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UMD men's hockey: Bad bounce keeps Bulldogs out of NCAA Frozen Four for first time since 2016

Minnesota Duluth's run of four straight NCAA Frozen Fours comes to a close via 2-1 loss to Denver in regional final.

Minnesota Duluth plays Denver in regional final game in Loveland
Minnesota Duluth defenseman Darian Gotz (2) consoles Minnesota Duluth defenseman Wyatt Kaiser (5) after losing 2-1 to Denver during the NCAA regional championship game on Saturday, March 26, 2022, at Budweiser Events Center in Loveland, Colorado.
Clint Austin / Duluth News Tribune

LOVELAND, Colo. — For the first time since 2016, the University of Minnesota Duluth men’s hockey team will not be part of the NCAA Frozen Four.

The Bulldogs fell short of a fifth-consecutive regional championship and fifth-consecutive NCAA Frozen Four berth in 2021-22 following a 2-1 loss to Denver in a regional final on Saturday afternoon before a sold-out, pro-Pioneers crowd at the Budweiser Events Center an hour north of Denver.

A year ago in Fargo, North Dakota, the Bulldogs beat host North Dakota in five overtimes to reach a fourth-straight Frozen Four. A year later, a bad bounce off the glass ended UMD’s season two weeks earlier than they’d become accustomed to.

“It came down to a bounce, it came down to a bounce,” Bulldogs coach Scott Sandelin said. “There’s things in a game you can control and things you can’t. They got the break and that was the difference.”

Senior wing Carter Savoie was the beneficiary of that bounce with 6:16 to play in regulation, while UMD junior goaltender Ryan Fanti got caught on the wrong end after posting three consecutive postseason shutouts leading into the regional final.

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The puck went off the glass behind the net, and then off the leg of Fanti. It trickled along the goal line behind the UMD netminder, and Savoie was able to poke it across to send Denver to the NCAA Frozen Four on April 7-9 in Boston.

“Lucky bounce,” Savoie said of the game-winner. “It hit him in the back and just right place, right time.”

Fanti — whose shutout streak of 224 minutes, 41 seconds ended late in the first period — was asked about the bounce and Pioneers’ game-winner, and he was critical of himself. He said he saw the shot from the point late and was out too far. He second-guessed how he played the puck from there, but his counterpart in the opposite net, Pioneers goalie Magnus Chrona, said there’s not a ton a goalie can do in a freak situation like that. It’s a goalie’s worst nightmare.

“That was a crazy bounce,” Chrona said. “That’s probably one of the worst situations you can be in.”

The Bulldogs struck first on Saturday against Denver in the regional final, but the Pioneers tied it up at 1-1 before the first intermission.

UMD sophomore defenseman Darian Gotz of Hermantown scored his second goal of the season 13:21 into the game by firing a shot from the blue line through traffic and past Chrona. It was one of two shots on goal UMD registered in the opening 20 minutes.

Just over two minutes later, the lengthy shutout streak of Fanti — who made 32 saves Saturday — came to an end after an own-zone turnover led to a strike by Denver senior center and captain Cole Guttman.

UMD was outshot 10-2 in the opening period by Denver, which came at the Bulldogs in waves. In addition to nine saves by Fanti, UMD was also able to block 10 Pioneers shots (DU had three blocks) in the first.

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Shots were even at 11-11 in the second, but five of UMD’s shots came during power plays.

Minnesota Duluth plays Denver in regional final game in Loveland
Minnesota Duluth forward Dominic James (17) looks for an opening in a scrum in front of the net against Denver during the NCAA regional championship game on Saturday, March 26, 2022, at Budweiser Events Center in Loveland, Colorado.
Clint Austin / Duluth News Tribune

“The first two periods went Denver’s way, a little bit. They were buzzing us there,” UMD fifth-year senior wing Kobe Roth said. “I liked our compete in the third, but like coach said, it just came down to a bounce. It was a tough game, tough building to play in when the place is full of Denver fans all cheering for them. I was proud of our guys for battling back. Just one little bounce, it could have gone the other way.”

