Bulldog Insider Q&A: UMD seniors share why experience matters in NCAA tournament
Minnesota Duluth seniors Kobe Roth, Matt Anderson and Louie Roehl look back on what they've learned from playing in and winning the NCAA tournament.
Minnesota Duluth isn’t a top seed in this season’s NCAA tournament. The Bulldogs don’t have a Hobey Baker Memorial Award finalist or contender for national goaltender of the year this time around.
And while the program does have eight NHL draft picks on its roster this season, none will likely be fawned over like the current and future first-rounders of UMD’s opening-round opponent.
What the Bulldogs do have is a group of players who possess more NCAA tournament experience than anyone else in the field. In case the pandemic made anyone forget, UMD is still the defending back-to-back NCAA national champion going into a 3 p.m. NCAA regional semifinal on Friday against Michigan at Scheels Arena in Fargo, North Dakota.
Thirteen members of the 2018-19 Bulldogs, including nine who played in the Frozen Four that season, remain from the national championship squad in Buffalo, New York. Six players — Nick Swaney, Kobe Roth, Louie Roehl, Matt Anderson, Koby Bender and Ben Patt — from the 2017-18 national championship squad in St. Paul are still Bulldogs.
Swaney, Roth, Roehl and Anderson played in both Frozen Fours and are a perfect 8-0 as Bulldogs in the NCAA tournament.
Roth, Roehl and Anderson were guests this week on the Bulldog Insider Podcast with News Tribune college hockey writer Matt Wellens and the voice of Bulldog hockey on My9 Sports, Zach Schneider. Quarantined at their hotel, they helped preview this weekend’s NCAA regional in Fargo.
Below are edited excerpts from this week’s episode . Produced by award-winning News Tribune multimedia producer Samantha Erkkila, you can catch the full episode of this week’s Bulldog Insider at DuluthNewsTribune.com , TheRinkLive.com and on Apple Podcasts , Spotify or wherever you listen to podcasts.
How different does this postseason feel compared to others you’ve been part of?
Roth: It's been different this year. I was just talking about this with Swanes on the bus yesterday. I know it's been like a long season with practices and whatnot, but it honestly feels like it's gone by pretty fast. It's weird to imagine that we have four games left to win the national championship. It's gone by fast, actually, which sounds kind of weird. We’re just approaching it in the same way as every year, just one game at a time. We know all we have to do is just win the next four and we're champions, so just taking it one game at a time right now.
I don’t think there is anyone in the tournament that has the postseason experience that your class has. Is that important at this time of the year in the NCAA tournament?
Roehl: I think that's big a factor of why we’ve had so much success in the past. We've had older guys that have been through it and know what it takes. That translates into what we have now. I think the games and experience all lead to success in the postseason. Just knowing what it takes to win and what it takes to be a championship team is what we have here and I hope we can do that in the next couple of weeks here.
Does it cross your mind, things about playing at this time of year you need to pass down, teach to the freshmen and sophomores who have yet to play in the NCAA tournament?
Anderson: It's not so much passed down as they just kind of learn it. We're not really telling them what to do, it's just experiences, and through those experiences, they're going to learn and watch us. It’s kind of how we watched Karson Kuhlman and the older guys. You see what they're doing and you just kind of mimic it.
In the postseason at this time of the year, what can throw someone who is inexperienced off the most?
Roth: Maybe the nerves, honestly. That first game, just knowing that it's do-or-die, can be nerve-wracking. But for me, personally, once you get those first couple shifts over with and you get into the game, you get into the swing of things. Playing Michigan, a team we haven't played before, it can be different playing a Big 10 team. Some of our freshmen haven't played them before.
What is the message to the younger group? How do you view yourself going into this year’s tournament?
Roehl: We know what we have in the locker room. We stick together, we're a tight knit group. We know what we have, we know what we can do. We just have to go out there and prove it, and if we just stick to our game plan, things will go our way.
Based on your prior experience in the NCAA tournament, what is this team doing well right now that gives you confidence going into this regional?
Anderson: Right now, like in the Western Michigan game, a big thing for me is just sticking with games and playing through the ups and downs of games. They’re going to score, we’re going to score. Like Kobe said, not getting too high or too low. A very big thing for us is that we're a very even-keeled team. I see a lot of people talking about how we play. We don't play differently, whether we're up two or down two, which is a huge asset to us. That's just one thing that we have to keep it going through the tournament, and if we keep doing that, we'll have success.