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April 9, 2011 E-MAIL PRINT Bookmark and Share

Minnesota-Duluth Edges Michigan to Win First NCAA Championship

Senior Kyle Schmidt Tallies Overtime Game-Winner

by Matthew Conyers/CHN Staff Writer

UMD coach Scott Sandelin celebrates with Kyle Schmidt, who scored the OT game winner. (photo: Ryan Coleman)

UMD coach Scott Sandelin celebrates with Kyle Schmidt, who scored the OT game winner. (photo: Ryan Coleman)

ST. PAUL, Minn. — Keep the lights on in Duluth.

The champions are coming home.

Well, maybe not right away.

Minnesota-Duluth will be celebrating its first national championship in program history long into the night and for the foreseeable future after a thrilling 3-2 overtime victory in front of 19,222 at St. Paul's XCel Energy Center.

The 86,000 residents of Duluth and the 11,000-plus students at the University are set to welcome back the national champions after senior forward Kyle Schmidt scored with 16:38 left in overtime, giving the Bulldogs their first championship in their first title game appearance in 27 years.

"It's been way too long of a time coming for everyone in Duluth and Twin Ports, anyone," Schmidt said. "Up north, UMD fans, to be around 50 some years and not have it and be so close back in 1984 [losing the title game to Bowling Green], 27 years ago, to finally bring it home — I mean, it's for everyone. It's awesome."

Schmidt — an almost-hometown hero from Hermantown, 15 minutes from Duluth — beat Michigan's Shawn Hunwick after one-timing a pass from Travis Oleksuk that came from behind the net. The shot beat Hunwick low.

"I didn't really do a whole lot," Schmidt said. "My linemates were working their butts off in the corner and T.O. [Oleksuk] got it around the net and backhanded it right to me and luckily it was a gimmie because I was probably too nervous to bury anything else. I just saw it go in and I just started skating to the other end and all the craziness. 

"I was just in the right spot at the right time."

Minnesota-Duluth (26-10-6) is the first first-time winner of the title since Maine won the National Championship in 1993 and the first team to win inside its home state since Wisconsin beat Boston College in Milwaukee in 2006.

"This is not just for these players — this is for the alumni, the program, the city," Minnesota-Duluth coach Scott Sandelin said. "I'm just so excited for these players to have this experience. They're the ones that went out and did it. I'm so proud of them."

Minnesota-Duluth joins the small group of programs that have won men's and women's national titles — joining Minnesota and Wisconsin. The women's program at Minnesota-Duluth has won five titles.

"We're one big hockey family at Minnesota-Duluth," said Duluth freshman forward Max Tardy, who scored in Saturday's championship game. "We're glad the men's team finally brought one home."

Michigan (29-11-4), playing in its first championship since winning it all in 1998, hung with the Bulldogs throughout the back-and-forth championship game despite being outshot 38-24. Shawn Hunwick made 35 saves for Michigan. Kenny Reiter had 22 for the Bulldogs.

"I think Minnesota-Duluth is a proud champion," Michigan coach Red Berenson said. "They should be. They were the better team. Even though the game ended in overtime, it was tough — I didn't think our team really got to play their best hockey this weekend, for one reason or another."

In the end, the Wolverines couldn't survive Minnesota-Duluth's offensive attack in the opening minutes of the overtime, which included a shot from Justin Faulk only 56 seconds into the extra frame and strong offensive zone pressure in the moments leading up to Schmidt's heroic goal.

"It's a tough loss," Berenson said. "[Hunwick] was terrific. He gave us a chance and it wasn't to be. The overtimes, you never know what happens."

Michigan lost to Minnesota in the same building in the 2002 national semifinals, and Saturday was only the Wolverines' third loss in the National Championship.

UMD's J.T. Brown was named the Frozen Four's Most Outstanding Player.

Brown nearly ended the game with 23 seconds left in regulation racing in for a one-on-one chance and forcing Hunwick to make a chest save.

Much earlier in the game, it looked to be Michigan's night — even when Michigan got a goal by Carl Hagelin called off with 15:40 left in the first period. The referee ruled that he had blown the whistle before Hagelin shot the puck.

But the Wolverines didn't dwell on the play.

