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Locals Lead Minnesota Duluth to Second Men’s National Title

Matt Dewkett

The story for Minnesota Duluth throughout this NCAA Tournament carried on for one more night. Minnesota Duluth defeated Notre Dame 2-1 to win the school’s second men’s hockey national title, for the second time at the XCel Energy Center in St. Paul.

Just as they had in their previous two games, Minnesota Duluth built a 2-0 lead in the first period and played stingy defense to protect it in the final two periods. And once again, it was Duluth’s local players leading the charge.

Senior Karson Kuhlman, a native of Esko, Minnesota 15 miles south of Duluth, got the scoring started for Minnesota Duluth at 9:06 of the first period when his shot from the right circle was deflected off a Notre Dame defenseman’s stick and over the glove of Notre Dame goalie Cale Morris.

Jared Thomas, a native of Duluth suburb Hermantown, added to the lead late in the period when his shot from the right goal line deflected off Morris and into the net.

From there, Minnesota Duluth’s stifling defense took over once again. Notre Dame would score once in the second period, on the power play, to make it a one-goal game, but could draw no closer. In the third period, Notre Dame attempted just 17 shots and was only able to put five shots on goal against Minnesota Duluth’s Hunter Shepard.

Shepard, another native of northeastern Minnesota, stopped 18 shots in the victory. Notre Dame’s Cale Morris stopped 33 of 35 shots in the losing effort.

Minnesota Duluth became the third team in the last six years to win the national title as the last at-large team into the tournament field, and their sixteen losses this year are the most by a national champion.

Notes and Thoughts

-Minnesota Duluth took an early blow when Kobe Roth left the game with an injury early in the first period. Down to 11 forwards, Minnesota Duluth had to mix things up a little bit. On that line’s next shift, Karson Kuhlman drew in on that line, and they converted right away. Jade Miller made a nice play to poke the puck in the neutral zone, and Kuhlman’s speed in transition earned a scoring chance that led to a huge first goal.

-Minnesota Duluth came with their aggressive forecheck again in the first period, and even against a talented Notre Dame blue line, it eventually paid dividends. Two men in deep forced a Notre Dame turnover and Jared Thomas took advantage by sneaking a puck past Cale Morris on an uncharacteristically soft goal.

-The game opened up a little bit in the second period. Minnesota Duluth started the period with a pair of power plays where they were close to scoring a knockout punch, and that was followed by back-to-back penalties by the Bulldogs, with Notre Dame finally capitalizing on their second man advantage.

I thought the long change also played a role with both teams trying to push the puck up the ice in transition, which created some good opportunities.

-That said, the game ground to a halt in the third period. Jeff Jackson said he felt like his team really needed to tie it up in the second period because UMD was a shutdown-type of team, and the Bulldogs did a great job of shutting it down. Notre Dame struggled to get quality shots all night, and in the third period, even when they were pressing, they could barely get the puck to Shepard. It doesn’t say much positive about college hockey that a team can go into that type of shell with a third of the game left and be so successful, but that’s how the game is played, and good on Minnesota Duluth for taking advantage of it. Notre Dame built their incredible run in the first half of the season on these type of grind-it-out defense-first 2-1 wins, so it was perhaps poetic to see them die by it tonight.

-Notre Dame defenseman Jordan Gross was the player that turned the puck over in the neutral zone on Minnesota Duluth’s first goal, but he made up for it in a big way with a great heads-up stretch pass to create an odd-man rush on Notre Dame’s one goal. Gross is such an anamoly as a high-event player on a Notre Dame that is so boring they are almost robotic.

-Not going to say I saw this coming for Minnesota Duluth, but when I saw them lose back in November, I came away from the game thinking Hunter Shepard was starting to establish himself as UMD’s #1 goalie, and absolutely loving the speed and hustle of Karson Kuhlman. Both were on full display this weekend.

Fancy Stats

Shots on goal: ND: 7-8-5-20 UMD: 10-18-7-33

Shot attempts: ND: 20-23-17-60 UMD: 18-31-13-62

Prime scoring area attempts: ND: 2-4-6-12 UMD: 5-7-2-14

What do the numbers tell us?

Notre Dame stayed fairly even with Minnesota Duluth in terms of generating shots, but got almost nothing in terms of quality looks at the net. The Bulldogs held Notre Dame to their lowest attempt total in the third period, and played fairly even, despite Notre Dame trailing by a goal. This was a dominating defensive effort.

Final Scoring

First Period

9:06 Karson Kuhlman from Jade Miller 1-0 Minnesota Duluth

Miller poked a puck away from Notre Dame in the neutral zone, leading to a transition opportunity for Kuhlman down the right wing. Kuhlman faked a slap shot, then took a quick wrist shot. Notre Dame defender Tory Dello got his stick on the shot, but only enough to tip it up over the glove of Morris for the goal.

18:39 Jared Thomas from Karson Kuhlman 2-0 Minnesota Duluth

Minnesota Duluth’s two-man forecheck forced a turnover in the right corner. Thomas walked the puck along the goal line and fired wrist shot. Morris had moved off his post enough that the puck deflected off his shoulder and into the net.

Second Period

7:40 Andrew Oglevie from Cam Morrison and Jake Evans (power play) 2-1 Minnesota Duluth

Jordan Gross made a great stretch pass out of his own zone to Evans at the far blue line, catching Minnesota Duluth on a line change. Evans made a cross-ice pass to Morrison on the left wing. Morrison made a pass to Oglevie streaking to the net on a center-net drive. Oglevie’s tip just squeaked through Shepard for the goal.

Third Period