Back-to-back-to-back, Bulldogs advance to National Championship for third straight year
With a victory over the Providence Friars, the Minnesota Duluth Bulldogs would become the first team since the 2006-08 Boston College Eagles to advance to three straight Frozen Four Finals.
The last time these two teams went head-to-head was back in the opening round of the 2016 NCAA Tournament in Worcester, MA. The Bulldogs escaped with a 2-1 victory in double overtime before eventually losing the next game against the Denver Pioneers.
“We’ve learned how to win,” sophomore Justin Richards said of being in the big moments. “Every game in the tournament was a one-goal game, I think that experience came in tonight.”
The game got off to a physical start with both teams laying big hits on each other and aggressively skating for the puck.
The first action of the game would come when senior forward Billy Exell shot squirted by Providence goalie Hayden Hawkey as the refs blew the whistle. The goal would be reviewed and was determined that the puck crossed the goal line after the whistle was blown.
Momentum swung right back to the Friars after the no goal call, spending a lot of time in the Bulldog’s zone. The Bulldogs thought they grabbed it back later in the period after sophomore Mikey Anderson’s shot on-net rebounded to freshman Cole Koepke right in front of the net. Koepke wrapped the puck past Hawkey for what appeared to be another potential goal.
After another review it was determined Koepke was inside the restricted area and the goal would not count.
“Anytime you get a goal disallowed you don’t want to give them momentum,” Exell said. “You just have to get a good shift after that and stick with it.”
The Bulldogs would finally connect almost five minutes into the second period when captain Parker Mackay dropped off the puck to Richards just below the blue line. Richards took the puck down the side and shot a wrister that bounced over the leg of Hawkey for the first goal of the game.
Providence would answer six minutes later on the power play. Friar defenseman Jacob Bryson put a slap shot right on-net and junior Brandon Duhaime collected the rebound and found forward Josh Wilkins for the one-timer from the right circle to tie the game.
The game would go down to the wire, which is nothing new for Minnesota Duluth. The Bulldogs found themselves in a big pressure spot just four and a half minutes into the final period. The Bulldogs get called for two penalties just 45 seconds apart, which put the Bulldogs at five-on-three for almost 90 seconds. But one of the nations top defenses proved why they have been to back-to-back national championships.
“I was nervous as hell when they the five-on-three the way their power play was,” head coach Scott Sandelin said. “I think our group has been in a lot of tough games, they’ve learned how to win those games.”
The Bulldogs would take the lead halfway through the period. Sophomore Kobe Roth put up a shot at the top of the ice and the rebound bounced right to Exell who put a body on the puck and made it roll past Hawkey to take a 2-1 lead.
“I just decided to go to the net and I knew he [Kobe Roth] was going to shot,” Exell said. “The rebound just came to me and it happend to go in.”
Providence would pull Hawkey with a minute left in the game to gain the man advantage. The plan would backfire when Hermantown native Dylan Samberg tried to clear the puck from three-quarters ice and the puck ended up in the back of the net to officially put the game out of reach. Justin Richards would add his second of the game on a breakaway a few seconds later.
The Bulldogs will hope to repeat as champions for the first time since the Denver Pioneers did it back in the 2004 and 2005 seasons.
“I couldn’t be more proud of our team,” Sandelin said. “Looking forward to playing Saturday.”