Senior Ben Winnett, who scored his first goal since Dec. 30 in the semifinals two nights ago, continued to have the hot hand in the first period and put Michigan on the board first with 5:18 left in the opening frame. Winnett collected the puck off the faceoff from Matt Rust and beat the Bulldogs' Reiter with a mid-level wrist shot from just above the slot.

The first period was about Minnesota-Duluth losing most faceoffs, and its top line getting tired. So the Bulldogs went about correcting the faceoff issues, and went about getting the second line more involved. Both ideas worked to a 'T.' Early in the second period, second-line center Travis Oleksuk scored off a faceoff to tie the game for the Bulldogs.

Michigan had a chance to take back the lead with 11:30 left in the second period when Matt Rust sent a shot off the shoulder of Reiter that sprung directly up and over the goalie. But with the puck sitting at the goal line, junior forward Jack Connolly beat the Michigan forwards to the play and cleared the puck out of the crease.

"That was huge — thank god Jack's got great eye-hand coordination," Sandelin said. "You always look for those. There are always those in games."

With 10:29 left in the second period, Minnesota-Duluth freshman Max Tardy scored his first collegiate goal on the power play after his own blocked shot came back out to him and he was able to beat Hunwick in tight.

"I know my teammates and my coaches had a lot of confidence in me, putting me out there on the power play," Tardy said. "I was just trying to stay calm, act like I was trying to play junior hockey — it worked out."

Still, Michigan was able to counter the emotional goal from the freshman with its own unsung heroics late in the second period. Jeff Rohrkemper got just his third goal of the season when he fired a backhanded shot from inside the hash marks past the blockerside leg of Reiter with 2:14 left in the second period.

As it had all postseason, Minnesota-Duluth attempted to go to work on the power play — its proven bread and butter throughout the NCAA playoffs — but came back with surprisingly varied results. The Bulldogs, who had scored eight power-play goals in their first three tournament games, were left feeling trapped by the Michigan penalty kill most of Saturday.

Aside from Tardy’s goal in the second period, Michigan stayed tight on the Minnesota-Duluth forwards and did not allow the same type of room the Bulldogs had seen in the first three tournament games. The Wolverines had success limiting UMD's access in the slot and killed off eight of nine power plays.

"They were a very good team," Sandelin said. "We knew they were going to pressure. We were just off with passes and certainly we had some opportunities to get one. I wasn't expecting nine power plays, I can tell you that."

Michigan went 0-for-3 on the power play in the first two periods but got a major opportunity with 10:41 left when Minnesota-Duluth's Brady Lamb was called for hitting after the whistle.

But the opportunity quickly disappeared when Jon Merrill was called for holding with 10:33 left after pulling down J.T. Brown on a one-on-one rush to the net.

With both teams forced to play four-on-four, Hunwick made a glove save on a quick wrist shot from the slot by Mike Connolly.

The Bulldogs got another power play opportunity with 8:28 left in the third period and had its best chance when Hunwick was beat on the right post and the puck was free with plenty of the net open but Greg Pateryn was able to clear the puck off the line.

Michigan countered moments later and got a 2-on-1 shorthanded opportunity with Carl Hagelin and Louie Caporusso. But Reiter stacked the pads on the shot from Caporusso.

The chance was one of Michigan's best, but Minnesota-Duluth found a way like it had all season.

"You saw Caporusso on that 2-on-1 — that's the game," Berenson said. "Nobody is surprised if [Caporusso] scores because he's a clutch scorer but it wasn't to be [Saturday]. It's a one-shot game. Comes down to one shot. Doesn't have to be a good shot."

The Bulldogs got no goals from its much-hyped first line but instead got goals from three different players, including Tardy's first career score, and the sustained play of Reiter. The game, much liked the season, perfectly captured Minnesota-Duluth's surprising and team-concept rewarding championship run.

"I've always said it: the best teams win," Sandelin said. “I feel we were the best team. Maybe not talent wise. ... We’ve got some great players. I've said that before. We've got a great group of guys. We've got the right pieces of the puzzle. But everything has got to come together and this group was resilient all year and worked hard and believed in each other.

"That's why I’m happy for them."
 

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