April 10, 2011 PRINT Bookmark and Share

City of Champions

by Justin Magill/CHN Writer

ST. PAUL, Minn. — For the first time Minnesota-Duluth can say it is champions of college hockey after a thrilling 3-2 overtime victory against Michigan.

In 1984 it came so close, losing to a Jerry York-coached Bowling Green squad 5-4 in four overtimes.

“This means so much to the city,” Duluth native Jack Connolly said. “Making history for the program for the first time and to do it here in St. Paul is incredible.”

It has been that kind of season for the Bulldogs. They said goodbye to the Duluth Entertainment Convention Center on Dec. 4 with a 2-1 win against Denver, and hello to the new AMSOIL Arena, even though it was christened with a 5-0 loss to North Dakota.

“We sent the DECC out in style with a win in our last game there,” Connolly said. “It was a little sad to see that go, but we opened up a new era of UMD hockey.”

“It has been a crazy season with all that going on,” sophomore Keegan Flaherty said. “We close down the DECC and open AMSOIL, a lot happened this year and it is unbelievable that we are national champions”

Minnesota-Duluth was a team ranked No. 1 earlier in the season, but fell midway through the season as other WCHA teams climbed the ladder.

It did not quit, it just kept the course and got hot at the most important time, in the East Regional where it beat Union and the top seed Yale on consecutive days.

“There was just so much chaos with a lot going on,” assistant coach and former Bulldog player Derek Plante said. “We went down a bit, but made that run and just have players that believe they can get the job done.”

“We played our best hockey at the end of the year,” Connolly added. “We won some games out East, took care of business out there to get here. We are national champions and I am just proud of this program and to be the first ones to do it is just incredible.”

There has been a fair share of talent to go through the Bulldogs hockey program, including the proficient line of Connolly, Mike Connolly and Justin Fontaine, but youth was just as important as the experience veterans on the team, especially late in the season.

Max Tardy scored his first goal of his collegiate career on Saturday to give Minnesota-Duluth a 2-1 lead, freshman Justin Faulk ran a No. 1 power play unit like he was an upperclassman and J.T. Brown was named the Frozen Four’s Most Outstanding Player.

“They we’re huge,” Connolly said. “Guys like Faulk and J.T. and Tardy, what a way to get his first goal of the year. Great guys in the locker room, great personalities. I’m happy that they came in and helped our team out the way they did.”

Youth and experience helped the Bulldogs, perhaps a perfect mix to take down Michigan, which has nine national titles, more than any other program.

“Somebody told me we just won the national championship and I still can’t believe it,” Flaherty said.

“We just made history in our program and we are going to take it all in right now,” Connolly added.

With the football team taking the Div. II title, the city gets another championship to celebrate, one that has a huge following and with a bevy of talent and pride even in the high school ranks.

“It’s huge for the city, it’s huge for the kids,” said Plante, a prolific goal scorer for the Bulldogs in his day. “They deserved it. From day one that was their goal, our teams goal and we got it done.

“We had a realistic chance of winning this thing and I think our team believed they could do it.”

A two-hour bus ride back to Duluth from St. Paul will be one to cherish as the Bulldogs get to spend some more precious moments together as a team.

There have been ups and downs, but Minnesota-Duluth for the first time, is the last team standing.

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