By Matt Wellens
DULUTH — Minnesota Duluth sophomore forward Justin Richards accomplished plenty in his first 48 games as a Bulldog.
Coming up from the junior ranks a year earlier than planned, he helped solidify UMD’s center position a year ago. He also recorded nine points as a rookie and already had three points in four games to start this season.
Oh yeah, he won a national championship last year, too.
What Richards had yet to accomplish, however, was score his first collegiate goal. That changed Friday during the second period of an 8-2 nonconference beatdown of unranked Maine by the third-ranked Bulldogs before a crowd of 5,902 at Amsoil Arena.
After registering 13 assists, Richards picked up his first goal as a Bulldog at 18:48 of the second period. He scored via a breakaway off a faceoff, taking a pass from junior defenseman Nick Wolff. It was a play that had been discussed by the two players during the second intermission, both said.
“It was the same exact play as a faceoff in the first period,” said Richards, whose Bulldogs (3-1-1) host the Black Bears (2-1) again at 7:07 p.m. today. “I saw a hole in the first period and I didn’t take it. I knew if that same play happened, I would take that. I was screaming at Wolffy. I thought he was just going to chip it in, but he made a really nice heads-up play and he found me in the middle.”
Richards finished his break by putting the puck through the five-hole of sophomore goaltender Jeremy Swayman, but not across the goal line. Maine freshman forward Jacob Schmidt-Svejstrup finished it off, banking the puck into the net off his goalie while trying to clear.
“Big congratulations to that guy; he’s been working hard the last year and a half,” Wolff said. “He’s grinding it out, grinding in the corners, playing third and fourth line. It’s about time. Now the floodgates can open.”
Richards said scoring that first college goal was never on his mind, even after 48 games without one, but Friday’s was special. His family was in the stands to see it, including his father, Todd, who is an assistant coach with the Tampa Bay Lightning and the former head coach of the Minnesota Wild and Columbus Blue Jackets.
“Just to do it in front of them and at home here is pretty special,” Richards said. “A lot of the guys were happy for me. It made me feel really good.”
The 2018-19 season was originally supposed to be Richards’ freshman campaign — not 2017-18 — but he was asked to leave juniors and make the jump to the college level a year early after UMD lost top-line center Adam Johnson of Hibbing to the Pittsburgh Penguins late in the summer of 2017.
While he didn’t take Johnson’s spot on the top line, Richards did give the Bulldogs a solid third-line centerman between Blake Young and Parker Mackay after Jared Thomas and Peter Krieger were bumped up a position.
This year Richards is back with Mackay, but the graduated Young has been replaced by freshman wing Cole Koepke of Hermantown. They’re now UMD’s second line, and Richards has five points in five games. One of those points — finally — is a goal.
“He’s had a really good start to the year,” Sandelin said of Richards. “His value is not just that (scoring), but hopefully that is a huge confidence booster for him.
“We had a lot of different guys score, which I was pleased with. I think all the guys were really happy for Richie. He’s worked hard, he’s had some opportunities and to see him finally get that first one, everyone feels good for him.”
Richards’ goal was the Bulldogs’ fourth of the second period, putting the Black Bears down 7-2 going into the third.
Freshman wing Tanner Laderoute and Mackay, the senior captain and wing, each picked up their third goals of the season in the four-goal second. Sophomore defenseman Mike Anderson got his second of the season 17 seconds before Richards scored.
Junior wing Riley Tufte made it 8-2 just 24 seconds into the third period, getting his second goal of the season during a 4-on-3 power play.
The Bulldogs emerged from a crazy opening 20 minutes with a 3-2 lead thanks to the second goal of the season by Krieger with under 90 seconds to play in the first. Wolff and his defensive partner, sophomore Scott Perunovich of Hibbing, had previously given UMD one-goal leads.
Wolff and Perunovich both finished the night with a goal and three assists.
The Black Bears tied the Bulldogs twice in the first, scoring on their first two shots of the game.
UMD junior goaltender Hunter Shepard stopped the next 16 shots he faced, including the only other attempt he saw in the first and the one shot on goal he saw in the second period.
Swayman was pulled after the second period, having given up seven goals on 32 shots.
Minnesota Duluth 3-4-1—8
First period — 1. UMD, Nick Wolff 1 (Kobe Roth, Scott Perunovich), 2:51; 2. UM, Brady Keeper 1 (Alexis Binner, Mitchell Fossier), 7:49; 3. UMD, Perunovich 1 (Roth, Wolff), 9:24 (ea); 4. UM, Tom Doherty 2, 11:38; 5. UMD, Peter Krieger 2 (Parker Mackay, Wolff), 18:33. Penalties — Keeper, UM (hooking), 9:24; Rob Michel, UM (cross checking), 9:57; Noah Cates, UMD (cross checking), 9:57.
Second period — 6. UMD, Tanner Laderoute 3, 9:02; 7. UMD, Mackay 3 (Justin Richards), 15:06; 8. UMD, Mikey Anderson 2 (Dylan Samberg), 18:31; 9. UMD, Richards 1 (Wolff, Perunovich), 18:48. Penalties — Perunovich, UMD (elbowing), 12:46; Michel, UM (holding), 16:28; Keeper, UM (slashing), 18:48; Mackay, UMD (roughing), 18:48; Bench minor, UM (too many men), 19:49.
Third period — 10. UMD, Riley Tufte 2 (Perunovich, Krieger), 0:24 (pp). Penalties — Mackay, UMD (tripping), 1:04; Richards, UMD (cross checking), 6:36; Fossier, UM (tripping), 8:07; Jarod Hilderman, UMD (hooking), 16:05.
Shots on goal — UM 5-1-12—18; UMD 15-17-14—46. Goalies — Jeremy Swayman, UM (32 shots-25 saves); Stephen Mundinger, UM (14-13); Hunter Shepard, UMD (18-16). Power plays — UM 0-of-4; UMD 1-of-4. Referees — Scott Bokal, Eugene Bina. Linesmen — Brandon Schmitt, Tony Aronson. Att. — 5,902.
Matt Wellens (@mattwellens) can be reached at email@example.com or (218) 723-5317.