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Bulldogs' top line finds redemption, scores game-winner in 2-1 win at North Dakota

Ben Steeves, Dominic James and Luke Loheit team up for the 'greasy' goal UMD needed to split series with Fighting Hawks

NCAA Men's Hockey 2023: MN Duluth v North Dakota JAN 21
Minnesota Duluth celebrates its game-winning goal against North Dakota on Saturday at Ralph Engelstad Arena in Grand Forks, North Dakota.
Russ Hons / UND Athletics

GRAND FORKS, N.D. — Minnesota Duluth coach Scott Sandelin didn’t want to mention the “one line that wasn’t pulling its weight” on Friday night following the 4-2 loss at North Dakota.

But if you took a dive into that night’s statistics, it was easy to hypothesize that Sandelin was referencing the top-line trio of Ben Steeves, Dominic James and Luke Loheit. Three of UMD’s top scorers, they put a combined three shots on goal Friday and finished minus-3.

That top line bounced back Saturday to not only put eight shots on the Fighting Hawks’ net, but they scored the game-winning goal in a 2-1 NCHC victory at Ralph Engelstad Arena to snap a three-game losing streak and five-game conference losing streak.

“They were better, but they needed to be,” Sandelin said of his top line. “We can’t have them have off nights. We need them to be good every night with the minutes they play, the power play, all that stuff. Last night wasn’t their night, but tonight they came back, had a strong game and got the game winner.”

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Loheit, a senior wing and assistant captain, was credited with the game-winning goal with 2:03 left in regulation after the puck went in off his skate. North Dakota challenged to see if the puck had been kicked in, but video review said it was clean.

The goal came via an own-zone turnover by the Hawks as Steeves, a freshman wing, intercepted an outlet pass just below the blue line. He dished low to James, the sophomore center, who then tossed the puck in the direction of Loheit, who drove to the net.

Sandelin on Friday voiced frustration over his team’s continued reluctance to funnel pucks and bodies to the net. UMD did just that on Saturday, specifically that top line on the game-winner.

“I just like how we played today,” said Sandelin, whose team now returns home for four straight home games after being on the road back-to-back weekends. “We talked about some things today, this morning, even last night. Our guys had good focus, good energy, everybody contributed. It was a huge win.

“We needed to get that, we needed to find a way to win. We get a greasy goal there, throwing the puck there and having a guy going to the net.”

The Bulldogs and Hawks went into the third period knotted at 1-1 after North Dakota fifth-year senior center and captain Mark Senden tied the game 78 seconds prior to the second intermission, scoring on a breakaway after a UMD turnover in the offensive zone.

Isaac Howard gave the Bulldogs a 1-0 lead just past the three-minute mark of the second, burying a feed from fellow freshman winger Luke Johnson. It was Howard’s second goal in three games and the first time UMD scored the opening goal in seven games (eight if you count the exhibition with St. Thomas).

NCAA Men's Hockey 2023: MN Duluth v North Dakota JAN 21
Minnesota Duluth freshman wing Isaac Howard skates to the bench to celebrate his goal against North Dakota on Saturday at Ralph Engelstad Arena in Grand Forks, North Dakota.
Russ Hons / UND Athletics

Saturday was another productive night for Howard and his freshman linemates Johnson and center Cole Spicer of Grand Forks. After combining for eight shots on goal Friday, they put another seven pucks combined on the UND net Saturday.

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“That was a great play by Luke Johnson, great hustle on the forecheck, and nice to see (Howard) finish again,” Sandelin said. “Those guys had another strong game, but tonight I was more happy with all of our lines, where last night I wasn’t happy with one of our lines. We need that.”

With the win, the Bulldogs retook sixth place from North Dakota, who is once again a point back in seventh in the NCHC. UMD hosts NCHC co-leaders St. Cloud State next weekend at Amsoil Arena, with the Huskies coming off a home sweep of their co-league leaders, Denver.

Matt’s Three Stars

3. UND fifth-year senior center Mark Senden — A key steal and score at a key moment almost put North Dakota in a position to sweep UMD.

2. UMD freshman wing Isaac Howard — Two goals in three games now for the Tampa Bay Lightning’s first-round pick from 2022.

1. UMD senior wing Luke Loheit — The Ottawa Senators prospect picked up his fourth goal of the season driving to the net, giving his linemates a target on the game-winner.

Box score

Minnesota Duluth 0-1-1—2
North Dakota 0-1-0—1
First period
No scoring
Second period
1. UMD, Isaac Howard (Luke Johnson, Jesse Jacques), 3:08
2. UND, Mark Senden, 18:42
Third period
3. UMD, Luke Loheit (Dominic James, Ben Steeves), 17:57
Saves — Zach Stejskal, UMD, 20; Drew DeRidder, ND, 24.
Power play — UMD 0-2; UND 0-2. Penalties — UMD 3-6; UND 3-6.

Co-host of the Bulldog Insider Podcast and college hockey reporter for the Duluth News Tribune and The Rink Live covering the Minnesota Duluth men's and women's hockey programs.
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