The saying goes, it’s how you finish that truly matters.
When the University of Minnesota-Duluth Bulldogs were unceremoniously bounced from the WCHA Tournament several weeks ago, no one believed that they still had a chance to win their first ever National Championship.
No one that is, but them.
“We never stopped believing in ourselves,” said sophomore defenseman Drew Olson (CBJ). “I think we all had the confidence in ourselves going through the season. We believed that no matter what was happening, we were determined to win it all and we did that tonight.”
Minnesota-Duluth fought their way back through the NCAA Tournament to become college hockey’s top dogs when senior Kyle Schmidt netted the game-winner at the 3:22 mark of overtime to give Minnesota-Duluth a thrilling 3-2 win over the Michigan Wolverines in the National Championship game at the Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul, Minnesota on Saturday night.
The exciting ending capped a terrific game that featured a little bit of just about everything.
The Bulldogs came out with the early jump at the start of the game, getting several good scoring opportunities.
At the 4:20 mark of the opening period, Michigan looked to have gotten on the board first when senior Carl Hagelin (NYR) appeared to have poked home the loose puck that Minnesota-Duluth junior netminder Kenny Reiter couldn’t corral. The play was reviewed and the goal was disallowed due to the whistle having been blown.
Michigan would eventually get on the board first. At the 14:42 mark, senior Ben Winnett (TOR) took a nice feed from fellow senior Matt Rust (CBJ) and fired a shot from the slot that beat Reiter that gave the Wolverines the early lead.
The second period saw Minnesota-Duluth dominate much of the period with relentless drives to the net that applied some good, consistent pressure on Michigan’s puck carriers.
At the 1:39 mark junior Travis Oleksuk would get Minnesota-Duluth on the board when he put home a rebound in front of the Michigan net.
The Wolverines made several trips to the penalty box in the period, and at the 9:31 mark of the second the Bulldogs made them pay. Freshman Max Tardy (STL) picked perhaps the best time to register his first career goal, a power play tally, when he tapped in a rebound for the score.
“Mike Seidel had the puck kind of up by the point and faked a shot,” said Tardy in describing his goal. “He gave me a nice pass down. I had time and space, so I tried to go backdoor and it went to Travis (Oleksuk). After he shot it, the puck just came right back to me and I just got it in. It’s not something that you’d normally draw up, but I’ll take it.”
In the latter half of the period, Michigan would begin to redirect their frustrations from taking trips to the penalty box to generating scoring chances.
Their efforts would pay off at the 17:46 mark when sophomore Jeff Rohrkemper put home junior defenseman Greg Pateryn’s (MON) point shot from the slot area to get the equalizer for Michigan, tying the score at 2-2.
Both teams came out cautiously to begin the third period, but it wouldn’t be long before Minnesota-Duluth would begin dominating the early stages of the period. At about the midway point of the period, the Bulldogs got one of their best opportunities of the period when Michigan senior netminder Shawn Hunwick robbed Minnesota-Duluth junior Mike Connolly of an almost-sure goal with a brilliant glove save.
Minnesota-Duluth came very close to getting the lead once again when a Wolverines defender came in at the last possible second to sweep away a loose puck that was slowly making its way in after it had gone off of Hunwick’s glove and dropped behind him.
As regulation time wound down, both teams were generating several quality scoring chances. But the strong forechecking by both teams and the excellent goaltending of Reiter and Hunwick would deny any further scoring in regulation time.
The beginning of overtime was intense and as the extra session moved along, Minnesota-Duluth was slowly taking over the momentum.
That momentum led to Schmidt’s game-winning tally at the 3:22 mark. The Hermantown, Minnesota native tapped in a nice pass from Oleksuk, who had brought the puck up from the backboards to start the play.
When it was all over, two very different scenes played out on the ice. At one end, the deflated Michigan Wolverines were trying to deal with such a heartbreaking loss.
“They’re a better team than we thought they were during the year,” Michigan head coach Red Berenson said about Minnesota-Duluth during the post-game press conference. “They kind of slipped under the radar all year, after they dropped out of number one (ranking). But they’re the real deal, and they’re a good team. I just wish we could have given them a better game.”
At the other end of the ice, the jubilant Minnesota-Duluth Bulldogs were celebrating their first ever National Championship in front of a predominantly pro-Bulldogs crowd.
“The World Juniors was great but it just doesn’t compare to this,” said freshman defenseman Justin Faulk (CAR). “It’s just an amazing feeling right now and I couldn’t ask for anything more out of my freshman year. Finishing the season off like this is great. You really just can’t ask for anything else.”
Minnesota-Duluth freshman J.T. Brown was named the Most Outstanding Player after a stellar performance throughout the game that included posting one assist. Joining Brown on the All-Tournament team were teammates Kyle Schmidt and Justin Faulk. Senior Ben Winnett (TOR), freshman defenseman Jon Merrill (NJ) and senior goaltender Shawn Hunwick from the Michigan Wolverines rounded out the All-Tournament team.
The saying goes, it’s how you finish that truly matters.