March 20, 2009

Just a few hours after he was named to the 2008-09 All-Western Collegiate Hockey Association first team, Alex Stalock simply went out and lived up to that billing.

The junior goaltender made 39 saves -- equalling a season-high -- in backstopping the University of Minnesota Duluth to a 2-1 victory over its arch rival, the University of Minnesota in the opening game of the Red Baron WCHA Final Five, before a crowd of 17,611 at the Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul, Minn. The victory propelled the No. 17 Bulldogs into tomorrow night's semifinals where they'll meet 2008-09 WCHA regular season North Dakota.

"We felt confident the entire night," said Stalock. "We killed off a huge 5-on-3 power play midway through the first period and that kind of set the tone for the rest of the game."

The Bulldogs struck 3:46 into first period when sophomore defenseman Evan Oberg knocked down a Minnesota clearing attempt at the left point and threw a shot on goal which was mishandled by Gopher goaltender Alex Kangas and promptly wrapped in by senior center MacGregor Sharp. The goal was Sharp's team-leading 21st of the season and extended his personal scoring streak to a career-high seven games.

UMD, which was making its first WCHA Final Five appearance in three years, clung to that one-goal lead until Matt Greer stuffed in is own rebound with 5:26 to play in the second period. Cade Fairchild got No. 13 Minnesota on the board at the 6:03 after his shot from the high slot deflected off of UMD defenseman Josh Meyer's shin and between Stalock's legs. Minnesota wound up peppering Stalock with 15 shots during the final 20 minutes of play.

"Tonight we may not have closed things off like we did last weekend (in UMD's playoff series sweep at Colorado College), but we did weather the storm," said head coach Scott Sandelin. "Our best player tonight was the guy whose been our best player all season -- Al Stalock."

The Bulldogs were held scoreless on the power play for just the seventh time this season, going 0-for-2 while Minnesota (17-13-7 overall) failed to convert on any of their five man advantage opportunities.

UMD, now 19-12-8 on the season, moved one step closer to securing a NCAA playoff berth and could all but seal the deal by derailing North Dakota Friday.

"We'll have to bring our A-game for 60 minutes tomorrow," said Sandelin. "We want to play (in the title game) on Saturday night."