University of Minnesota-Duluth (13-16-1, No. 25 Pairwise) played in their last home series of the regular season over the weekend against the last-place team in the NCHC standings, Miami (OH) University (7-19-4, No. 43 Pairwise).
The Bulldogs came out strong in period one of game one, jumping out to a 2-0 lead off goals from Luke Loheit and Darian Gotz, with goaltender Matthew Thiessen keeping out all nine shots on net. Just under six minutes into period two, they increased their lead to 3-0 off a goal from Hugo, Minn. native Owen Gallatin, his fifth goal and 16th point of the season.
In the third, the Redhawks broke their scoring drought 3:40 into the period, making it 3-1 off a backhand goal from PJ Fletcher. Only 1:14 later, the Redhawks brought the deficit to one, with a Ryan Savage tip bringing the score to 3-2. The Redhawks would go on to record 20 shots on net in the third, but Matthew Thiessen turned the rest aside, making 36 total saves in the game while helping his team secure the 3-2 victory.
In the rematch Saturday night, Miami jumped out to their first lead of the series with 8:51 remaining in period one. With 4:05 to go in the period, the Bulldogs tied it at 1-1 off a goal from Isaac Howard. However, the tie did not last long, with Miami's Red Savage tallying a power play goal only 1:08 later to head into the break ahead 2-1. The Redhawks made matters worse for the home team shortly into the second period when Joe Cassetti rifled home a shot to extend the lead to 3-1. This goal resulted in Matthew Thiessen being pulled from the game after giving up three goals on only 15 shots. The Bulldogs had multiple scoring opportunities, but they were unable to beat Miami goaltender Ludvig Persson, with Persson making 30 saves through two periods.
In the third, Persson continued his strong performance and made an additional 20 saves in the period, leading to a 4-1 upset over the Bulldogs after Joe Cassetti added a late empty net goal, his second goal of the night.
The Bulldogs will close out their regular season against interstate foes St. Cloud State next weekend.
Owen Gallatin, Minnesota Duluth
The No. 1 ranked Minnesota Gophers (23-8-1) closed out their regular season at home this weekend against the Ohio State Buckeyes (18-10-3, No. 9 Pairwise), a team they split with in their previous meeting back in October.
Period one of game one went scoreless, with goaltender Jakub Dobes making 14 saves for the Buckeyes while also taking two penalties in the period. Senior captain Brock Faber started the scoring for the Gophers with eight minutes to go in the second, his fourth of the season.
Only minutes later, the Buckeyes took three consecutive penalties to give the Gophers a 5-on-3 advantage, with Minnesota scoring two power-play goals in quick succession, first from Mike Koster and then from Jimmy Snuggerud. With 1:44 remaining in the period, the Gophers made it 4-0, with Mike Koster tallying his second goal and fourth point of the night, improving to 23 points on the season.
The Gophers carried that 4-0 lead into the second intermission and through to the end of the game, with goaltender Justen Close posting a 23-save shutout in the win, for a season record of 21-8-1 in net.
In the waning minutes of period one in game one, Minnesota took two out-of-character hits in the same shift, leading to two five-minute major penalties to close out the period. Ohio State took advantage of this opportunity and made it 1-0 with only 3.4 seconds left in the first before making it 2-0 shortly after the restart off a finish from defenseman Mason Lohrei.
However, as they have done all season, the Gophers fought back, and seven minutes later, they tied the game at 2-2, tallying two goals only 13 seconds apart from Aaron Huglen and Matthew Knies. With 32 seconds to go in the period, the Gopher's top line struck again, with Logan Cooley finishing from close range off a nifty drop pass from Matthew Knies, heading into the final frame ahead 3-2. That one-goal lead remained until over halfway through the third when Bryce Brodzinski forced a turnover and scored on his backhand, adding an ever-important insurance goal to make it 4-2. Defenseman Ryan Johnson added an empty netter, and the Gophers won 5-2, completing the sweep and holding their No. 1 position.
Off their top-seed finish in the Big Ten standings, the Gophers earned a bye in the first round of the playoffs and will now not play again until March 11th.
Aaron Huglen, Minnesota
Minnesota State Mankato (20-11-1, No. 15 Pairwise) welcomed the Michigan Tech Huskies (21-8-4, No. 11 Pairwise) to Mankato for their final regular season series, with both teams sitting atop the CCHA standings heading into the weekend and battling it out for the CCHA season title.
Game one Friday night was a low-scoring affair that went scoreless through two periods, with the Mavericks leading in shots 22-15. The deadlock was broken 3:43 into the third period when Maple Grove native Kyle Kukkonen lit the lamp, scoring his team-leading fifteenth goal of the season. The Mavericks had their chances to equalize, but Michigan Tech's goaltender Blake Pietila stopped them all for a 35-save shutout, with his twin brother, Logan Pietila, adding a late empty net goal to win 2-0.
It all came down to game two for who would take home the MacNaughton Cup, with Michigan Tech ahead by one point in the standings after their win Friday night. The same two goaltenders started in net on Saturday, with both Blake Pietila and Keenan Rancier for the Mavericks holding the game scoreless through one.
