Duluth Wins With Hometown Flavor
by Justin Magill/CHN Writer
ST. PAUL, Minn. All it needed was a little hometown flavor.
Minnesota-Duluth took down Michigan 3-2 in overtime for its first national title in school history in front of 19,222 people at the Xcel Energy center, a mere two hours from Duluth.
The final two goals by the Bulldogs came from players that know a thing or two about the program.
Kyle Schmidt, a Hermantown, Minn., native, 15 minutes from Duluth, played his final game in a Bulldogs sweater as a senior. He went out in style, putting away his 11th goal of the season to send a strong Minnesota-Duluth crowd into a frenzy.
“It was more less a gimme for me,” Schmidt said. “but I was glad I was just able to bury it.”
Schmidt’s collegiate career ends with 26 goals, but none bigger than the one he scored in the national championship game against a Wolverines team that has the most titles of any school with nine.
Not only playing in his final game with Minnesota-Duluth, Schmidt might have competed in his last competitive game.
“I could not have drawn up a better way to end my college career,” he said. “I’m hoping my hockey career isn’t over, but if it is I am one fortunate individual.”
Even Jack Connolly, who is used to seeing his name on the score sheet, recognized how special it was for his teammate.
“What a way for Kyle Schmidt to end his career with a goal like that,” he said. “Couldn’t be more proud for him.”
If Schmidt needs to pass the torch onto another goal scorer from the national title game, it could be Max Tardy, a Duluth native and someone who prior to the game, probably needed some scoring luck.
But not on Saturday night.
On the power play, which the Bulldogs have tormented their opponents in the NCAA tournament clipping at 28-percent, Tardy gave Minnesota-Duluth a 2-1 lead in the second period.
It was the first goal of his collegiate career.
“Oh man, it couldn’t come at a better time,” Tardy said. “It is something I will never forget.”
With prolific scorers in Justin Fontaine, Mike Connolly, Jack Connolly and freshman Justin Faulk — who runs the point like he is an upperclassman — Tardy’s name did not come up in the conversation as a player to watch for. But since Schmidt broke his hand in December, Tardy has taken a more active role. Finally, at the biggest moment, that paid off.
“I got on when Schmidt went down and just tried to stay calm and collective,” Tardy said. “You have to make the most of your chances when they come your way.”
Minnesota-Duluth has had a rich hockey history, but never won the big one until Saturday night. It came close in 1984, a loss to Bowling Green 5-4 in four overtimes.
“This city deserves it after being so close 27 years ago,” Schmidt said. “To win it and do it here is something that I will never forget and I hope the people that follow our team won’t either.”
Other Duluth natives on the Bulldogs roster are sophomore Keegan Flaherty and All-American Jack Connolly.
Along with Schmidt and Tardy, they have seen the history of the program and what a championship would mean. A city that has strong roots at the high school level to grab from, just got stronger.
“You look at what we have now, it could get better with recruiting because of what we did,” Flaherty said. “We have a lot of guys who might come back, so to think that we could add to it could make it even better.”
With goals of taking the WCHA regular season and Final Five titles, Minnesota-Duluth was well on its way with a No. 1 ranking early in the season.
Those faded midway through when North Dakota seized control, but the big prize was still waiting.
“We didn’t get the first two,” Schmidt said. “I think this one trumps the other two.”
This one was special, maybe even for the hometown guys, who got to be the first ones to put their names in the Minnesota-Duluth record books.