FARGO – In an instant classic that featured thrilling saves, brilliant defense, tournament records shattered and 119 total shots on goal, it came down to an odd-man rush to keep the longest winning streak in the NCAA tournament alive.
With scoring opportunities limited in an intense defensive battle lasting an astounding five overtimes, Luke Mylymok scored on a 2-on-1 break to lift the Minnesota Duluth Bulldogs to an incredible 3-2 victory over the North Dakota Fighting Hawks on Saturday night/Sunday morning in the Midwest Regional championship.
Mylymok, who wasn’t even put into the lineup until close to puck drop, was excited to find out he was in. Little did he know just how much of an impact he would make in the end.
“When I heard my name, I was just ecstatic,” he said. “You get your name called – you get to play in a huge game like this - it’s unbelievable.”
The Bulldogs, who won their 9th straight NCAA tournament game and their 12th in 13 games, reached their 4th consecutive Frozen Four with the victory, and it is the 8th in program history.
“Unbelievable game,” Bulldogs head coach Scott Sandelin said. “Couldn’t be more proud of this group. We got the fortunate goal and the break, and thank God it ended.”
The day was already a good one for Sandelin and his family even before the Bulldogs’ victory happened; Scott’s son Ryan, a forward for the Minnesota State-Mankato Mavericks, scored the game-winning goal in overtime to lift the Mavericks over the Quinnipiac Bobcats 4-3 in overtime earlier Saturday. It was the first NCAA tournament victory at the DI level for Mankato.
“I know my wife’s happy,” Sandelin laughed. “It was a good day for the Sandelins. Pretty cool for him to get that goal.”
As for the game itself, it became the longest in NCAA ice hockey tournament history, men and women, by the time the fourth overtime expired. That didn’t stop the fans from staying in their seats continuing to give it their all in a season in which they haven’t been able to attend many games.
Collin Adams and Jordan Kawaguchi scored for North Dakota in the final 1:39 to send the game to overtime after the offense had been stymied since UMD went up 2-0. With their backs to the wall, the Fighting Hawks came up with the answer they needed in an attempt to keep their season alive. But in a game equivalent to almost two-and-a-half games worth of periods, they couldn’t cash in one last time.
“We pretty much played two games in one night,” an emotional Kawaguchi said. “Can’t really put it into words right now.
“I thought we played well. Two great teams going at it, and obviously the score reflected it.”
A dream season came to an early halt for a deep and talented UND team, which had the tournament’s top overall seed and had been seeking their first Frozen Four berth since winning the 2016 national championship. Head coach Brad Berry addressed his team’s effort and missed opportunities.
“You gotta keep the game simple, keep the game in front of you,” he said. “You look at how many scoring opportunities we had – at the end of the day we had enough to win the game.
“Really really proud of our guys. They left their hearts on the ice as far as everything they did.”
While the game remained scoreless through the first 40 minutes, it was as intense as one might expect between two perennial college hockey powers playing similar styles. Zach Stejskal and Adam Scheel were sharp in net, and their teammates got down low, blocked shots and kept the other from establishing any real pressure.
Duluth finally broke the scoreless tie when a wicked deflection off a Hunter Lellig shot by Jackson Cates floated high and in behind Scheel, who never saw it happen. It seemed only natural that in a game like this, something fluky would get the scoring started and open up more possibilities. That proved true 1:20 later when Cole Koepke forced a Fighting Hawks turnover and scored on a breakaway.
With their backs to the wall and two minutes remaining after a Duluth timeout, Scheel came off for the extra attacker and the relentless North Dakota attack went to work. With their first real sustained forecheck of the game, the Hawks broke through at last as Adams scored for the third time in the regional, cutting the deficit in half.
Just 43 seconds later, Kawaguchi improbably tied the game and sent the North Dakota fans into an absolute frenzy.
“It’s one of those things where you’re playing with urgency in the last part of the game. We made a couple of plays at the end to tie it up,” Berry said. “That goes to show you that down two goals late in a game that our guys never thought that they were out of a game. That goes to the character of the locker room right there.”
UND kept up their forecheck through the first overtime until a 2-on-1 break led to a would-be overtime goal by Kobe Roth, but the play was correctly overturned for an offside on Duluth. Berry made sure his team got back to the task at hand after they thought their season came to an end at the time.
The only thing the overtime sessions lacked were penalties. There was no shortage of anything else, especially high-intensity defense. With both teams giving it their all with their respective seasons on the line, staying energized during the intermissions was key with fatigue starting to set in for both teams. Kawaguchi said some of his teammates were drinking Cokes and getting IV’s.
“Pretty much anything that makes you feel better,” Kawaguchi said.
In their second or third odd-man rush since their first overtime goal was waved off, Mylmok came in 2-on-1 with linemate Blake Biondi and beat Scheel five-hole, ending the longest game in NCAA hockey tournament history after 142 minutes and 13 seconds.
“I was hearing guys on the bench yell, ‘Shoot, shoot!’ [from the bench],” Mylymok laughed. “They helped me out with that.
Stejskal made 57 saves for the Bulldogs, but left in the fourth overtime with cramps. Ryan Fanti took over and finished with six saves. Adam Scheel had 51 saves for the Fighting Hawks.
UMD will face East Regional champion UMass, who they defeated 3-0 in the 2019 championship game, in the Frozen Four in two weeks.
UMD goal at 3:21: Jackson Cates (11). Assisted by Hunter Lellig (4) and Koby Bender (13).
UMD goal at 4:41: Cole Koepke (14). Unassisted.
UND goal at 18:21: Collin Adams (14). Assisted by Jasper Weatherby (10) and Shane Pinto (16).
UND goal at 19:04: Jordan Kawaguchi (10). Assisted by Pinto (17) and Matt Kiersted (19).
UMD goal at 2:13: Luke Mylymok (2). Unassisted.
Power plays: UMD 0-3, UND 0-3.
Shots on goal: UMD 54, UND 65.
Forwards: Collin Adams, North Dakota, Luke Mylymok, Minnesota Duluth, Jasper Weatherby, North Dakota
Defensemen: Hunter Lellig, Minnesota Duluth, Jake Sanderson, North Dakota
Goaltender: Zach Stejskal, Minnesota Duluth
Most Outstanding Player: Collin Adams, North Dakota.