Top 'Dogs once again
Three weeks ago, in the same building, the University of Minnesota Duluth men’s hockey team got swept in the National Collegiate Hockey Conference Frozen Faceoff and left the tournament unsure of their playoff hopes. Tonight, they leave Xcel Energy Center as 2018 National Collegiate Athletic Association champions defeating the University of Notre Dame 2-1 in the Frozen Four title game.
For the third consecutive game, the Bulldogs come out victorious by a final score of 2-1 and extend their streak of one goal games in the NCAA Tourney to 11.
“Obviously, we used the same MO the last three games to win three games in a row. But couldn't be more proud of our team, the way these guys battled and grew and grew together,” said UMD Head Coach Scott Sandelin.
Just as the last two games, UMD came out and pressured early. None other than the hometown captain himself, Karson Kuhlman got the Bulldogs going tonight. The Esko, Minnesota native flew into the offensive zone with speed and lasered home a wrist shot top corner to give the Bulldogs a 1-0 lead at the 9:06 mark of the first period. Kuhlman was named NCAA Frozen Four Most Outstanding Player with three points in the tournament (1G, 2A).
Senior forward Jared Thomas got in on the action too when his second goal of the tournament put the Bulldogs up 2-0 with 1:21 remaining in the opening period. Thomas’s shot came from the goal line and just barely trickled by Notre Dame goaltender and Mike Richter award winner Cale Morris.
Notre Dame, who erased a 2-0 deficit to Michigan Thursday night, came out hot in the second period. The Bulldogs had to weather a few storms from the Irish and eventually gave up a power play goal to Notre Dame at the 7:40 mark of the middle frame. Sophomore goaltender Hunter Shepard almost made a spectacular save but came up just short.
Shepard, who made 19 saves in the effort played yet another key role in the Bulldogs championship effort, making multiple big time and game saving stops in both the second and third periods. Shepard, along with Thomas, was named to the Frozen Four All Tournament Team. The two were also joined by freshman defenseman Scott Perunovich.
Taking a 2-1 lead into the final 20 minutes of regulation, the Bulldogs played their best third period of the entire season. UMD made it difficult for the Irish to set much of anything up in the defensive zone. The Bulldogs were brilliant all third period long making smart decisions with and without the puck, winning puck battles and most importantly, remaining level headed.
“I think it shows their mentality coming into the third period with the lead. Guys are buying into the systems,” said UMD senior forward Blake Young. “We talked during the locker room that both getting pucks deep and making them play defense for that 20 minutes, and I think you saw that, a perfect example maintaining pucks down low.”
The clock hit 0:0 and most of the 18,303 people in attendance blew the roof off the Xcel in cheering for the programs second national championship. It was nothing short of electric.