Falling in a sweep early in the season didn’t sit well with the reigning national champions.
No. 8 Minnesota Duluth came out with a burning desire to get a victory on Friday against No. 20 Minnesota, as the Bulldogs were swept at Wisconsin last weekend. It isn’t an easy feat to sweep the Bulldogs in recent years, as Wisconsin became just the third team on an elite list to sweep them in the last three seasons, with St. Cloud State and Denver.
That aggression from losing two to Wisconsin resulted in a 5-2 Minnesota Duluth victory over Minnesota on Friday.
“They were definitely the most aggressive team we’ve faced,” Gophers freshman forward Ben Meyers said. Meyers scored his first collegiate goal in the second period. “I’ve never faced them before, so, they came to play and they were experienced, and we’ve got to be better [Saturday] night.”
That intense play from the Bulldogs stemmed from an early lead after the first period that didn’t fade. That lead increased to 3-1 after the second period as Minnesota Duluth stayed consistent in its attack.
The Bulldogs dominated in terms of turnovers and physicality all over the ice, especially the forecheck. Whenever Minnesota had a push, Minnesota Duluth came back and took control again to keep the Gophers off the board and increase their own lead.
Bulldogs junior defenseman Scott Perunovich was a rock on defense and certainly played up to his two-time All-American billing.
“It’s hard [to shut him down,]” Gophers’ head coach Bob Motzko said. “He’s dangerous, he’s one of the best players in college hockey. That’s what the best players do.”
Perunovich stuffed Minnesota’s forwards with a very physical presence using all of his 5-foot-10 frame and possessed the puck enough to finish the game with one goal and two assists on two shots in the game.
While Perunovich was the poster-child for Minnesota Duluth’s defensive prowess, the rest of the corps emulated his play with a splash of physicality added on. Minnesota forwards were muscled off the puck upon entering the offensive zone, and when that wasn’t successful, the Gophers were pinned on the boards and the puck would come free, usually to the Bulldogs’ players.
The play from the experienced, tight-knit Minnesota Duluth team was reminiscent of how many of the games in this storied rivalry have gone in the last few years.
Minnesota does have the all-time series lead, but recently Minnesota Duluth has dominated. In the last 10 years of the rivalry, Minnesota Duluth has three national championships and one runner-up finish compared to Minnesota’s lone runner-up appearance in 2014.
Record-wise, Minnesota is now 8-14-5 against Minnesota Duluth since 2009. At the depths of Minnesota’s low-point in the rivalry, the Gophers went on an eight-game stretch without a victory over the Bulldogs, a streak that spanned from 2014 to early 2018.
Gophers’ goal-scorer and captain Sammy Walker, though, said there is room to grow from Friday’s latest iteration of the rivalry for Saturday’s rematch in Duluth.
“I think, this game, we can take a lot out of it,” Walker said. ”Take out what we did good and what we did bad, learn from it, and work on it [Saturday.]”