March 19, 2017 PRINT Bookmark and Share

Duluth Captures Wild NCHC Final From North Dakota

 (photo: Scott Pierson)

(photo: Scott Pierson)

by James Gilligan/CHN Reporter

MINNEAPOLIS — While there was a trophy awarded to Minnesota-Duluth after the Bulldogs won the Frozen Faceoff, 4-3, over North Dakota with a last-minute power-play goal, the 235th matchup between the Bulldogs and the Fighting Hawks resembled more of an old WCHA rivalry game than the NCHC Championship game, with more physicality than finesse.

Freshman forward Joey Anderson scored a power-play goal in the final minute of regulation, much to the disappointment of the majority of the 10,297 fans in attendance who were wearing green, and who were on their feet after senior forward Trevor Olson tied the game for North Dakota with his own power-play tally with 2:46 to play in regulation.

In fact, both goals were 5-on-3, and among the 16 total power plays in the game.

“Once they scored that third goal we all had to take a deep breath on the bench and make sure we stayed calm,” said Anderson, who scored the game winner when his centering pass deflected off of a Fighting Hawk defenseman and past goaltender Cam Johnson.

While North Dakota scored three times on the power play, it was UMD that won the special teams battle, recording a pair of power-play goals but more importantly holding UND scoreless on 7-of-10 total power plays, en route to its unprecedented sixth-straight win over the Fighting Hawks.

The key penalty kills came for the Bulldogs in the opening period, where they allowed just one goal on four opportunities, including a two-man advantage and a major penalty. UMD was heavily outshot in the period, 16-4.

But instead of going back on their heels, the Bulldogs opened the second period with three goals over a 58-second span.

“I was fired up,” head coach Scott Sandelin said after his team surrendered the lone first-period power-play goal. “To get out of it gave our team huge lift, our guys did a hell of a job, from our goaltender all the way through our penalty killers, that’s not an easy situation, especially with their power play and some of the guys they have.”

After an opening period where the Bulldogs seemed to be more interested in the opposing bodies than the puck — Neal Pionk’s 5-minute major for charging, assessed after the freshman defenseman plowed through UND goaltender Cam Johnson, was the most egregious examples of UMD’s aggression — the roles appeared to reverse in the second period, with the Bulldogs more interested in scoring goals. 

Bulldog senior captain Dominic Toninato tied the game at one apiece, before Riley Tufte added a goal of his own 17 seconds later, and Adam Johnson gave UMD a 3-1 lead with a power-play goal soon after.

After taking the two-goal lead, the Bulldogs took a pair of minor penalties seconds apart to give the Fighting Hawks yet another 5-on-3 advantage. Freshman goaltender Hunter Miska made a handful of sprawling stops, but was unable to withstand the barrage for a full two-minutes, as Tyson Jost converted a one-timer to make it a 3-2 game at the 9-minute mark.

Miska, who finished with 32 saves, was named to the All-Tournament team along with four other Bulldogs.

While UND was left without a Frozen Faceoff trophy for the fourth consecutive year, the Fighting Hawks, who are the seventh-youngest team in college hockey this season, have plenty of positive momentum heading into the NCAA tournament.

“I thought our team showed exceptionally well here, as a young team on this stage with these teams here,” UND coach Brad Berry said.

“We didn’t win, but it made our group a lot stronger, (and) we feel very confident in what our team accomplished down here this weekend.”

As a result, North Dakota will get to defend its national championship, while hosting a Regional next week in Fargo. Denver or Minnesota-Duluth is a potential second-round opponent there. Consequently, North Dakota feels as confident as anyone that it can win another title, despite its up-and-down season.

“We had one goal, to win one game (at the NCHCs) so we could to make the national tournament," Berry said, "and we did it, so we’re gonna reset and be stronger next weekend.”

Berry also said he expects top defenseman Tucker Poolman back next week. Poolman left the championship game Saturday midway through with an injury.

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