ST. PAUL – It took 87 minutes and 29 seconds of game clock to decide a winner between maybe the two best teams in the country.
It’s certainly possible that the Bulldogs were still stung from their sweep at the hands of the Huskies at the end of the regular season. And it’s certainly possible that these two powerhouses could meet one last time before the end of the season altogether.
For now, though, UMD will relish beating SCSU for the second time this season and use that momentum to their advantage going into the NCAA Tournament.
Nick Swaney scored on a 2-on-1 rush to lift #4 Minnesota Duluth past #1 St. Cloud State 3-2 in double overtime to win the NCHC Frozen Faceoff championship. Not only did the Bulldogs win their second NCHC tournament title in this instant classic, but they also ascended to #2 in the final Pairwise rankings. Not bad compared to a year ago, when they were sweating out getting the final at-large bid after losing twice in the Frozen Faceoff.
“Really proud of our guys. Certainly exciting to win this championship again,” said UMD head coach Scott Sandelin.
Robby Jackson and Patrick Newell scored for the Huskies, but the physical play of the Bulldogs eventually wore down the SCSU offense, and they were already without forward Ryan Poehling, who was held out after hitting his head on the end boards during Friday’s 5-2 win over Colorado College.
There aren’t too many heads hanging in the Huskies’ locker room after this game, though, and now they have their sights set on a much bigger prize.
“That was one hell of a hockey game,” SCSU head coach Brett Larson said. “Obviously we’re disappointed right now. I loved the compete they had.”
An outstanding forecheck by SCSU’s top line prevented UMD from changing lines and clearing the zone, and just after Peter Krieger took a tripping penalty, Jackson finally finished the sequence by scoring out in front, giving the Huskies a 1-0 lead at the 7:45 mark of the first.
After the teams later traded penalties, Mikey Anderson tied the game for the Bulldogs with a blast from the slot. Sandelin believes that goal was huge, because he was shocked the game was that close after 20 minutes thanks to SCSU controlling play in the UMD zone most of the way and forcing goaltender Hunter Shepard to make 14 first-period saves.
“We didn’t have the puck in the first period, so we had to do something,” Sandelin said. “I wanna sit here and say we were bad – they made us be bad.”
Newell, recently announced as one of ten finalists for the Hobey Baker award, put St. Cloud State back in the lead with a power-play goal from the slot 28 seconds into the third period. The intense physical battle continued after that, and once SCSU went back on the power play with just over six minutes left, they seemed poised to put the game away before the seemingly inevitable overtime battle approached.
Billy Exell and UMD had other plans, however. After a Huskies defensive zone turnover, Tanner Laderoute snatched up the puck and found Exell in the slot, scoring for just the second time all season. Just like that, the game was tied at 2 and the Bulldogs fans were making noise.
Swaney finally put an end to the game of the year by coming in 2-on-1 with Laderoute and beating SCSU goaltender David Hrenak on the right side on a backhand shot.
Shepard was outstanding in net once again for the Bulldogs. The NCHC goaltender of the year made 37 saves for the game, and he stopped 62 of 64 shots on the weekend to earn himself tournament MVP and all-tournament honors.
Hrenak had 27 saves for the Huskies.
St. Cloud State is locked into the #1 overall seed for the NCAA Tournament despite the loss, and they will know their opponent and destination when the entire NCAA Tournament bracket is revealed on Sunday night.
SCSU goal at 7:45: Robby Jackson (19). Assisted by Blake Lizotte (26) and Patrick Newell (26).
UMD goal at 10:49: Mikey Anderson (5). Assisted by Scott Perunovich (25) and Parker Mackay (15).
SCSU power-play goal at :28: Newell (21). Assisted by Blake Lizotte (27) and Jack Ahcan (28).
UMD shorthanded goal at 15:09: Billy Exell (2). Assisted by Tanner Laderoute (3).
UMD goal at 7:29: Nick Swaney (15). Assisted by Laderoute (4) and Jesse Jacques (1).
Power plays: UMD 0-3, SCSU 1-6.
Shots on goal: UMD 30, SCSU 39.
NCHC Frozen Faceoff All-Tournament Team:
Forwards: Robby Jackson (SCSU), Blake Lizotte (SCSU), Patrick Newell (SCSU).
Defensemen: Jimmy Schuldt (SCSU), Mikey Anderson (UMD).
Goaltender: Hunter Shepard (UMD).
Most Valuable Player: Hunter Shepard (UMD).