With 2:26 remaining in the second, the Mavericks tallied their first goal of the weekend when Lucas Sowder scored a power-play goal. Mankato went on another power play to start the third period and extended their lead to two, with David Silye scoring a key goal for his 21st goal of the season.
Less than two minutes later, the Huskies were awarded a penalty shot, and Tristan Ashbrook buried his opportunity, cutting Mankato's lead down to 2-1. That lead held until the final minutes of regulation when, with their goaltender pulled, Michigan Tech saw a goal overturned due to goaltender interference, but only seconds after the restart, a beautiful solo effort from Kyle Kukkonen led to a shorthanded goal, with this one counting to tie the game at 2-2. Only 20 seconds later, with 43 seconds to go in regulation, Mankato utilized their man-advantage and scored the go-ahead goal, with captain Cade Borchardt scoring one of the biggest goals of his career.
The team held on to win 3-2 and claim their sixth-straight CCHA regular-season championship, with their top-seed placing them against the lowest-seeded Lake Superior State in a best-of-three series that will start next weekend.
Cade Borchardt, Minnesota State
Another all-CCHA matchup took place in Mendota Heights this weekend, as St. Thomas (10-20-2, No. 47 Pairwise) hosted Bemidji State (13-14-5, No. 34 Pairwise), with both teams looking to end their regular season on a high note before moving into the playoffs this coming weekend.
In game one, it took the Tommies very little time to strike, as they forced a turnover, and Lucas Wahlin scored only 17 seconds into the game. Late in the period, the Beavers went on their first power play, and Ross Armour scored, heading into the first intermission tied at 1-1. That score held until the final few minutes of the second period when Cooper Gay put the Tommies back out in front by one, with Gay tallying his fourth goal of the season.
St. Thomas held onto that lead until the closing stages of play, and with Bemidji's goaltender pulled, Lucas Wahlin scored an empty netter for his second goal of the night to seal the victory. Aaron Trotter made 26 saves for the Tommies on the night, improving his save percentage to .905 this season.
The Tommies again scored first in game two, with leading-scorer Mack Byers scoring his 16th goal of the season on the power play with 7:43 remaining in period one. Rochester native Will Zmolek scored shorthanded with 2:15 left in the period to tie the game at 1-1 heading into the first intermission.
Under three minutes after the period restart, the Beavers found themselves ahead 3-1, with freshman Lleyton Roed scoring back-to-back goals to become the team's points leader with 29 points on the season. Halfway through the period, the Tommies clawed one back off a goal from Ethan Gauer. However, Bemidji State responded with two late-period goals from Elias Rosén and Will Zmolek to make it 5-2 heading into the third.
Just over five minutes into the final frame, the Beavers scored again, with Jere Vaisanen scoring his seventh goal of the season to officially put the game out of reach. One final tally from Kaden Pickering resulted in a 7-2 final, with the win placing the Beavers in fifth place in the CCHA standings, resulting in a matchup against Northern Michigan in round one of the playoffs.
The weekend split for the Tommies led to a seventh-place finish in the standings, leading to a matchup against the No. 2 seed Michigan Tech Huskies this coming weekend.
Will Zmolek, Bemidji State
St. Cloud State (18-9-3, No. 5 Pairwise) played their last away series of the regular season against the Nebraska-Omaha Mavericks (17-10-3, No. 16 Pairwise) this past weekend, with both teams fighting for vital points in the NCHC standings.
Game one saw the Huskies get on the board first and jump out to a 2-0 lead, with a power play goal from Grant Cruikshank starting things off before Grant Ahcan added an even-strength goal to close out the period.
In period two, St. Cloud kept their foot on the gas, making it 3-0 only 3:10 into the period off a Veeti Miettinen tally before Adam Ingram added a power-play goal only 1:26 later, extending the lead to 4-0 with his third point of the night. Omaha's Matt Miller then scored a highlight reel goal to make it 4-1, but roughly 90 seconds later, the Huskies responded, bringing it back to a four-goal lead halfway through the period.
In the third, Grant Cruikshank added his second power-play goal of the night to make it 6-1, tallying his nineteenth goal of the season while officially putting the game out of reach. The Mavericks' leading-scorer Jack Randl added a late goal which led to the 6-2 final, with Jaxon Castor making 23 saves on the night for the Huskies and Adam Ingram having a stellar game, finishing with five points.
The host team came out for revenge in the rematch on Saturday and jumped out to a 2-0 lead prior to the halfway point of the first period. With 5:20 to go in the period, the Huskies brought it to a one-goal deficit, with Grant Cruikshank continuing his power-play scoring streak, tallying his eighth power-play goal of the season. Early in the second, the Mavericks added their own power-play goal, with Jacob Guevin making it 3-1 before Jake Pivonka added an insurance goal two minutes later to bring it to 4-1.
Late in the period, the Mavericks successfully killed a 5-on-3 disadvantage and then went down and scored at the other end, extending their lead to four. Park Rapids native Chase Brand tipped home a goal with only seconds remaining in the second to make it 5-2, but there would be no comeback, as Omaha added an empty net goal in the third to flip the scoreline from the night prior and win 6-2.
After the weekend split, the Huskies find themselves in fourth place in the NCHC standings with one series against Minnesota-Duluth remaining.
Veeti Miettinen, St. Cloud State