Minnesota-Duluth Topples Notre Dame, Advances to Title Game
by Matthew Conyers/CHN Staff Writer
ST. PAUL, Minn. At the East Regional in Bridgeport, Minnesota-Duluth scored five power play goals to reach its first Frozen Four since 2004.
The Bulldogs, who came into the weekend with little to no special teams hype, had seven total NCAA tourney goals and just one had come on even-strength.
Thursday, Minnesota-Duluth picked up right were it left off.
Minnesota-Duluth got three power play goals and went 5-for-5 on the penalty kill to defeat Notre Dame 4-3 in the first national semifinal in the Frozen Four before a sold-out crowd of 19,139 at the Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul.
"Our power play was good all night and it kept us going [Thursday]," Minnesota-Duluth junior center Jack Connolly said. "We take it on our ourselves to capitalize on it."
The Bulldogs (25-10-6) advanced to their first championship in 27 years and play the winner of North Dakota and Michigan.
"It is unbelievable," Connolly said. "We're looking to make history, something our program has never done. I couldn't be more proud of our guys."
Connolly gave Minnesota-Duluth all the comfort it needed with 14:09 left in the second period with a slapshot to make it 4-2. With the two-goal cushion, the Bulldogs frustrated the Notre Dame breakout for the final period and a half and kept the Fighting Irish (25-13-5) from sending it to overtime.
"Our power play has been great all year — we shut down those guys and buried our chances," Connolly said.
Minnesota-Duluth junior goaltender Kenny Reiter, who let a shot from the slot by Jeff Costello slip through his arm only 49 seconds in the first period to give the Irish a 1-0 lead, settled down in the final two periods and recorded 31 saves for the win.
"He's been outstanding for us and you need that at this time of year," Minnesota-Duluth coach Scott Sandelin said. "We had confidence in him going into the regionals and he showed why. And our guys are feeding off that."
The early first period lead for the Fighting Irish didn't last long. Only 3:04 into the opening period, Bulldogs freshman J.T. Brown tied the score at one with a quick wrist shot from the just below the left face-off on the power play.
But Notre Dame didn't get flustered from the quick punch back from Minnesota-Duluth.
Notre Dame rookie forward T.J. Tynan made it 2-1 with 10:14 left after beating the Minnesota-Duluth defense to an odd bounce off the back boards that came right to the left of Reiter. Tynan beat Reiter on a quick shot inside the goalie’s blockerside leg pad.
Still, the foes continued to go back-and-forth for the rest of the first period. UMD's Kyle Schmidt tied the score at two just 1:06 later after a quick rush from the left wing. It was the only even-strength goal of the game for the Bulldogs.
With 6:29 left in the first period, the Bulldogs took the lead for good when Mike Connolly sent a high wrist shot from the slot past Notre Dame netminder Mike Johnson to make it 3-2. Connolly was fed a quick pass from Justin Fontaine for the score.
Notre Dame had a chance to make it even with 34.8 left in the first period after Tynan picked up a Minnesota-Duluth turnover just below the blue line and skated in one-on-one on Reiter. But Tynan sent a shot into the gut of Reiter and proceeded to get stuffed on a low shot off the rebound.
"We did respond the right way both times and built a lead in the second period," Sandelin said. "It wasn't our best game but we had moments, built the lead and held on."
Minnesota-Duluth added to its lead with 14:09 left in the second period off Jack Connolly’s goal.
Despite being outplayed and struggling in their transition game in the second period, the Fighting Irish made it interesting in the third period after Calle Ridderwall scored shorthanded only 2:05 into the third period.
"We made a few adjustmentsm but it was more of a state of mind," Notre Dame coach Jeff Jackson said.
But the Bulldogs refused to let Notre Dame get too much flow to its game and gave Reiter lots of room to see the puck in the final frame.
Minnesota-Duluth killed off Notre Dame's best chance to even the score with 6:46 left when it shut down another power play chance.
Notre Dame's last ditch effort to send the semifinal to overtime came with 1:12 left, when Jackson pulled his goaltender, Johnson, for the man advantage. The Fighting Irish couldn't beat Reiter and couldn't get the puck on net in the final 20 seconds.
"These kids find a way and they all believe in each other," Sandelin said. "This means a lot to us."