ST. PAUL – Did anybody really doubt Minnesota Duluth would be competitive in March again?
Two weeks after having home ice snatched out from underneath them by St. Cloud State, the Bulldogs got revenge on the Huskies with a two-game road sweep last weekend, then came to and left St. Paul with yet another Frozen Faceoff title.
Goals by Dominic James, Casey Gilling and Wyatt Kaiser provided all the offense necessary against the nation’s fourth-best scoring team, and Minnesota Duluth defeated the Western Michigan Broncos 3-0 on Saturday night, claiming the Frozen Faceoff championship for the third time in the last five seasons.
“Obviously, great result for us,” said Duluth coach Scott Sandelin. “Thought our guys did a really good job this whole weekend for us defensively.
“I’m really proud of this group because there were times in this second half that we weren’t sure where we were going.”
Looking like an average team at best midway through the season, UMD got hot at the right time as they have done for most of the last six years, and they head into the NCAA tournament on a roll.
And how about that guy between the pipes, Ryan Fanti? The NCHC goaltender of the year didn’t allow a single goal all weekend, and hasn’t allowed one at all since the third period of their Game 2 overtime victory at SCSU in the tournament quarterfinals.
“Thought I had a few good games in St. Cloud along with our guys, and I think that helped,” said Fanti, who made 25 saves. “I made a big save here and there, but I think overall our team was outstanding all 200 feet of the ice.”
Brandon Bussi had 16 saves and played decently for the Broncos, but they proved unable to solve Ryan Fanti and the tenacious Duluth defense on Saturday just like Denver was unable to on Friday. They had 21 shots blocked by the Bulldogs.
“[Congrats to] Duluth on the victory; I thought they played a heck of a game,” said Western Michigan head coach Pat Ferschweiler. “I’m proud of our players; I thought they battled all game.”
Don’t expect Western Michigan to panic, though. They will still be seeded higher than any of their NCHC rivals when the NCAA tournament bracket comes out. And they still have two very good top lines capable of striking at any time.
“It’s a new season next weekend,” WMU defenseman Ronnie Attard said.
Duluth struck first about five and a half minutes in as Dominic James weaved around two Western Michigan defenders, found a spot at the top of the left circle and fired it top shelf for his 6th of the season.
The Bulldogs added to their lead on a power play goal by Gilling in the second, and Kaiser essentially put the game out of reach with a backhand goal with just under eleven minutes to go in regulation.
After being two losses from elimination from NCAA tournament contention following a 2-0 home loss to St. Cloud State two weeks ago, Minnesota Duluth went back to formula and won four straight games with timely offense, outstanding physical play and defense, and very good goaltending. Once again, the Bulldogs look like a team nobody wants to face right now, and all of a sudden they will now be a #2 seed for the national tournament.
“We’re a better hockey team than we were,” said Sandelin.
Western Michigan did not drop in the Pairwise rankings despite the loss, and they will be a #1 seed when the NCAA tournament bracket is announced on Sunday afternoon. Ferschweiler is looking forward to the tournament, and he thinks the always-tough NCHC schedule and playoffs has his team ready.
“This weekend is gonna be as hard or harder than any regional,” he said. “Four of the top eight teams in the country are here.”
UMD goal at 5:26: Dominic James (6). Unassisted.
UMD power play goal at 5:59: Casey Gilling (8). Assisted by Wyatt Kaiser (17) and Koby Bender (18).
UMD goal at 9:12: Kaiser (2). Unassisted.
Power plays: UMD 1-3, WMU 0-3.
Shots on goal: UMD 19, WMU 25.
NCHC All-Tournament Team
Tyler Glover – Western Michigan
Blake Biondi – Minnesota Duluth
Dominic James – Minnesota Duluth
Ronnie Attard – Western Michigan
Wyatt Kaiser – Minnesota Duluth
Ryan Fanti – Minnesota Duluth
Most Outstanding Player:
Ryan Fanti – Minnesota Duluth