Bulldogs complete comeback over MSU and advance to West Regional final

 Hunter Shepard fights off an oncoming Maverick. Photo courtesy of Jim Rosvold

Hunter Shepard fights off an oncoming Maverick. Photo courtesy of Jim Rosvold

Just win and move on. The University of Minnesota Duluth men’s hockey team overcame an early 2-0 deficit to Minnesota State and rally to a 3-2 overtime victory to advance to the National Collegiate Athletic Association West Regional championship.

UMD moves on to play Air Force Academy tomorrow night who upset the No. 1 overall seed in the tournament, St. Cloud State University earlier this afternoon. The Bulldogs haven’t met Air Force sine January 2, of 1999.

UMD’s struggles of last weekend appeared to continue tonight after the Mavericks took a 2-0 lead just 6:37 into the contest.

The tide changed when senior captain Karson Kuhlman picked the pocket of a Maverick defender, went in alone and snuck a shot five-hole to pull the Bulldogs within one of Minnesota State at 6:38 of the middle frame.

With time winding down in the third period, UMD drew a penalty with 5:32 left in regulation. Heavy zone pressure from the Bulldogs led to senior forward Jared Thomas sliding a beautiful cross ice pass to a wide-open freshman forward Nick Swaney who fired home a one-time shot into the yawning net with 4:08 left in regulation.

Battling all the way back to tie, the Bulldogs forced overtime and that’s where things got interesting.

55 seconds, all of Denny Sanford PREMIER center thought Nick Swaney played the hero once again as he buried a loose puck in the middle of the slot. After a lengthy video review, Swaney’s game winner was wiped off due to goaltender interference.

During this time of the season, teams need a little bit of puck luck to win and that’s exactly what the Bulldogs had tonight. As sophomore netminder Hunter Shepard fought off a point blank shot from the slot, the puck trickled off to the side and a Maverick forward corralled it and flung it towards the net. UMD can thank the Maverick forward who was in the net since the puck hit him miraculously stayed out of the net.

A minute later UMD junior forward Parker Mackay was the one to play hero as his wrist shot from the slot just barely beat Maverick goaltender Connor LeCouvee.

Minnesota State was an astounding 25-0 when taking a lead into the third period this season until running into UMD. The Bulldogs outshot the Mavericks 22-21 for the game and held MSU shot-less in the second period.

“I Thought the resiliency and the ability to come back not only just from the two-goal deficit but to stay composed and go back out there and get the winning goal. All the credit goes to our guys, I thought they really battled.”

The Bulldogs will duke it out with Air Force tomorrow night at 8:00 p.m. in attempts to reach the Frozen Four for a second consecutive season.

SportsAustin Rush