After nine months without live game action, a quarantine, and long bus rides to Omaha, college hockey in America’s premier conference resumed Tuesday and Wednesday.
The first two tilts of the 38-total-games-in-three-weeks madness at Baxter Arena saw two late comeback wins by teams from the Gopher State. In the matinee, two-time defending national champion Minnesota-Duluth rallied from a 2-1 third period deficit to beat Nebraska-Omaha, 5-3. For the first time in three full seasons, Hunter Shepard was not tending goal for the Bulldogs. Sophomore Ryan Fanti stopped 26 of 29 Maverick shots in his collegiate debut. A few hours later, St. Cloud State trailed 3-2 with six minutes to play before tying the game and won moments later on a bizarre last-second goal that saw a WMU player bat the puck into his own net. “It felt really good to get the first one out of the way, playing hockey again and just to be able to be here competing and playing,” SCSU Head Coach Brett Larson said. “It was a really odd experience. We’d talk to some other coaches who had done it, and of course you miss the fan feel, but once the puck dropped, you got into the game.” North Dakota — the No. 1 team in America as of now — suffocated Miami 2-0, outshooting them 39-19. The rebuilding RedHawks are picked to finish last in the NCHC. Finally on Wednesday night, schools with the last three national titles — and No. 3 and 4 ranked Duluth and Denver — battled. The Pioneers dominated for 53 minutes, but the Bulldogs grabbed two late power play markers by Jackson Cates and Kobe Roth to prevail 2-1.
Fanti earned his second win in as many nights for UMD; he was the undisputed No. 1 star, keeping his team afloat despite being outshot 18-1 in the second period. Colorado College, delayed by positive COVID-19 tests, joins the eight-team party next week. The NCHC released detailed return-to-play protocols two weeks ago. The conference is working the world-renowned University of Nebraska Medical Center through Dec. 21. The league is not allowing fan attendance. AJ Kaufman is a regular contributor to KACMEDIA, his specialities include baseball, college hockey and other news subjects.