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College men's hockey: UMD ousts Western Michigan, heads to Frozen Faceoff final

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MINNEAPOLIS — The silky smooth skills of Minnesota Duluth’s Alex Iafallo have been on display all season long and Friday at Target Center was no different for the senior wing on his goal and assist.

But as Hibbing native Adam Johnson showed, he has a few moves in his arsenal as well, setting up three goals for the second-seeded Bulldogs in a 5-2 victory over third-seeded Western Michigan in the NCHC Frozen Faceoff semifinals.

UMD plays fourth-seeded North Dakota at 7:38 p.m. Saturday for the NCHC tournament championship at Target Center. It’s the Bulldogs’ second consecutive trip to the Frozen Faceoff title game after losing 3-1 to St. Cloud State a year ago. The Fighting Hawks are making their first championship game appearance in four trips to the Frozen Faceoff after upsetting NCHC regular season champion Denver on Friday in the other semifinal 1-0.

“That’s what you want coming into a Friday night game,” Iafallo said of the win. “It gives us the opportunity to play (Saturday) for a championship. It’s very important for us, and we have to carry it over to (Saturday). We’ve been looking forward to this time all year, especially going into regionals, it’s what we want to do.”

Johnson — who has 16 goals and 18 assists having played center, wing and defenseman in his 37 games this season — helped set up a pair of first-period goals that gave UMD a 2-1 lead over the Broncos in what was the fifth meeting between the NCHC schools this season.

But the play of the day from Johnson, the former Hibbing star, came with five minutes remaining in regulation, with the Bulldogs up only a goal on a surging Western Michigan squad.

Johnson took the puck down the ice for a two-on-one breakaway with sophomore wing Parker Mackay. The break appeared to have been foiled after a Bronco laid out in front of Johnson to prevent him from passing. Johnson came to a stop, patiently waited for the defender to slide by and then dished to Mackay for the easy goal.

“The D slid, took the pass away. I didn’t really have much,” Johnson said. “I just tried to wait and Parker got to the net.”

Mackay, Iafallo and senior wing Kyle Osterberg all finished with a goal and an assist against a team UMD split four games in the regular season.

UMD freshman goaltender Hunter Miska made 24 saves and beat the goalie who beat him out on the All-NCHC rookie team, Ben Blacker. The Western Michigan freshman stopped 18 of 22 shots.

Osterberg and senior captain Dominic Toninato both finished off rebounds in the first to put UMD up 2-1, with Toninato benefiting from the initial efforts of Iafallo and Osterberg diving to put away a shot by freshman defenseman Jarod Hilderman.

Osterberg’s goal came after he took a couple hard hits in the opening minutes, including one that drew a boarding penalty.

“I always do,” Osterberg said of the big hits. “I guess I’m not liked.”

Junior center Jared Thomas of Hermantown scored the fifth goal, shooting into an empty net from the far end boards just as a late Toninato penalty expired.

That goal brought Bulldogs coach Scott Sandelin the most relief as Western Michigan tried to storm back with a 4-on-3 power play, followed by a 6-on-4 advantage with Blacker on the bench in the closing minutes.

“I was pretty elated to see the fifth one go in with how the game was finishing,” said Sandelin, whose team was outshot 9-5 in the third. “It was a hard-fought game, which is what we expected.”

Broncos senior defenseman Taylor Fleming — who finished with a goal, an assist and two penalties — tied the game at 1-1 with less than four minutes to play in the first period. Sophomore defenseman Colt Conrad then made it 2-2 just over seven minutes into the second period.

The Bulldogs were in trouble early after a pair of tripping penalties in the opening 2:24 gave the Broncos a 5-on-3 power play for 1:09. A block and clear by sophomore defenseman Neal Pionk, a poke check by Osterberg to get the puck out of the zone and an offside call on Western Michigan allowed UMD to easily kill off a two-man disadvantage that began with Broncos coach Andy Murray burning his one timeout to strategize and give his players a breather.

“Our 5-on-3 players were on the ice, three of them, so we were trying to give them a break to catch their breath,” Murray said. “Coach (Todd) Krygier is in charge of our power play, so he went over what we wanted to see on the 5-on-3. It looked good on the board, but we didn’t quite do it on the ice.”

Western Michigan................... 1-1-0—2

Minnesota Duluth.................... 2-1-2—5

First period — 1. UMD, Dominic Toninato 14 (Alex Iafallo, Adam Johnson), 13:09 (pp); 2. WMU, Taylor Fleming 2 (Griffen Molino, Lawton Courtnall), 16:34; 3. UMD, Kyle Osterberg 12 (Jarod Hilderman, Johnson), 16:58. Penalties — Riley Tufte, UMD (tripping), 1:32; Brenden Kotyk, UMD (tripping), 2:24; Fleming, WMU (holding), 6:09; Jade McMullen, WMU (boarding), 12:24; Fleming, WMU (tripping), 16:58; Willie Raskob, UMD (tripping), 19:43; Molino, WMU (slashing), 19:59.

Second period — 4. WMU, Colt Conrad 13 (Fleming, Hugh McGing), 7:10; 5. UMD, Iafallo 18 (Parker Mackay, Neal Pionk), 16:11. Penalties — Kotyk, UMD (cross checking), 16:24.

Third period — 6. UMD, Mackay 8 (Johnson, Osterberg), 14:58; 7. UMD, Jared Thomas 3, 17:59 (en). Penalties — McGing, WMU (tripping), 8:12; Tufte, UMD (roughing), 15:34; Luke Bafia, WMU (roughing), 15:34; Toninato, UMD (tripping), 15:56.

Shots on goal — WMU 8-9-9—26; UMD 8-10-5—23. Goalies — Ben Blacker, WMU (22 shots-18 saves); Hunter Miska, UMD (26-24). Power plays — WMU 0-of-5; UMD 1-of-5. Referees — Nick Krebsbach, Joe Sullivan. Linesmen — Bob Keltie, Justin Hills. Att. — 8,168.

Matt Wellens

College hockey reporter for the Duluth News Tribune covering the Minnesota Duluth Bulldogs men's and women's teams, as well as the NCAA Division III programs at St. Scholastica and Wisconsin-Superior.

(218) 723-5317
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