference series. The Bulldogs have six series left in WCHA play, including home dates with Michigan Tech, North Dakota, and Colorado College, along with trips to Alaska-Anchorage, Minnesota State, and St. Cloud State. The program's first MacNaughton Cup title under coach Scott Sandelin -- and the school's first since 1993 -- is certainly within reach.
North Dakota 2, Minnesota 1; Minnesota 6, North Dakota 2
Sophomore Brock Nelson got the winner in the third period Friday, and the Gophers rallied back for a convincing win the next night, thanks to two goals each from Nick Bjugstad and Nate Condon. UND assistant captain Ben Blood is now senior defenseman Ben Blood, as the team stripped him of his captaincy after he was involved in a skirmish in the handshake line Saturday.
Wisconsin 4, Minnesota State 0; Minnesota State 3, Wisconsin 0
The teams traded shutout wins in Mankato. MSU goalie Phil Cook threw the doughnut for the Mavericks Saturday, which was nice to see, considering Cook had a stretch in November where he stopped two of eleven shots faced over two different starts. Friday's win was the first for Wisconsin on the road this season.
Colorado College 3, St. Cloud State 1; St. Cloud State 5, Colorado College 4, OT
I think this is a great result for St. Cloud State. The Huskies have been beset by injuries to key players -- most notably goalie Mike Lee and senior forward and captain Drew LeBlanc -- yet keep finding ways to get points. Despite outshooting CC 27-12 over the last 40 minutes Friday, the Huskies had nothing to show for it. Then SCSU blew a two-goal lead in the third period Saturday. Jordy Christian's second goal of the season rescued the Huskies in overtime, and the Huskies keep hanging around the .500 mark in league play.
Denver 6, Bemidji State 3; Denver 3, Bemidji State 2
Panthers prospect Drew Shore had five points on Friday, while Wild prospect Jason Zucker had two assists in his first game after playing in the World Juniors over the holiday break (Zucker missed the Pioneers' series with Alabama-Huntsville, causing some controversy when Denver lost to UAH in the series opener). The Beavers had 1-0 and 2-1 leads on Saturday, but couldn't close the deal. Zucker's 13th of the season in the third period proved to be the game-winner and sweep-clincher.