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Bulldogs hockey right back to NCHC play hosting St. Cloud State

The Bulldog’s Scott Perunovich, pursued by North Dakota’s Nick Jones, reaches for the puck during the first period of Saturday’s game at Amsoil Arena. Perunovich scored back-to-back goals in the second period to give Minnesota Duluth the lead. Steve Kuchera / Forum News Service

DULUTH, Minn. — After sweeping North Dakota last weekend at home, Minnesota Duluth hopes Tuesday's loss at Minnesota State-Mankato was nothing more than a hiccup.

The 1-0 shutout ended a seven-game unbeaten streak (6-0-1) for the ninth-ranked Bulldogs, but their five-game NCHC winning streak is alive and well going into the Friday, Jan. 26, and Saturday, Jan. 27, 7:07 p.m. games against fifth-ranked St. Cloud State at Amsoil Arena.

"We have to rebound from (Tuesday's) game," said coach Scott Sandelin, whose fifth-place 'Dogs sit four points back of the second-place Huskies in the NCHC standings. "We can't let the one game turn into two. We did some good things (Tuesday). It wasn't probably the same type of energy that we had against North Dakota, so we have to find that against these guys."

The Bulldogs were swept by the Huskies in St. Cloud in early November to open NCHC play, losing 5-3 and 5-0. SCSU went 4-for-10 on the power play while holding UMD's power play to 1-for-10. The Bulldogs outshot the Huskies 29-26 in Saturday's loss after getting outshot 34-28 on Friday.

The Huskies were at their peak that weekend — a perfect 7-0 and just days from becoming the unanimous No. 1 team in the USCHO.com poll.

The Bulldogs, meanwhile, were battered and bruised with four regulars — Joey Anderson, Nick Swaney, Avery Peterson and Jarod Hilderman — out at the start of the series. A fifth player, Mikey Anderson, was knocked out of the series in the second period on Friday.

Injuries lingered for the Bulldogs right up until last weekend against North Dakota. The return of Swaney on Saturday was the first time UMD had its full roster intact since the sweep of Merrimack Oct. 20-21.

"We were kind of going through a learning curve there and a bit of an injury bug as well. I think we've come a long way since then," UMD senior captain Karson Kuhlman said. "We really turned the page here in the second half. We've won some big games and close games, which has brought us together a bit. Going into this weekend we have a lot more confidence in the group that we have. We're looking forward to the last little stretch here."

The Bulldogs have put together a fine second half thus far, going 5-1-1 since Christmas. The Huskies, meanwhile, are 2-3-2 since Christmas having tied twice with Princeton and split against Minnesota and Western Michigan.

Like UMD, SCSU's most recent game is a loss to Minnesota State with the Huskies falling 5-2 on Hockey Day Minnesota.

Assistant coach Mike Gibbons said the Huskies, who have spent 12 weeks in the USCHO top three this season, haven't responded well lately to other teams throwing their A-plus game at them.

"It has been a long stretch of mediocre hockey, and the really good teams respond from a sub-par performance," Gibbons said. "We've responded a little bit but we have to respond better than we have."

Both Gibbons and Sandelin pointed to special teams as the key to this series, and on this occasion the response was not just a coaching cliche.

Sandelin and the Bulldogs got burned by SCSU's power play in the last series after taking 15 penalties for 38 minutes. And while the Huskies have undergone a stretch of mediocre luck, their power play is still clicking, having scored in five of the last seven games.

As for the Huskies, they're trying to figure out how to stop a UMD power play that finished 6-for-11 against North Dakota and is converting at a 46.4 percent rate since Christmas.

Gibbons said the key is containing Bulldogs' freshman defenseman and leading scorer Scott Perunovich, who had two power play goals and a power play assist against the Fighting Hawks.

"He runs the show out there," Gibbons said. "The question is do you go after him or do you not go after him? If you go after him, he might make you look silly. If you don't, he'll probably make you look silly. That's the question."

No. 5 SCSU (14-5-3) at No. 9 UMD (13-10-3)

When: 7:07 p.m. today/Saturday

Where: Amsoil Arena

TV: FSN-Plus today/My 9 Saturday

Radio: KDAL-AM 610/KDAL-FM 103.9

Internet: KDAL610.com (audio); nchc.tv (video)

Twitter: @mattwellens

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