Connolly Explodes in UMD’S Victory

DULUTH, Minn. – It took Minnesota-Duluth’s Mike Connolly ten games to score his first goal against in-state rival Minnesota, a streak he finally ended in the middle period of Friday’s 2-2 tie with the Gophers.

After Saturday, it’s safe to say Connolly’s scoring troubles against Minnesota are over.

Connolly scored five goals, put his Bulldog teammates on his back and carried UMD to a 6-4 WCHA victory over the Gophers in front of a packed-house at AMSOIL Arena.

Oh, and he also hit a pipe and had an attempt at an empty net blocked as time expired.

“I probably could have done a little more,” joked Connolly, who tied a school record set in 1972 by Pokey Trachsel during an 11-5 win over Lake Superior State.

Connolly scored the first three goals of the game to give UMD a 3-0 lead 1:22 into the second period, all of which came with assists from linemates Justin Fontaine and Jack Connolly. The Connollys and Fontaine had been split up just before New Years when second line winger Kyle Schmidt went down with a broken hand.

In their first game back together, the trio combined for 12 points (Jack Connolly had four assists, Fontaine had three.)

“It was nice playing with Mike and Fons again,” Jack Connolly said. “We saw that he had the scoring touch tonight, and just did our best to get him the puck. When someone is playing like that, how can’t you?”

But even with UMD’s top line running on cylinders, Minnesota continually battled back. The Gophers narrowed the gap to 3-2, then answered Bulldog goals to make the score 4-3 and 5-4 in the third period before Connolly sealed it for Minnesota-Duluth with 1:20 to play.

Minnesota also had a goal waived off that would have tied the game at three when Patrick White appeared to have scored on his own rebound halfway through the second stanza. However, it was determined that Nico Sacchetti interfered with UMD goalie Aaron Crandall, not allowing him to square up to the second chance from White.

“That was obviously a huge moment in the game,” Minnesota coach Don Lucia said. “They waive of the one that would have tied it 3-3. But I thought we did a good job of battling back all the way to the end.”

Travis Oleksuk was the only other Bulldog to score a goal when he clanked a shot off the post and in with 3:01 to play. Mike Montgomery had two assists for UMD, while Brady Lamb, J.T. Brown and Justin Faulk each registered one.

Kevin Wehrs, Mike Hoeffel, Cade Fairchild and Nate Condon scored for Minnesota. Hoeffel also added an assist, and Nick Bjugstad was the only other Gopher with a multi-point game thanks to his two helpers.

The win lifts Minnesota-Duluth into a first place tie with Denver in the WCHA. Both teams leapfrogged idle North Dakota in the standings with Saturday night victories.

“To have this place go crazy like it did tonight was special,” Mike Connolly said. “We were all pretty excited to get the win and the points.”

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