Minnesota-Duluth inches one step closer to first National Championship

By DJ Powers

The University of Minnesota-Duluth took one step closer to winning their first-ever National Championship on Thursday afternoon, when they defeated the University of Notre Dame 4-3 in the first Frozen Four semi-final game at the Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul, MN.

The elements that worked so well for them in the NCAA Tournament East Regional two weekends ago – aggressive forechecking and near-perfect special teams, once again powered Minnesota-Duluth to victory. Senior Justin Fontaine and freshman defenseman Justin Faulk (CAR) each had a hand in three of the Bulldogs’ four goals.

Notre Dame came out of the gate with the early jump. Freshman Jeff Costello (OTT) got the Fighting Irish on the board first at the 49 second mark when he wristed a shot that beat Minnesota-Duluth junior netminder Kenny Reiter on the blocker side.

The Bulldogs tied the game at the 3:04 mark on the power play when freshman J.T. Brown beat Notre Dame sophomore goaltender Mike Johnson through the wickets.

Penalties would prove to be the culprit that would lead to Notre Dame’s demise.

The Fighting Irish would regain the lead at the 9:46 mark when freshman phenom T.J. Tynan netted his 23rd tally of the season on a rebound off of the back boards that would beat Reiter just inside the left post to make the score 2-1.

Just over a minute later at the 10:52 mark, Minnesota-Duluth would get the equalizer from senior Kyle Schmidt when he skated in after taking a feed from freshman Joe Basaraba (FLA) and beat Johnson short side for the 2-2 score.

At the 13:10 mark, Tynan would be assessed a tripping penalty that would put the Bulldogs on their third power play of the game. At the 13:31 mark, junior Mike Connolly would make Notre Dame pay with a nice wrist shot from the slot area that gets by Johnson and gives Minnesota-Duluth the 3-2 lead.

The Fighting Irish started the second period off well, but another penalty would again prove costly. At the 5:32 mark, sophomore Riley Sheahan (DET) would be called for interference, sending the Bulldogs on yet another power play. And at the 5:51 mark, they would extend their lead to 4-2 when junior Jack Connolly fired a shot past a sprawling Johnson that would prove to be the eventual game-winner.

Having relinquished their lead and now behind two goals, the frustration of the young Notre Dame team began to show. Meanwhile, the Bulldogs were clearly in charge and dominating virtually every aspect of the game in the period.

Things didn’t look much better for Notre Dame to start the third period as Sheahan would make another trip to the penalty box at the 31 second mark for checking from behind. But the Fighting Irish weren’t about to go quietly. The hard work of senior Calle Ridderwall, who was one of the best Notre Dame players in the contest, would pay off with a shorthanded tally at the 2:05 mark to cut Minnesota-Duluth’s lead to 4-3.

But that would be as close as Notre Dame would get.

Although the Fighting Irish showed a renewed sense of urgency after the Ridderwall goal, it was too little too late as Minnesota-Duluth hung on for the win to advance to the National Championship game.

"They kind of out-chanced us out there and out-shot us, but I think it just showed our team’s composure," said Faulk of his team’s performance during the post-game conference. "We got the puck out when we needed to and our guys were always down blocking shots. And Kenny (Reiter) just played amazing for us."

"The game was obviously dictated by one thing – special teams," said Notre Dame head coach Jeff Jackson during the post-game conference. "They have an exceptional power play and we couldn’t generate any offense on the power play. So I thought we played a good game five-on-five. Other than that, the game was completely determined by special teams."

Minnesota-Duluth will meet the winner of the second semi-final game between Michigan and North Dakota for the National Championship crown on Saturday night.