March 22, 2009 PRINT Bookmark and Share

Minnesota-Duluth Makes History

by Dan Myers/CHN Staff

(photos: Scott Pierson)

(photos: Scott Pierson)

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ST. PAUL, Minn. — Minnesota-Duluth knew coming in it would be a daunting task. In the history of the WCHA Final Five, no team had ever won three games in a weekend.

Saturday night, that bit of history became history.

With their 4-0 win over MacNaughton Cup runner-up Denver, the Bulldogs became the first team in league history to go 3-0 at the Final Five, and in the process, won the league playoff championship for the first time since 1985.

For UMD head coach Scott Sandelin, the man in charge for nine seasons, it was a special weekend indeed.

"It's right up there at the top," said Sandelin, who coached his team to a Frozen Four back in 2004. "It's been a long time for our program. It's certainly not what you shoot for, it's just one of the things you shoot for. But it's a very prestigious championship because of the quality of our league."

On its way to the title, the Bulldogs rolled to wins over three of the most prestigious programs in college hockey, notching wins over Minnesota in Thursday's play-in before beating the top two teams in the league from the regular season, North Dakota and Denver.

That after sweeping Colorado College on the road, last weekend just to qualify for that tournament.

The key has been impeccable goaltending from Alex Stalock and timely scoring from senior forward MacGregor Sharp.

For Stalock, Saturday's shutout was his second in as many nights. In five playoff games this season, he has a .981 (155 saves on 158 shots) and a goals against average of 0.60. Three goals allowed in the five games.

"There's a lot of variables there," Stalock said. "I'm seeing the puck good but the bigger part is, the d-men are letting me see the puck. We knew we needed to buckle down from where we were at the end of the regular season and we've done a hell of a job in the defensive zone. You have to give all the credit to the [18] guys playing in front of me."

Sandelin said afterwards he wasn't too surprised by his goaltender's play this weekend.

"Maybe we get spoiled because we see him all the time," Sandelin said. "We know the type of player he can be. But I said it last year and I've been saying it since day one this year. He's the best goalie in the league."

Most years, Stalock would have been the runaway winner for tournament MVP. The goaltender did win the award, but not before some friendly competition from Sharp, who's hat trick Saturday night was the difference offensively.

All three nights in St. Paul, Sharp scored the game's first goal to give UMD the early lead. They haven't needed much of anything else, other than a typical Stalock performance in net.

"That's what's written on the white board in the locker room," Stalock joked.

For those keeping track at home, that's 13 goals for Sharp in UMD's last 11 games, including a pair of hat tricks.

"The way [Stalock] is playing right now, one should do the trick," Sharp said. "I just figured I'd get a couple for insurance."

Overlooked during the course of the weekend is UMD's jump in the Pairwise Rankings. On the outside looking in just 72 hours ago, the Bulldogs should be a No. 2 seed when the NCAA tournament bracket is unveiled Sunday morning. From No. 7 in the league, to No. 7 in the nation in one fell swoop.

And although Duluth won't be hosting a regional, they could find themselves with a virtual home game for the first time in three weeks of they're picked to play in Minneapolis.

Not that playing at home has mattered much in the playoffs: All five of UMD's games have been road contests. They haven't trailed for even a single second.

"It really doesn't matter," Sandelin said. "When you get to the tournament, you're going to play great teams. You gotta play well. They're all one game shots. You have to play with urgency and you gotta play like its your last game."

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