By Matt Wellens
DENVER — Minnesota Duluth freshman wing Cole Koepke said the location of his overtime game-winning goal Saturday night against Denver — near-side top corner on the goaltender’s stick side — wasn’t his go-to spot.
However, the former Hawk admitted he has gone that direction once or twice before on the frozen ice sheets of Hermantown.
“Not the direct go-to, but every once in a while,” Koepke said with a wide smile after the top-ranked Bulldogs came back from a three-goal, third-period deficit to beat seventh-ranked Denver 4-3 in OT at Magness Arena.
Koepke’s goal, the first game-winner of his college career, came 52 seconds into the extra session.
The play started with junior defenseman Nick Wolff getting the puck up to senior captain and wing Parker Mackay, who was able to tie up a Denver defenseman along the boards while moving the puck Koepke’s way.
Mackay’s effort freed up Koepke and sophomore center Justin Richards for an attack on the Denver net. Richards drew the one Pioneers defenseman between them his way and Koepke outskated the Pioneer that was on his tail.
Koepke said his decision to go to the near-side top corner on Denver sophomore goalie Devin Cooley came from his experiences earlier in the night attacking the net.
“I tried to cut across a couple times during the game,” said Koepke, who has two goals and five assists in 12 games this season. “He’s a bigger guy, maybe he’s expecting me to cut across. The puck was wobbling. I didn’t want to over stickhandle myself, so I just shot it. It happened to go in.”
UMD wins key faceoffs
Koepke’s goal was a big one, but before that the Bulldogs won a couple key faceoffs in the third period to tie the game 3-3 and force overtime.
The first key faceoff win was courtesy of junior fourth-line center Jade Miller midway through the third. He won a draw back to senior wing Billy Exell, who scored to pull the Bulldogs within a goal at 3-2.
The second big faceoff win came via senior top-line center Peter Krieger with 10.3 seconds left on the clock. Krieger’s win against Pioneers junior center Tyson McLellan led to the game-tying goal by sophomore defenseman Scott Perunovich with 1.8 seconds left.
“I know the guy I was going against. I played with him in juniors,” Krieger said. “He’s really good on draws. I just tried to get low and get some power and try and win it back, or at least tie it up and not let him win it clean.”
Five seconds prior to the faceoff win, Krieger lost the draw against McLellan and that should have been enough for Denver to hold off UMD, however, the Pioneers iced the puck off the faceoff to give Krieger another shot.
“Peter’s was huge. Right before that he didn’t win it clean and we were fortunate to get that puck back,” Sandelin said. “If they don’t ice it, it’s probably done. It was time. We got some breaks at the end. We waited five periods for it. The sixth period was good for us.”
UMD lost the faceoff battle 33-24 in part because of struggles earlier in the night. Krieger wound up being the lone Bulldogs center to win more faceoffs than he lost, going 11-7.
“I’m glad we started to win some in the third because the numbers weren’t good through the first two periods,” said Sandelin, whose team was down 21-13 in faceoffs through two periods. “We talked about that in between periods. We talk about it every game. Those were two big wins.”
Courtesy of some pre-flight research by UMD radio play-by-play voice Bruce Ciskie on Sunday morning, Saturday’s win was the Bulldogs’ first successful rally from a three-goal deficit since Feb. 21, 2004, when UMD came from behind to win 5-3 at Colorado College. UMD trailed 3-0 in the first period that night.
The last time UMD rallied from a three-goal deficit in the third period to win was in 1998 in Game 3 of a first-round WCHA series against Minnesota. The Bulldogs trailed 4-0, but came back to win 5-4 in OT.
• Denver, with its 20 freshmen and sophomores, just finished a back-to-back series against NCHC favorites St. Cloud State and UMD with a win and three losses. The Pioneers led in all four games. In addition to Saturday’s loss, the Pioneers blew a 3-1 third-period lead against the Huskies in the first game of the series and a 2-0 first-period lead the next night.
• The UMD men are off this week for the second time this month before returning to host North Dakota on Nov. 30-Dec. 1 at Amsoil Arena. The UMD women travel to defending national champion Clarkson for a Thanksgiving weekend series on Friday and Saturday in Potsdam, N.Y.
Matt Wellens (@mattwellens) can be reached at email@example.com or (218) 723-5317.