BUFFALO – Is it safe to say Minnesota Duluth is a rare college hockey dynasty?
It’s pretty hard to think otherwise at this point. The usual method of lockdown defense, outstanding forecheck and stellar goaltending came through yet again for the Bulldogs, and they are heading back home with their third national championship.
UMD completed yet another unbelievable run in the NCAA Tournament, frustrating the Massachusetts Minutemen from start to finish in a 3-0 victory on Saturday night at KeyBank Center to claim their second straight title.
“Couldn’t be more proud of this group. They went through some different challenges this year. They really grew together as a team. I’m just really excited for them to be national champions again,” said Duluth head coach Scott Sandelin, who joined elite company by becoming just the 10th head coach to win at least three national championships.
When asked about his accomplishment, Sandelin said, “I’m blessed to be around a lot of great people. Coaches do get the credit, but there’s a lot of people that do a lot of work besides myself, assistant coaches, trainers, strength people. We’ve got some team managers. At the end of the day, the players go out and play. I’m just fortunate that they listen. It’s been pretty special. Again, I never take anything for granted because in this game it can change. I just want to enjoy it with these guys. I know they’ll enjoy it the rest of their lives.
Parker Mackay scored the first goal of the game for UMD, which proved to be the winner. Mackay later added an assist and earned the Most Outstanding Player award for the Frozen Four. The senior forward completes his collegiate career with three straight national championship appearances and two straight titles.
“Yeah, it’s incredible, obviously. Obviously you can’t write it any better than that. So fortunate to be able to make the regionals all four years, let alone three Frozen Fours, winning two national championships. So happy to do it with some incredible friends in there,” Mackay said.
“Again, the coaching staff, to have the coaching staff that I had for four years, it’s no shock that we were here for three times in a row. I’m looking forward to obviously watching this group in the future.”
The Bulldogs became the first team to repeat as national champions since the Denver Pioneers won the 2004 and 2005 titles. In addition, not only as the NCHC sent at least one team to the Frozen Four every season since they began play in 2013-14, but they have also become the first conference to claim four straight titles (North Dakota in 2016, Denver in 2017 and Minnesota Duluth in 2018-2019) since the WCHA had five straight between 2002 and 2006 (Minnesota in 2002 and 2003, Denver in 2004 and 2005, Wisconsin in 2006).
Two nights after lighting the Pioneers up with three first-period power play goals, UMass failed on all four of their opportunities on Saturday. They were stifled in every way offensively by Duluth, and the most successful season in program history fell short of a national title. Still, there’s something to be said for finishing with 31 wins two years after getting just five.
“We definitely brought respect to UMass hockey this year. I think the group’s in great hands moving forward,” said forward Kurt Keats.
Sophomore defenseman Cale Makar was a big part of the success this year for the Minutemen, and the Hobey Baker winner finished the season with 16 goals and 33 assists. Head coach Greg Carvel doesn’t expect Makar, the #4 overall draft pick by the Colorado Avalanche two years ago, to return next season. Makar is expected to sign with the Avalanche and join them in their NHL playoff series against the Calgary Flames.
“He came back this year. He didn’t have to do that. I think he’s a kid that he sees the group ahead of himself, he wanted to help take the program to another level, and he did that along the way. He did it with complete class every step of the way,” Carvel said.
“He’s an elite hockey player. But when we think about Cale, personally when I think about Cale, first thing that comes to my mind is how good of a kid he is. He’s unbelievable. I feel very fortunate that I got to coach him. I don’t expect him back.”
UMD dominated the first period, getting a dominant forecheck established early and forcing UMass to play from behind, drawing an interference penalty on Thursday’s overtime hero, Marc Del Gaizo. On the ensuing power play, Mackay got the scoring started by burying a beautiful backhand shot over the left shoulder of Filip Lindberg, giving the Bulldogs a 1-0 lead less than four minutes in.
On the other end of the ice, UMass struggled mightily setting up offensively, and on the lone power play they did have, they didn’t get a single shot on net. The Minutemen were held to just five first-period shots, while Duluth had 14. By the time UMass had their first shot on goal, UMD had seven shots and one goal.
The Bulldogs continued to frustrate UMass throughout the second period. Clean zone entry proved difficult for the Minutemen, and the few chances they did have were snuffed out by Hunter Shepard. UMD then went up 2-0 in the final minutes as Mackay threaded a beautiful pass between two UMass skaters to Mikey Anderson all alone in the slot, and he fired it home.
Two more power play opportunities came up for the Minutemen in the third period, but they just couldn’t get anything going and managed just two shots on those opportunities. In fact, those were the only two shots they had on all four of their power plays. Shortly after missing on the last one, Jackson Cates delivered the dagger with under three minutes to go.
“They pressured us really hard,” Makar said. “But ultimately we just couldn’t make plays.”
Shepard, who only allowed three goals all tournament long, made 18 saves and picked up his 29th victory of the season in another outstanding performance, earning all-Frozen Four honors. Lindberg was solid for UMass, making 28 saves.
Minnesota Duluth was swept at St. Cloud State on March 8-9 before finishing the season by winning their final eight games. And according to Sandelin, they saved their best for last.
“Tonight was probably one of our best games we played for sure in the NCAA tournament, probably from our league tournament as well. It couldn’t have come at a better time,” he said.
UMD power-play goal at 3:51: Parker Mackay (16). Assisted by Mikey Anderson (20) and Riley Tufte (10).
UMD goal at 15:48: Anderson (6). Assisted by Mackay (17) and Justin Richards (20).
UMD goal at 17:18: Jackson Cates (8). Assisted by Tanner Laderoute (5) and Anderson (21).
Power plays: UMass 0-4, UMD 1-4.
Shots on goal: UMass 18, UMD 31.
All-Frozen Four Team:
Forwards: Parker Mackay (Minnesota Duluth), Justin Richards (Minnesota Duluth), Billy Exell (Minnesota Duluth)
Defensemen: Marc Del Gaizo (Massachusetts), Mikey Anderson (Minnesota Duluth).
Goaltender: Hunter Shepard (Minnesota Duluth)
Most Outstanding Player: Parker Mackay (Minnesota Duluth)