UMD Shows Off Strength Down Low in Semifinal Win
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CHICAGO While it's not quite the same as the triangle offense made famous in Chicago's United Center in the 1990s, the same term might apply to Minnesota-Duluth's forecheck Thursday evening in the Bulldogs' gritty 2-1 win over Harvard.
Of course, over two decades ago, NBA head coach Phil Jackson coached Michael Jordan and the Chicago Bulls to six NBA titles, using the so-called 'triangle offense' — based on a very specific spacing scheme designed to respond to opposing defenses.
Now, imagine a triangle drawn between the faceoff dots and the crease. Within that triangle, Thursday's first national semifinal at the NCAA Frozen Four was decided.
With a mere 26.6 seconds left in the game, UMD senior Alex Iafallo found open space in that coveted area, tipping home a Willie Raskob pass, beating Harvard's Merrick Madsen, and willing the Bulldogs to Saturday's national championship game.
It was fitting, too.
That triangle was UMD's focal point all evening.
"That's what we like to do, get pucks and bodies to the net," top-line center Dominic Toninato said. "At this point, goalies are so good. That's how you're going to score — second chances, screens, stuff like that. That was the plan going in."
Counting only shots on target from within that imaginary triangle, UMD outshot Harvard 13-3 through the first two periods. The third period began to even up, with Harvard gaining an 8-6 advantage thanks to several near-miss chances within the final 19 seconds.
By then, though, it was too late. Iafallo had broken through.
"We focus on it all year, getting to the net, trying to get around the defender and protecting the puck," Iafallo said.
Added Toninato, "We're a team that likes to cycle, keep pucks low, then go low to high and get shots. Those big bodies definitely help."
Indeed, with eight players weighing in at over 200 pounds (including 240-pounder Brenden Kotyk, the oldest player in college hockey), the Bulldogs outmuscled the Crimson in a game that was as physical as it was tactical.
And just as UMD was able to find space in the down-low triangle, that space was — until the closing stages — hard to find for Harvard. That helped freshman Bulldog goaltender Hunter Miska, who still made 39 saves in the game.
"Give our defensive corps a lot of credit there," said junior wing Karson Kuhlman. "I thought they squashed a lot of their cycle plays. Not a lot of point shots were getting through, and we had guys blocking shots too. I though defensively it was good.
"We kept it simple and did what we had to do."