Tied 1-1 in the second, UMD had two chances to retake the lead via power plays, including a 48-second 5-on-3 advantage after Denver took a pair of penalties around a minute apart midway through the period.

The Bulldogs also got a power play to close the second, with 44 seconds carrying over to the third. UMD couldn’t convert on any of the advantages, and the only other power play for either team the rest of the day came in the final minute when UMD senior wing Koby Bender was called for interference trying to stop a Denver breakaway to an empty UMD net.

Denver coach David Carle said he thought his penalty kill’s puck pressure was “excellent” on Saturday. It was something Sandelin said UMD knew was coming. The NCAA regional final was the sixth meeting between the two NCHC rivals, who split in each other’s rink during the regular season and now split their two postseason meetings after UMD won at the Frozen Faceoff a week ago.

Minnesota Duluth plays Denver in regional final game in Loveland
Denver players react after defeating Minnesota Duluth 2-1 during the NCAA regional championship game on Saturday, March 26, 2022, at Budweiser Events Center in Loveland, Colorado.
Clint Austin / Duluth News Tribune

“We’ve seen them enough. It goes back to execution,” Sandelin said of the power play. “When you get a 5-on-3, you expect to score, and we didn’t do that. It could have been a change in momentum of the game, but we didn’t.”

Saturday was UMD’s seventh consecutive appearance in an NCAA regional final, with their last defeat in the round coming in 2016 in Worcester when they were edged 3-2 by Boston College after trailing 3-0 that night in the third period.

UMD has lost just three of its last 17 games in the NCAA tournament going back to 2017, when the Bulldogs’ run of four consecutive Frozen Fours started. UMD is 21-6 in the NCAA tournament since its first national championship run in 2011.

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Roth was one of five Bulldogs in the lineup Saturday who were chasing a fourth trip to the Frozen Four after winning national championships at UMD as a freshman in 2018 and sophomore in 2019. COVID-19 canceled the 2020 tournament and then UMD fell to Massachusetts in the semifinals of the Frozen Four last season in Pittsburgh.

Roth’s class — which includes Koby Bender, Matt Anderson, Louie Roehl and Ben Patt — finish their college careers with a 10-2 record in the NCAA tournament.

“It’s unbelievable, things you only dream of, winning,” said an emotional Roth, whose class also leaves with two NCHC Frozen Faceoff titles. “This place means the world to me. Coming in as freshman, it’s all we accomplished, things you only dream about. It’s been the best five years of my life. I’m going to miss it every day.”

Minnesota Duluth plays Denver in regional final game in Loveland
Minnesota Duluth players react after losing 2-1 to Denver during the NCAA regional championship game on Saturday, March 26, 2022, at Budweiser Events Center in Loveland, Colorado.
Clint Austin / Duluth News Tribune

Minnesota Duluth 1-0-0—1

Denver 1-0-1—2

First Period

1. UMD, Darian Gotz (Kobe Roth, Koby Bender), 14:41

2. DU, Cole Guttman (Bobby Brink), 17:24

Second Period

No scoring.

Third Period

3. DU, Carter Savoie (Sean Behrens, Cole Guttman), 13:44

Saves — Ryan Fanti, UMD 32; Magnus Chrona, DU, 24.

Power plays — UMD 0-3; DU 0-4. Penalties — UMD 4-8; DU 4-8.

NCAA All-Regional Team (Loveland)

F — Cole Guttman, Denver (Most Outstanding Player)

F — Kobe Roth, Minnesota Duluth

F — Carter Savoie, Denver

D — Sean Behrens, Denver

D — Darian Gotz, Minnesota Duluth

G — Ryan Fanti, Minnesota Duluth

Co-host of the Bulldog Insider Podcast and college hockey reporter for the Duluth News Tribune and The Rink Live covering the Minnesota Duluth men's and women's hockey programs.
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