ST. PAUL – One year ago, the Pioneers and Bulldogs met in the NCHC semifinals with DU eventually besting UMD 3-1 in St Paul. The way UMD looked that weekend, you’d never have thought they’d have gone far in the NCAA Tournament.
Less than a month later, they were crowned national champions for the second time in school history – in the same building.
This year, the Bulldogs have been nearly unstoppable by sticking to their formula of relentless pressure and outstanding goaltending by Hunter Shepard. That proved effective once again in their semifinal rematch with the Pioneers.
Cole Koepke’s goal 42 seconds into the third period was all the offense #4 Minnesota Duluth needed as they defeated #5 Denver 3-0 on Friday night in the second Frozen Faceoff semifinal of the day at Xcel Energy Center.
Shepard was outstanding once again in net for UMD. The newly-crowned NCHC Goaltender of the Year made 25 saves, some of which came in spectacular fashion. Duluth likely locked up a #1 seed for the NCAA Tournament with the victory.
“That was a really good win for our team. A really good third period,” said Bulldogs head coach Scott Sandelin. “It’s been the way the games have been against [Denver]. We’re excited about playing tomorrow.
“When you play good teams, you’re gonna get tested and they’re gonna get opportunities. [Shepard] was there tonight to answer. It was nice to see Shep seeing the puck. That game could’ve gone either way.”
Koepke finally scored the first goal of the night early in the third as he beat Pioneers goaltender Filip Larsson five-hole on a shot from the slot. The goal eventually held up after a review.
Louie Roehl doubled UMD’s lead with an empty-netter with 1:38 left and Koepke finished it with another one just over a minute later.
Filip Larsson made 30 saves to keep Denver in it, but every key chance for the Pioneers was foiled by Shepard on the other end. Another tightly contested battle between these two teams ended up in a low-scoring affair.
“There wasn’t a lot of time and space out there. It came down to execution, and they made one more play than we did, and that was ultimately all that was needed,” Pioneers head coach David Carle said. “Certainly some lessons and opportunities to grow from.”
Minnesota Duluth will have at least one more chance at taking down #1 St. Cloud State when the two teams drop the puck at 7:30 CT on Saturday night for the Frozen Faceoff championship. It is a rematch of the 2016 title game, a 3-1 St. Cloud State victory. Both teams are seeking their second tournament title.
Denver takes on in-state rival Colorado College in the third-place game. The Pioneers likely need to beat the Tigers, who won the regular season series to win the Gold Pan, in order to maintain control of a #2 seed.
UMD goal at :42: Cole Koepke (6). Unassisted.
UMD empty-net goal at 18:22: Louie Roehl (2). Unassisted.
UMD empty-net goal at 19:39: Koepke (7). Unassisted.
Power plays: Both 0-2.
Shots on goal: DU 25, UMD 33.