Special Teams Propel UMD to Title Game
Bulldogs score three power play goals in 4-3 semifinal win over Notre Dame
by Dan Myers/CHN Staff
ST. PAUL, Minn. Special teams success is often a product of confidence.
If that's true, and according to Notre Dame head coach Jeff Jackson it is, then Minnesota-Duluth could be untouchable.
The Bulldogs scored three power play goals Thursday while shutting down the Fighting Irish man advantage, securing a 4-3 victory at Xcel Energy Center and UMD's first trip to the national championship game in 27 years.
"That game was dictated by one thing: special teams," Jackson said. "It's exactly what we saw on film. They have an exceptional power play and we couldn't generate any offense on our power play."
In two games in the East Regional two weeks ago, UMD managed five goals with the extra attacker.
Trailing 1-0 after a Jeff Costello goal just 49 seconds into the game, the Bulldogs were clearly nervous. They sent out their power play hoping to get into a groove and calm down.
"If you don't have nerves, you're probably not human. We're all that way, coaches are that way," said Bulldogs head coach Scott Sandelin. "We needed to go out and get some shifts under our belt. There is no question that goal was big."
Playing in his first Frozen Four game, UMD freshman J.T. Brown scored the goal. He added an assist on Jack Connolly's power play tally in the second period. He was also instrumental in using his speed to draw penalties.
"J.T.'s been great for us all year," said senior forward Justin Fontaine, who assisted on all three power play goals. "When our team has needed a boost, he's been there for us. He's been great for us all year."
Brown's skating ability, along with Mike and Jack Connolly and Fontaine's, seemed at times too much for the Irish penalty kill. On more than one occasion, Notre Dame defenders were a full step or two slow in defending the puck.
That allowed for open chances for Duluth's snipers.
"We drew penalties by moving our feet, that comes from hard work," said UMD's Jack Connolly. "We take it upon ourselves to go out there and capitalize for our team. We're out there for a reason, and that's to get some momentum to try and put the puck in the net."
If the Bulldog power play was the starter for UMD, it was their penalty kill that closed it out. After Irish senior Calle Ridderwall narrowed the score to 4-3 just 2:05 into the third, Duluth was faced with a critical kill with under 10 minutes to play.
And while the Irish outshot UMD 15-2 over the final 20 minutes, that particular power play yielded little in the way of scoring chances.
"I think it was our gaps in the neutral zone," said UMD defenseman Justin Faulk. "Our forwards forced them to one side and that allowed our D to push them off at the blueline. When they did get into the zone, along the boards we defended them pretty well."
If the Bulldogs hope to bring home their first national championship in program history, they said winning the special teams battle again Saturday will likely be a major factor.
"Our power play has been great all year," Fontaine said. "It's been something we've relied on and winning that special teams battle is huge."