UMD men's hockey: Kleven's goal, Loney's line providing Bulldogs much-needed postseason depth
The Bulldogs will look to continue rolling all four lines Saturday against Denver, and will take any offense that trio can provide.
LOVELAND, Colo. — Along the way to four consecutive NCAA Frozen Four appearances, Minnesota Duluth has relied on the heroics of a few unsung heroes along the way.
In 2017, senior defenseman Willie Raskob scored the game-winning goal in a first-round overtime win over Ohio State.
In 2019, senior wing Billy Exell scored the game-winning goal midway through the third period of the Frozen Four semifinal against Providence to get UMD into the national championship game.
And of course last year in Fargo, it was freshman fourth-line winger Luke Mylymok scoring in the fifth overtime to beat North Dakota in a regional final in Fargo.
In Thursday’s 3-0 NCAA regional semifinal victory over Michigan Tech, it was fourth-line wing Kyler Kleven scoring a key goal in the third period to give UMD a two-goal advantage against the Huskies.
Now the Bulldogs play NCHC rival and regional host Denver at 3 p.m. Saturday in Loveland for a spot in the 2022 NCAA Frozen Four in Boston.
Bulldogs coach Scott Sandelin said you want your best players — the ones you count on to produce points — to score at this time of year, but sometimes that doesn’t happen, and that’s why you need a player like Kleven to step up.
“You want some of those guys that maybe don't get all the accolades throughout the year to have moments like that, like Kleven,” Sandelin said. “Carter Loney’s play in the playoffs going back to St. Cloud has been really good. Luke Loheit, those guys have been key penalty killers for us.
“That was a big goal. They deserve that because I thought their line was good tonight.”
Sandelin said the Bulldogs' fourth line has given the team some good games down the stretch, and Thursday was no different. What’s helped even more is it hasn’t mattered who plays on the left wing opposite Loney, the freshman center, and Loheit, a junior wing.
Kleven played with Loney and Loheit in the NCHC quarterfinals at St. Cloud State, and Mylymok, now a sophomore, played on the line at the NCHC Frozen Faceoff in St. Paul. Kleven was back in the lineup Thursday, and would seem poised to get another chance on the line Saturday after scoring the big goal against Tech.
“He brings speed,” Loney said of Kleven. “He’s constantly moving his feet and getting in there disrupting plays.”
Kleven has appeared in 27 games this season, with Thursday’s goal being just the second of the season for him. The area he said he’s improved the most thus far is what Loney highlighted — his play below the goal line.
“College hockey is bigger, stronger, faster, that's for sure,” said Kleven, a former Moorhead High School captain who played in the North American and United States hockey leagues before coming to UMD this year. “I've definitely had to grow and in every aspect of the game, so down in the corners, just battling and being strong.”
The Bulldogs got away from rolling all four lines a year ago in the NCAA tournament, with Mylymok jumping on the ice with Blake Biondi during that fifth OT in Fargo a year ago after spending four periods on the bench.
That wasn’t the case Thursday against Michigan Tech, even with the game tight. UMD kept rolling all four lines, and junior goaltender Ryan Fanti said that was key to advancing to Saturday’s regional final.
“I feel all four lines did a good job of establishing a little bit of a forecheck,” Fanti said. “The pressure was was really good all night and it was really nice that (Loney’s) line had something to show for it with the turnover and Kleven making a real big-time play in a big-time game. We're really happy for him scoring a big goal and hope he can continue to do that for us on Saturday.”