A Special Day for UMD
by Matthew Conyers/CHN Staff Writer
BRIDGEPORT, Conn. With 6:22 left in the first period Friday at the East Regional, Minnesota-Duluth’s Kyle Schmidt found the back of the net after redirecting a deflection from Travis Oleksuk.
The goal, the first of the game, came on Minnesota-Duluth’s third shot.
“I didn’t really see the shot totals and it didn’t really feel like we were getting outplayed by any means,” Schmidt said. “We just knew we had to step up our game.”
And the Bulldogs did — just more so on defense.
Lost among all the hype surrounding the top line of Jack Connolly, Mike Connolly and Justin Fontaine was that Minnesota-Duluth had a pretty talented crop of defenders too. Friday, the Bulldogs proved it.
Minnesota-Duluth killed off nine Union power plays, had two power-play goals and got 32 saves from Kenny Reiter to beat the Dutchmen 2-0 in Bridgeport at the Webster Bank Arena at Harbor Yard.
“We knew coming in they were a very, very good team and very good on the power play,” Minnesota-Duluth coach Scott Sandelin said. “Our kids did a tremendous job of shutting them down.”
Facing the nation’s leading power play, Minnesota-Duluth (24-10-6) held the Union power play to its worst performance since the weekend of Jan. 21-22 when the Dutchmen (26-11-4) went 0-for-10 against Harvard and Dartmouth.
“One of the big things that frustrated us on the power plays was that they won nearly all of the penalty kills draws,” Union coach Nate Leaman said. “We’ve been pretty good about that this season but they dominated that area and that took away some of our power play time.”
The Bulldogs, who discussed the Dutchmen’s special teams skills at length on Thursday after its team practice, didn’t looked fazed in the least with a man down.
With a focus on limiting second-chance rebounds and any opportunities in the low slot, Minnesota-Duluth effectively silenced the Union forwards.
“Our guys kind of grinded it out,” said Sandelin. “Seems like there wasn't a lot of flow to the games because of there were a lot of power plays. I thought the third period, once we got the second goal, we started to get into more of our game. I thought it was a great win and sometimes these games are the toughest.”
The Bulldogs garnered plenty of momentum on the penalty kill in the first period when it shut down three power plays in the first 12 minutes — none bigger than the first penalty kill, which came just 30 seconds into the game.
Early on, the Dutchmen were able to find paths to the net and get a variety of chances on Reiter and it looked as as if the Bulldogs could break.
“I thought we had some great opportunities early on the power play,” Union coach Nate Leaman said. “We just couldn’t cash them in.”
The early kills actually did more to wake up Minnesota-Duluth then send a warning to Union. In the remaining two periods, Minnesota-Duluth steadied its defensive positioning and won the majority of face-offs on the penalty kill.
It didn’t hurt either that the Bulldogs stepped up in the shot blocking department. Although it did little to clog the lanes or cause traffic for Union, Minnesota-Duluth had 20 shots, including seven on the Dutchmen power plays in the final two periods.
“I’m confident that they’re going to get something on that puck so if they do that I’m fine and they’ve done it all year,” Reiter said.
Still, Minnesota-Duluth needed a sharp persformance from Reiter no matter how successful its penalty kill was against Union. And Friday, the Bulldogs got one.
Reiter made 12 saves in the first period to get Minnesota-Duluth started. The junior went on to get his third shutout of the year.
“A part of it was goaltending and [Reiter] was great [Friday],” Sandelin said.
By the end of the game, Minnesota-Duluth had gotten the goaltending and special teams it had talked openly about heading into the regional. And that was all it needed, no matter how many chances the Dutchmen would end up getting.
“We won the the special teams game and that was really the difference,” Sandelin said.