ST. PAUL – It’s amazing what can happen in the game of college hockey. Even in a short three-week span.
The last time Minnesota-Duluth played at Xcel Energy Center, they put up a terrible showing in losing twice at the NCHC Frozen Faceoff.
But that was then, and this is now. UMD has not lost since then, and now they will have a chance to atone for last year’s national championship loss to Denver in Chicago.
The Bulldogs scored twice in the game’s first three minutes and four seconds as part of a dominant first period, and that proved more than enough in another close game, a 2-1 victory over the Ohio State Buckeyes on Thursday night in the first Frozen Four semifinal.
“It was what we expected. It was going to be a battle,” UMD head coach Scott Sandelin said. “We obviously had a great start to the game, getting a lead, but thought our first two periods were strong, and a little slow in the third.
“Our program in this tournament, we’ve had a lot of one-goal games.”
Ohio State played an abysmal first 20 minutes and were not able to recover. Their first Frozen Four appearance since 1998 ended up being short, but head coach Steve Rohlik was proud of the overall effort and the season.
“We dug ourselves a hole. But I couldn’t be more proud of my group,” Rohlik said. “They never quit, like they have all year, right through the end, even believing with one point, whatever it is on the clock we could still score.”
The Bulldogs dominated the first period from start to finish and went up 2-0 before many fans in the surprisingly light crowd had even found their seats. Louie Roehl buried a cross-ice pass from defenseman linemate Matt Anderson at the 1:53 mark, and Jared Thomas doubled the lead just 1:11 later on a breakaway, beating Buckeyes goaltender Sean Romeo five-hole.
“It was a huge start for us,” Thomas said. “I mean, that’s been our key all along; when we’ve had success, we’ve had fast starts.”
The Buckeyes put just four shots on Minnesota-Duluth goaltender Hunter Shepard in the first period and did not sustain a forecheck at all, even when they had the game’s first power play. They negated the Peter Krieger hooking call just 12 seconds later when Ronnie Hein was called for tripping.
The Buckeyes finally cleaned up their act and started spreading around the Bulldogs defense a little better from there, but most opportunities were snuffed out by Shepard. Overall, Ohio State wasn’t able to make life uncomfortable for Shepard in the UMD zone.
“[Shepard] played well. I still don’t think we got enough traffic in front and the quality chances we wanted,” forward Mason Jobst said. “But you’ve got to give him credit; he only let up one goal.”
OSU finally got on the board halfway through the third period on a Tanner Laczynski power-play goal, but were unable to muster the tying goal despite playing the final 2:12 with an extra attacker.
Just one more game stands in the way for UMD’s second title, and it’s against a Notre Dame team they beat in their previous Frozen Four appearance at Xcel Energy Center. They have a chance to repeat history, but this time in the championship game. They like their chances in a de facto home game.
“I hope it gives us a big advantage,” Sandelin said. “Because I remember in 2011 when we came out, the building was electric. It’s great that we have a lot of Bulldog fans here.”
The championship game is on Saturday night at 6:30 PM CT. Notre Dame beat Michigan 4-3 in the other semifinal.
UMD goal at 1:53: Louie Roehl (3). Assisted by Matt Anderson (5) and Parker Mackay (10).
UMD goal at 3:04: Jared Thomas (10). Assisted by Karson Kuhlman (6).
OSU goal at 9:27: Tanner Laczynski (17). Assisted by Dakota Joshua (11) and Wyatt Ege (18).
Power plays: UMD 0-2, OSU 1-4.
Shots on goal: UMD 28, OSU 20.