Now, expectations have changed.
UMD tied a school record with its fifth straight win over the Gophers Friday at Mariucci Arena, winning 3-1 and never trailing in the game. It marks three straight games at Mariucci Arena where UMD has won and never trailed. And the five straight wins over Minnesota ties a program record set with a streak that started in February 2013 and continued through four meetings in the 2003-2004 regular season.
To add some perspective, Scott Sandelin's teams are now 22-23-6 against Minnesota in his 15-plus seasons at UMD, a .490 win percentage. That might not signal domination, but it does signal serious improvement. Prior to his arrival, UMD was 56-111-11 against the Gophers, a win percentage of .346.
Rome wasn't built in a day, right?
So not only can UMD establish a new program high with a sixth straight win over Minnesota when it hosts the rematch Saturday at Amsoil Arena, but a win means the Bulldogs are .500 in 52 meetings against Minnesota with Sandelin as head coach.
As assistant coach Brett Larson said this week, the Bulldogs have found a formula for beating the Gophers. It worked again Friday.
Even when the game was 0-0, Minnesota was more focused most of the time on playing tough in its own zone. Outside of a flurry during and after the Gophers' only power play of the game, Minnesota had a whale of a time establishing itself in the offensive zone. The Bulldogs, being outshot 7-4 at one point late in the first period, went on to outshoot Minnesota 31-10 over about a 40-minute span that lasted deep into the third period.
Jared Thomas wired a wicked wrist shot off the crossbar and in to give UMD a 1-0 lead in the second. It was the Bulldogs' first power play goal of the season, and it was quickly followed by a second, as Austin Farley converted a Neal Pionk rebound three minutes later for a 2-0 advantage.
The most impressive UMD sequence, however, came after Brent Gates, Jr., scored for Minnesota at 5:40 of the third period. With the Minnesota fans buzzing for the first time in quite a while, and the public address just finishing announcing Gates' goal, Dominic Toninato drove the slot and -- on his third shot -- scored from a nearly impossible angle to get UMD's two-goal lead restored.
(By the way, that Minnesota goal broke a run of 116:44 without a goal against UMD at Mariucci Arena, dating back to November of 2013.)
The Gophers threatened in the closing minutes with freshman goalie Eric Schierhorn pulled, but never were able to tally, and UMD got its first win of the young season.
On a team with 21 returning players, it isn't always easy to stand out as a freshman. Playing time will be scarce most of the season for freshman forwards Parker Mackay and Billy Exell, it's been made clear from the start that Adam Johnson would play a lot, as would Pionk.
To crystalize that, both are on power play units, and both got their first UMD points on Friday night. Johnson assisted on Thomas' goal, and Pionk on Farley's.
It's a just reward for two guys who were, frankly, awesome Friday. Johnson used his speed to create scoring chances that weren't obvious to the naked eye when the play started. Multiple times, we saw Johnson get UMD into an odd-man rush by simply using his speed through the neutral zone.
(Adam Johnson skating full speed and forwards > anyone skating backwards.)
Pionk's poise is clear. It's not just confidence because he's playing with senior captain Andy Welinski. It's maturity beyond his years, and it's really impressive to see. He earned some power play time in the second period, and he made the most of it. Pionk and Dan Molenaar both worked the point on the second unit -- Carson Soucy's spot -- with Soucy suspended for the game. Nick McCormack took Soucy's spot alongside Willie Raskob, and I thought both he and Willie Corrin had some strong points to their games defensively.
Outside of the push I mentioned Minnesota having when its power play ended in the first period, the Gophers simply didn't sustain much offensively until they pulled Schierhorn in the final minutes. This was despite Minnesota winning 37 of 62 faceoffs. It was similar to last year, where teams won faceoffs against UMD, and the Bulldogs had the puck within ten seconds because they were doing the right things and not chasing it around the rink.
UMD announced Saturday morning it will host the 2017 IceBreaker tournament at Amsoil Arena. The traditional season-opening event will include Minnesota, Michigan Tech, and Union, and be played Oct. 6-7, 2017.
From a scheduling standpoint, it's significant because Minnesota was not scheduled to visit Duluth in the 2017-18 season until this opportunity presented itself. It will be a great event, and UMD is already beginning its promotional push.
The IceBreaker will be part of 2017-18 season ticket packages, and more information will be available at a later date.
In other NCHC action Friday, Miami got a late Jack Roslovic goal to win 3-2 at Ohio State. Omaha got two goals apiece from Fredrik Olofsson and Austin Ortega to win 4-3 at Vermont. UMass-Lowell scored late to fend off Colorado College, 3-2.
Bemidji State got two third-period goals to tie North Dakota 4-4. More significantly, UND starting goalie Cam Johnson was injured, leaving UND down to third goalie Matt Hrynkiw, who allowed two goals on 12 shots. More on Johnson's injury should be available before Saturday's rematch in Grand Forks.
Also, Denver beat Michigan State 4-2, and St. Cloud State beat struggling Minnesota State 4-0 in St. Cloud.