First Look: UMD Has Sights Set on Notre Dame
by Dan Myers/CHN Staff
ST. PAUL, Minn. Minnesota-Duluth was the second team to hit the Xcel Energy Center ice Wednesday afternoon, following Notre Dame, its opponent in Thursday's first Frozen Four semifinal. The Bulldogs skated for less than an hour before head coach Scott Sandelin, goaltender Kenny Reiter, forward Justin Fontaine and defenseman Mike Montgomery took questions from the media.
Thursday will mark UMD's first appearance in the Frozen Four since 2004, when the Bulldogs lost, 5-3, to Denver at the TD Garden, then the Fleet Center, in Boston.
“I think it’s a special time for our program," Sandelin said. "It’s our fourth time here in our program’s history. This group has had a goal to get here since last season. I’m extremely happy for these two seniors here that came back and have led us to this point. It’s a great opportunity for them to finish their careers on a note that we all want and that’s winning two hockey games."
Although the Bulldogs looked good two weeks ago in the East Regional — including a victory over Yale, the tournament's top overall seed — Sandelin said UMD has a chance to play even better.
"I think we did what we needed to do and we played very well, but this team has a lot that they can still give," Sandelin said.
Sandelin also said he was more concerned about how the Bulldogs play rather than worrying about the challenges Notre Dame presents. Their aggressive style and forecheck, as well as the roster's mix of both veterans and underclassmen were all things Sandelin noted right away.
"I was very impressed with their team after watching the Miami game the week before," he said. "They didn’t have their best outing in that game, and that happens to teams, but with how they responded."
Being the only team remaining from Minnesota will also be a motivator for UMD, although Reiter says it won't add any pressure to what Duluth is trying to accomplish this weekend.
"There are four good teams in the tournament. We are comfortable with the support we are going to have," Reiter said. "We are just approaching the Frozen Four with a business-like attitude.”
“We are just really excited to be here. We know we have a good following," Montgomery said. "We are excited to go out there and showcase our team.”
Reiter, one of the surprises of the regional tournament, is perhaps the single biggest reason the Bulldogs will have a chance at their first National Championship, stonewalling a potent Union team in a 2-0 win before advancing to St. Paul with a 5-3 win over Yale.
“As a defenseman, it starts with him. When he is confident it brings confidence to the rest of the D corps," Montgomery said. "We feel we can play more aggressive and know Kenny has got our backs. He has been solid all season, but really been something else this postseason.”
Another key factor in their regional success was special teams. UMD scored five of its eight goals with the man advantage. The Bulldogs also shut out Union's top-ranked power play in Game 1.
"This time of year you need everyone buying into the system of what we’re doing," Fontaine said. "We showed in the regional we were able to do the things that counted. Our forwards and defense stepped up and blocked a lot of shots and kept it simple.”