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College men's hockey: 'Dogs aided by puck luck

Clint Austin / Alex Iafallo (14) of Minnesota Duluth watches Joey Anderson's game-winning goal go past North Dakota goalie Cam Johnson on Saturday night at Target Center in Minneapolis. UMD won 4-3 but could meet the Fighting Hawks again in this week's NCAA West Regional in Fargo, N.D.

MINNEAPOLIS — Minnesota Duluth freshman wing Joey Anderson might have been a little too forthright Saturday night at Target Center when he was asked to break down his game-winning power-play goal in the 4-3 victory over North Dakota in the NCHC Frozen Faceoff championship game.

With the Bulldogs on a 5-on-3 advantage for the final 1:38 of regulation, Anderson slid the puck toward the North Dakota crease, where it bounced off the skate of Fighting Hawks sophomore defenseman Hayden Shaw and through the legs of senior goalie Cam Johnson to put UMD ahead with 50.3 seconds left.

Anderson's effort was by no means a random act of hockey. It was as deliberate as the timing of the two late North Dakota penalties, which gave UMD its first two-man advantage of the game just minutes after the Hawks had tied the game on their third-5-on-3 power play.

Anderson didn't just throw the puck toward the crease for the sake of throwing the puck toward the crease. He wasn't even trying to score on the play. He was trying to assist senior wing Alex Iafallo on the game-winner, until a skate intervened.

"We practice a play where we go over, we have Adam (Johnson) and Neal (Pionk) go back and forth a little bit, then they go down to me," Anderson said. "And then (Dominic Toninato) will push the defenseman up and I'll just look to throw one right through the crease to (Iafallo) backdoor. That was what we were doing. It just happened to go off the skate and in. It was kind of lucky, I guess."

Everything worked according to plan as Adam Johnson, a sophomore center from Hibbing, and Pionk, a sophomore defenseman from Hermantown, worked the puck up top until Johnson passed to Anderson. Toninato, the senior center and captain from Duluth, moved toward Anderson, drawing the three penalty-killers away from Iafallo, who was in perfect position to score.

Shaw's skate spoiled that plan, but not the Bulldogs' victory. "We might have to make a new play next week," Iafallo said after Anderson spelled it out for everyone.

"Why?" quipped Bulldogs coach Scott Sandelin. "It worked."

League ponders Frozen Faceoff future

With the WCHA moving to home sites for its postseason tournament and the Big Ten following suit next year, the Minnesota Wild's Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul will be available for the NCHC when its contract with Target Center expires after next year's Frozen Faceoff.

But given the event's success the past four seasons, NCHC commissioner Josh Fenton said the league is focused primarily on having discussions with Target Center — home of the NBA's Minnesota Timberwolves — about the future of the tournament.

"That conversation needs to resolve itself fully first before looking at other any serious discussion elsewhere," Fenton said.

Target Center is undergoing renovations. The construction was visible this weekend to the 18,465 fans who attended the Frozen Faceoff. That number is down from the 21,939 who came a year ago.

In the last year, the building added a new gigantic center-hung scoreboard, as well as other high-definition videoboards. The entire building has HD video now.

Target Center also has new suites and a club lounge, which the NCHC was able to provide for priority ticket holders this year. Another club lounge is coming, along with a new lobby entrance to improve the ticketing process and new seats throughout.

Most of the improvements being made are geared toward the Timberwolves and WNBA's Minnesota Lynx. The NCHC championship tournament is the only hockey played at the facility, but the staff has been very accommodating, Fenton said.

"They wanted to see this event succeed and that's why we've seen the growth of the event and the success of the event, because of their persistence and their work putting it on," Fenton said. "They definitely would like to see it succeed, and they're a big part of why we've had some great success."

Fenton said he has a loose time frame when it comes to deciding the future of the Frozen Faceoff, but he'd like to start working on a decision in the next few months.

"It's always come down to, for us as a staff and for the membership, what is in the best interest of the student-athlete experience and what's in the best interest for the fan experience?" he said.

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.

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