The Perfect Play
Bulldogs Deliver In the Clutch Again
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CHICAGO It was the perfect play, finished by the perfect player.
With less than a minute left, it looked like Minnesota-Duluth would skate into its third consecutive overtime, ending with a seemingly innocuous scrum along the wall that tied up several Harvard players and a few Bulldogs. But Joey Anderson picked the puck out from the scrum and sent it to Alex Iafallo, who shoveled a no-look pass to Willie Raskob. Raskob had quietly snuck into the zone and grabbed the puck from the top of the left faceoff circle.
And then he waited.
Raskob watched Harvard’s Clay Anderson creep away from the slot and skate towards him. Meanwhile, Iafallo had pushed his way into the slot, leaving Luke Esposito trailing behind him. Raskob snapped the puck towards the net just as Iafallo skated towards Madsen.
“There was as scrum on the wall,” Raskob said. “I saw on the weak side there, I was on my off hand, I saw the puck come to the middle. I thought Al was going to grab it and when he didn't come get it, it was 2-on-1. Their D-man came and fronted. I saw Al wide open in the slot and pretty incredible player doing some pretty incredible things so I found his tape.”
Iafallo stuck out his stick just in time to deflect the puck towards Madsen's five hole.
“It was just kind of driving the net like a normal play,” Iafallo said. “We do it in practice all the time so I just thought I’d keep my stick open and Raskob would find it because he’s a good offensive defenseman.”
And then he waited.
“It took a little way to slip through,” Iafallo said. “I’m just glad it went in to be honest with you. I didn’t want it to go into overtime.”
What followed was 26.6 seconds of paranoia as Harvard sent shots on net and hit the crossbar.
“[It] had 26 seconds left, it’s not that long right? We should be able to finish this,” Raskob said. “They had two incredible chances. I saw that puck get whacked out of the D zone there and just a rush of emotions overwhelming. I was a little scared when I saw that crossbar. When it didn’t go in though I was just like, this is meant to be and I’m glad the hockey gods were there for us.”
Minnesota-Duluth’s luck held out for the remainder of the game, sending the Bulldogs to the national championship game.
Before Raskob entered Harvard’s zone, even before several Crimson players were tied up along the boards, Raskob had a feeling the game would end soon.
“My initial thought was I actually felt we had a goal in us going into that last five minutes.” Raskob said. “If it went to OT we were ready for it. I think this team’s been through just about anything so, yeah, I wasn’t quite aware but I’m glad it was with that little amount of time left before, you saw the chances that we gave up.”
Both him and Iafallo, seniors and roommates, didn’t want the game to go into overtime, even though UMD has been dominant in those situations. It would’ve been Minnesota-Duluth’s third straight overtime contest and fourth of the playoffs, all wins.
The play that sent Minnesota-Duluth to the national championship game developed long before Raskob entered Harvard’s zone, long before the scrum formed and even long before the game started.
“We do it in practice all the time,” Iafallo said. “So simple things like that, getting the puck to the net. Just had to shovel it in.”
And the calmness required for Raskob to wait was a product of Minnesota-Duluth’s countless close contests, including 12 overtime games.
“Games like these are an accumulation of your whole season,” Raskob said. “We’ve been through a lot of different experiences. ... The magnitude was a little bigger but I think as a team we came together.”
While the Bulldogs have had 10 different players score game-winning goals, it was fitting that Thursday’s tally came from Iafallo, the team’s leading scorer. Through 40 games this year Iafallo has scored 49 points, just one point shy of doubling his previous career high. His five game-winning goals are tied for the most on the team.
“His first three years he's been a really good player, but maybe a little inconsistent by his standards, by our standards,” Bulldogs coach Scott Sandelin said.
“He went back and was determined to have a good summer, a better summer. [He] worked hard to continue to get stronger. He worked on shooting the puck. He's got tremendous quickness. He's really got great edges. And he does have pretty good hands. I don't know if his sister's are better. I haven't seen her play. But he's just been really good for us at a high level all year. And it was probably fitting, our best player up there scored.”
It was even more special for Raskob.
“Al’s an amazing player,” Raskob said. “The first day he practiced, you knew there was something there. He’s one of my best friends. I lived with him for four years and I always knew he had something like this in him, and to do it at a time like this, just finishing this season’s been incredible. I don’t want to jinx him but let’s hope he can keep it going.”