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Shepard shutout sends UMD to Frozen Faceoff title game

Hunter Shepard (32) and Dylan Samberg (4) of Minnesota Duluth defend a shot from Jarid Lukosevicius (14) of Denver Friday during the NCHC semifinal game at Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul. Clint Austin / Forum News Service1 / 3
Riley Tufte (27) of Minnesota Duluth puts the puck on goal against Filip Larsson (30) of Denver Friday during the NCHC semifinal game at Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul. Clint Austin / Forum News Service2 / 3
Cole Koepke (17) of Minnesota Duluth controls the puck near Ryan Barrow (18) of Denver Friday during the NCHC semifinal game at Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul. Clint Austin / Forum News Service3 / 3
  1. PAUL — Meeting in the postseason for the third year in a row and for the second consecutive season in the NCHC Frozen Faceoff semifinals, Friday’s battle between fourth-seeded Denver and second-seeded Duluth lived up to its billing.

The game was tight.

There was little room on the ice for either side to work.

It was low scoring until the final minutes when the Bulldogs pulled away from the Pioneers via a pair of empty-net goals for a 3-0 victory to join St. Cloud State in Saturday’s championship game. Puck drop is at 7:38 p.m.

The empty-net goals came courtesy of sophomore defenseman Louie Roehl with 1:38 to play and freshman wing Cole Koepke on a solo breakaway with less than 30 seconds to go.

Koepke broke a scoreless tie 42 seconds into the third period by firing a shot through traffic, taking advantage of a screen by senior captain Parker Mackay. It was Koepke’s sixth goal of his rookie season and first at Xcel Energy Center since scoring for Hermantown in the 2016 Class A state championship win over Breck.

Koepke, a senior on that Hermantown squad, was one of the heroes back on Nov. 17 in Denver, scoring 52 seconds into overtime to give UMD a 4-3 win to snap a six-game losing skid against the Pioneers. UMD sophomore defenseman Scott Perunovich forced the extra period that night by scoring with 1.8 seconds left in regulation.

The Bulldogs thought a second former Hawk, freshman center Jesse Jacques, had scored with 10:35 to go in the third period. Called a goal on the ice, it was overturned by video review.

Jacques was in the lineup as the Bulldogs’ third-line center Friday because fellow freshman center Jackson Cates was out with an illness. A teammate of Koepke’s at Hermantown in 2015-16 — who also scored in that year’s Class A final — Jacques was in the lineup for just the fourth time since Jan. 18.

UMD junior Hunter Shepard, the NCHC’s Goaltender of the Year and a semifinalist for national goalie of the year, made 25 saves for his sixth shutout of the season and school-record 14th of his career.

The Pioneers went with freshman Detroit Red Wings draft pick Filip Larsson in goal against the Bulldogs, despite the fact that sophomore Devin Cooley shut UMD out twice this season — the only goalie to do that this season.

Larsson gave up four goals in the uncharacteristic 5-2 game won by the Bulldogs on Feb. 15 in Duluth. On Friday, he stopped 30 shots.

The Pioneers had won eight of their last 10 against the Bulldogs — the two split their two regular-season series in 2018-19 — but the rivalry is significantly tighter than the records show.

Over the last six years, 15 games have been decided by a single goal including 10 of the last 14 meetings.

Denver 0-0-0—0

Minn. Duluth 0-0-0—0First period — No scoring. Penalties — Ryan Barrow, DU (slashing), 6:58.

Second period — No scoring. Penalties — Tanner Laderoute, UMD (boarding), 8:07; Ian Mitchell, DU (hooking), 12:39.

Third period — XXXXX. Penalties — AXXXXX.

Shots on goal — DU 8-11-00—00; UMD 6-15-00—00. Goalies — Filip Larsson (00 shots-00 saves); Hunter Shepard, UMD (00-00). Power plays — DU 0-of-0; UMD 0-of-0. Referees — Joe Sullivan, Nick Krebsbach. Linesmen — XXXXX. Att. — 0000.

Matt Wellens

College hockey reporter for the Duluth News Tribune covering the Minnesota Duluth Bulldogs men's and women's teams, as well as the NCAA Division III programs at St. Scholastica and Wisconsin-Superior.

(218) 723-5317