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Swaney saves the day: Overtime goal gives UMD advantage in NCHC quarterfinal series

Minnesota Duluth players celebrate after Nick Swaney (23) of Minnesota Duluth scored the game winning goal in overtime during Friday's first round NCHC conference playoff game at Amsoil Arena in Duluth. Clint Austin / Forum News Service

DULUTH -- According to Minnesota Duluth sophomore wing Nick Swaney, “a goal is a goal.”

That couldn’t have been further from the truth Friday, March 15, at Amsoil Arena, however, as the goal Swaney scored came with 6:18 remaining in overtime to give the second-seeded Bulldogs a 2-1 win over seventh-seeded Nebraska-Omaha in Game 1 of a best-of-three NCHC quarterfinal series.

Swaney initially dished to UMD junior center Jade Miller on the rush, but Miller -- who picked up an assist on the play to extend his point streak to six games -- quickly sent the puck back in Swaney’s direction. The pass skipped off the skate of a Maverick defender and Swaney patiently waited to swat the puck in.

“I knew it was coming at me slow and I knew (the defender) didn’t know where the puck was so I kind of wanted to wait so he didn’t have time to pressure me,” Swaney said of his 14th goal of the season. “I just waited for a second and luckily it paid off.

“It was rolling so it helped me get underneath it and get a little height under it.”

Omaha sophomore wing Kevin Conley tied the game at 1-1 with 55.8 seconds left in regulation via a rebound and clean faceoff win by the Mavs after they burned their timeout. Senior goaltender Evan Weninger, who finished with 39 saves, was on the bench for an extra attacker.

Bulldogs junior goaltender Hunter Shepard made 27 saves a day after being named a semifinalist for the Mike Richter Award -- given to the national goaltender of the year -- and a finalist for the NCHC Player of the Year.

Shepard only had to make two stops in OT, though, as UMD moved within a win of its fourth straight NCHC Frozen Faceoff appearance.

“It was playoff hockey for sure,” said coach Scott Sandelin, whose Bulldogs will go for the sweep in Game 2 at 7:07 p.m. today. “I thought our overall 60 minutes needs to be better. We found a way to grind it out and get a big goal in overtime. Give (Omaha) credit. It’s what we expect. They are going to come in here. They are playing hard and want to keep playing, too. They made a great play on the tying goal. Overtime was back and forth and, fortunately, Swaney found the net.”

UMD junior wing Riley Tufte put the Bulldogs on top 3:31 into the second period, coming off the bench on a change to extend his scoring streak to four goals in four games. He was set up by senior captain Parker Mackay, who hit the breaks on his attack into the Omaha zone before cutting to the top of the right faceoff circle. From there Mackay slung a pass to the top of the left where Tufte was waiting to fire the puck.

“Parker had good patience there and slid it over to me. I just tried to get it off as quick as I could because the defender was right there and his stick was right there,” Tufte said of his ninth goal of the season. “It was a good goal for me.

“The shift before I was out there with (Peter Krieger) and Kriegs lost a puck, but I saw that same opening. I tried to find that again and it was there.”

The Bulldogs and Mavericks were scoreless after the first. UMD took a pair of too-many-players-on-the-ice penalties in the opening 10 minutes, with the second coming while the Bulldogs were in the Mavericks’ zone on the power play. UMD killed both of those penalties, plus a holding call against sophomore defenseman Mikey Anderson late in the first.

“We just kind of came out slow. We weren’t ready to play,” Swaney said of the first period. “That’s something that can’t happen. It’s playoff hockey now and we got to focus on playing a full 60 minutes. That means coming out of the jump ready to go.”

  • UMD’s All-NCHC first-team defenseman Scott Perunovich was held out of Game 1 due to an injury he continues to battle. Perunovich missed the March 1 game against Miami in Duluth before playing the last three games of the regular season. He’s been in and out of practice the past few weeks.