CHICAGO — The seniors have meant a lot to the recent NCAA Tournament success for Minnesota-Duluth.
And thanks to the late heroics of one of them, the Bulldogs came out on top in yet another close game and are now one win away from Title No. 2.
In yet another close game, forward Alex Iafallo tipped home a centering feed from defenseman Willie Raskob with 26.6 seconds left, giving UMD a 2-1 victory over the stunned Harvard Crimson on Thursday night at United Center in the first Frozen Four semifinal.
“It was a great game today. We made a play at the end to win,” said Bulldogs coach Scott Sandelin. “Certainly exciting for our team and our program to be playing on Saturday night.”
Joey Anderson also scored for Minnesota-Duluth, which improved to 15-5 in games decided by one goal this season. Considering they’re also 5-0-7 in overtime, they’re no stranger to close games at all, and that’s exactly what they expected from a tough Harvard team playing in its first Frozen Four since 1994.
“It’s kind of been our MO all year,” Sandelin said. “Another tight game. Another one-goal hockey game. And just real exciting to be moving on.”
The Crimson, meanwhile, saw their season end on a heartbreaking note. They lost for the first time since January 17, an 8-4 loss at Dartmouth. They had gone 17-0-1 since.
“I thought it was a hard-fought hockey game,” Harvard head coach Ted Donato said. “I couldn’t be more proud of our team, their effort, and the entire season.”
As play progressed in the first period, UMD had the edge with more scoring chances and a better forecheck, but the Bulldogs also took three momentum-killing first-period penalties, the last of which was converted into a sharp-angle one-timer goal by Tyler Moy with six minutes left in the first.
Minnesota-Duluth was able to settle down after the Moy tally and tied the game on a Joey Anderson wrist shot from the slot near the end of the period. Toninato won a faceoff to the right of Crimson goaltender Merrick Madsen and the puck squirted right to Anderson, whose shot beat Madsen five-hole.
“Popped out in the middle, figured get it past a couple guys, get to the net, and it happened to go right through them,” Anderson said.
With both teams seemingly playing not to lose after Anderson’s equalizer, Harvard thought it took the lead nearly six minutes into the third after a loose puck went in behind Duluth goaltender Hunter Miska at the same time the referee waved it off. The play stood after there was no audio available to review.
“The goalie had the puck covered I think for a second and then it got pushed in the net,” Crimson senior captain forward Devin Tringale said.
Both teams continued to play tight until under a minute remained when Iafallo scored his winner.
“Honestly, I just shoveled it in,” Iafallo said. “We do it in practice all the time. I just kind of thought just get it to the net and Raskob made a good pass. Worked out well.”
Hunter Miska made 39 saves for Duluth, but he had to make a few more as well as count on the luck of the puck. Harvard pounded Miska in the final seconds after Iafallo’s goal with the extra skater, but couldn’t score the equalizer despite hitting both the post and crossbar.
“We had opportunities to score there at the end,” Harvard forward Alexander Kerfoot said. “We took it to them. And just wasn’t meant to be.”
UMD, which is in its fifth Frozen Four in program history, will play in its third-ever title game on Saturday against the winner of Notre Dame and Denver. The Bulldogs believe their chances to win their first title since 2011 are good, starting with how they play together as a team.
“We’ve just been resilient all year long,” Iafallo said.
Madsen had 36 saves for Harvard.
Harvard PP goal at 14:00: Moy 22. Assists: Alexander Kerfoot 29 and Adam Fox 34.
UMD goal at 18:24: Anderson12. Assist: Toninato 13.
UMD goal at 19:33: Iafallo 20. Assists: Willie Raskob 13 and Anderson 24.
Power plays: Harvard 1-4, UMD 0-2.
Shots on goal: Harvard 40, UMD 38.