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Shepard breaks UMD shutout record in rout of Western Mich.

KALAMAZOO, Mich. — First, Minnesota Duluth sophomore goaltender Hunter Shepard withstood an early charge from a Western Michigan squad that was the healthiest it’s been in months.

Then, the Cohasset native watched his teammates score a touchdown, plus a two-point conversion, in an 8-0 victory over the Broncos in NCHC play at Lawson Ice Arena that vaulted the Bulldogs into sole possession of third place in the league.

UMD will take on the Broncos again at 6:05 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 24, in Kalamazoo with a chance to lock up home ice in the first round of the conference playoffs.

“Quite frankly, I didn’t see an 8-0 game coming at all,” Bulldogs coach Scott Sandelin said. “We played the game the right way. In the third period we got some nice goals. I was happy to see Shep get another shutout and our guys were really trying to buckle down for him to get that.”

Senior wing and captain Karson Kuhlman scored his first hat trick since his days at Cloquet-Esko-Carlton in the victory; senior wing Jared Thomas of Hermantown had four assists for his first four-point night; and freshman defenseman Dylan Samberg, also of Hermantown, scored his first collegiate goal.

Shepard finished with 22 saves for his third straight shutout and sixth of the season — both UMD records.

The record for shutouts by a goaltender in a single season was previously held by three different netminders when the season began. Current UMD volunteer goaltending coach Brant Nicklin set the previous mark of five back in 1997-98 and then watched two of his pupils — Kasimir Kaskisuo in 2015-16 and Hunter Miska in 2016-17 — tie the mark before signing NHL contracts.

“It’s a team thing. It just shows how good those guys have been playing in front of me all year,” said Shepard, who hasn’t allowed a goal in 190 minutes, 51 seconds. “At the end of the day, the only record that matters to us is Kenny Reiter’s and the 2011 team that won the national championship. It is what it is. It’s cool, I guess, but that’s not what I worry about.”

Among Shepard’s 22 saves Friday was three versus breakaways as the Broncos attempted to catch the Bulldogs off guard with a couple stretch plays. Two of the three breakaways were when Western Michigan was shorthanded.

Broncos sophomore wing Lawton Courtnall was denied shorthanded early in the first period, sophomore wing Dawson DiPietro found Shepard’s glove early in the second to keep it 1-0, and then Shepard foiled another Broncos’ short-handed break in the third to preserve the shutout.

“We knew they were going to try and do that. They like to get up the rink and go for the home run pass up the middle,” Shepard said. “It didn’t catch us off guard because we were looking for it.”

For Shepard, Friday was a nice change of pace from some of the tight battles UMD has been in this season. While he’s coming off 4-0 and 3-0 shutouts at home a week ago against Miami, neither game was settled until the final half of the third period.

Kuhlman used a slap shot 1:45 into the second period to get UMD on the board. He put the Bulldogs up 4-0 just over two minutes into the third period and finished his three-goal night with seven minutes remaining in regulation, even drawing a couple hats from the few Bulldogs fans who made the trip to flooded Kalamazoo.

“Especially way out here in Kalamazoo, it was nice to see,” Kuhlman said of the few hats that flew. “On top of that, I thought we played a great game. (Western) made a good push right in the first and we weathered a few storms.”

Samberg’s first collegiate goal at 12:12 of the second gave UMD a 2-0 lead going into the second intermission.

Sophomore wing Riley Tufte made it 3-0 just 1:15 into the third period. Kuhlman, freshman wing Nick Swaney, freshman defenseman Scott Perunovich, senior wing Blake Young and then Kuhlman again scored to get UMD to a season-high eight goals, topping the 7-2 win on Oct. 21 against Merrimack in Duluth.

“Our depth is really coming through,” Kuhlman said. “Our depth guys have been playing great hockey. They’ve been wearing teams down and it allows for us to get more pucks to the net.”

Western Michigan gave junior goaltender Trevor Gorsuch his first start of the season Friday after the Broncos rotated between sophomore Ben Blacker — the 2016-17 NCHC All-Rookie Team goalie — and freshman Austin Cain the last two weeks.

Gorsuch, who finished with 24 saves on 28 shots, was replaced by Cain after Tufte’s goal early in the third period made it 3-0, only to return to the net after Cain gave up four goals on six shots in 7 minutes, 17 seconds of action.

Broncos goaltenders came into the weekend with a combined .884 save percentage and 3.43 goals-against average this seasons.

  • UMD ran its penalty kill streak to 39 straight, killing off three Western power plays.
  • The Broncos had junior center Colt Conrad back in their lineup for the first time since Jan. 12. He missed nine games with a head injury. Conrad, who was the team’s top-line center before his injury, is fourth on the team in scoring with nine goals and 16 assists.
  • NCHC referee Todd Anderson left the game with 13:02 remaining in the second period after getting hit in the head with a puck. The game continued with just one referee — Andy Thackaberry — and two linesmen, which is permitted per NCAA rules. Anderson returned by the end of the second period and finished the game.