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UMD men's hockey: Ryan Fanti gets second straight shutout, Bulldogs win NCHC Frozen Faceoff

Junior goalie makes 25 saves, earns MVP honors as fifth-seeded Bulldogs win their third NCHC playoff title. Minnesota Duluth beats Western Michigan 3-0 in the title game.

Western Michigan vs. Minnesota Duluth
Minnesota Duluth goaltender Ryan Fanti (39) makes a save on Western Michigan forward Drew Worrad (13) in the championship game of the 2022 NCHC Frozen Faceoff Saturday, March 19, 2022, at the Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul.
Jim Rosvold / The NCHC
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ST. PAUL — Ryan Fanti would not let a shot get by him and Minnesota Duluth played with the lead the majority of the game.

That recipe helped the fifth-seeded Bulldogs beat third-seeded Western Michigan 3-0 in the NCHC Frozen Faceoff championship game on Saturday night at Xcel Energy Center.

"We're trying to be hard and play in their (defensive) zone, but if there's a little breakdown, we know he's going to make that save," UMD senior wing Noah Cates said of Fanti. "This time of year, it's huge for us, knowing that we have him back there."

"Obviously, Ryan was outstanding for us all weekend," Bulldogs coach Scott Sandelin said. "When you have that, it gives your team a lot of confidence."

With the win, UMD (21-15-4) receives an automatic bid to the 16-team NCAA Division I men's hockey tournament. The Bulldogs were already in, but the win made it official and they will be a No. 2 seed in a regional when it is announced on Sunday night. Despite the loss, Western Michigan (25-11-1) will be a No. 1 seed in a regional.

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"There were times in the second half when we weren't sure where this team was going," said Sandelin, whose team has won four straight playoff games after going 3-5-2 in its previous 10 games. "We've seen a lot of good with this team. Consistency was maybe not quite there.

"We went into St. Cloud last weekend and it felt different and we got two wins," said Sandelin, whose team swept the Huskies in the NCHC quarterfinals. "I thought we carried a lot of that same type of play and mentality into this weekend. Hopefully, we can keep that going. I'm really, really proud of this team for sticking with it and winning this championship against two very good teams."

Fanti's dominance

Fanti made 25 saves against Western Michigan in the championship game to secure the title one night after stopping all 30 shots he saw against NCHC regular season champion Denver in a 2-0 win. The NCHC Goaltender of the Year has back-to-back shutouts as he and the Bulldogs head into the NCAA tournament.

"I had a few good games in St. Cloud along with our guys and I think that helped," said Fanti, who stopped 61 of 66 shots against the Huskies to get two wins going into the Frozen Faceoff. "We got some confidence as a group and I think that translates into being confident as an individual when you know everyone else is going to be doing their thing, too ... I think Wyatt (Kaiser) mentioned it on the way over here that you look up and it's midway through the second (period) and I think they had seven shots. Yeah, I made a big save here and there, but overall, I think our team was pretty outstanding all over the ice."

"His game speaks for itself, honestly," Bulldogs defenseman Wyatt Kaiser said. "You don't have to say a lot. You watch him out there and he's making big saves, making the saves he should, he's playing the puck and he's doing everything out there for us."

His top save of the game on Saturday came with 4:36 left in the second period and the Bulldogs leading 2-0. He made a toe save that kicked to Max Sasson in the slot. Sasson one-timed the puck back at the net and Fanti made a sprawling glove save.

"It was kind of a broken play off a rush," Fanti said. "I think it went off one of our defensemen and it changed directions and I had to reach out and I think I got it with the blade of my skate. I don't think I had time to recover and really get a push ... It could have gone probably 1,000 different ways. It's one of those where you throw something at it and just hope. I definitely say it's more of a lucky save than anything."

Western Michigan vs. Minnesota Duluth
Minnesota Duluth captain Noah Cates (21) hoists the trophy after winning the championship game of the 2022 NCHC Frozen Faceoff Saturday, March 19, 2022, at the Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul.
Jim Rosvold / The NCHC

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Getting, keeping the lead

The Bulldogs led 1-0 after scoring on their first shot of the game.

Dominic James, a freshman center from Plymouth, Mich., picked up a loose puck on the right wing boards at the hash mark in the UMD zone. He carried the puck up that side to near the top of the circles, cut across the ice and scored on a shot from the faceoff dot to the right of goalie Brandon Bussi.

James' sixth goal of the season went over Bussi's glove and beat him on the short side.

The Bulldogs took a 2-0 lead with a power play goal at 5:59 of the second period. Casey Gilling, a graduate student center, shot a puck from near the blue line and through a Noah Cates screen for his eighth goal of the season.

"Having that two-goal lead with Ryan in the net gave us a lot of confidence," said Cates, whose team blocked 21 shots in the game. "I thought after that (2-0 lead), we were making strong plays and playing in their zone. Just making them make hard plays and not really giving them any chances or any offensive zone time."

UMD took a 3-0 lead on a great individual effort by Kaiser, a Chicago Blackhawks draft pick from Andover. He stole the puck in the neutral zone, blew around Broncos defenseman Aidan Fulp and flipped a backhand past Bussi at 9:12 of the third period.

"I was just trying to bring some speed up the ice and take it to the net, got around him and saw an opening," Kaiser said.

Great defense, special teams

Western Michigan, which went into the Frozen Faceoff with the fourth-best offense in the nation (3.6 goals-per-game) and sixth-best power play (25.6%), could not get one past Fanti.

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"I thought they had bodies above ours a lot of the time and when we were trying to get into the (offensive) zone, they had numbers back," Western Michigan forward Josh Passolt said. "They play a real tight defensive style. The chances that we did generate were when we were able to get pucks by them ... They played a heck of a game and their goalie stood on his head, obviously."

UMD's special teams has been picking up momentum as the season goes on. In the postseason, the Bulldogs have faced the top power play in the country in St. Cloud State (31.3%), the No. 8 power play in Denver (25.3%) and Western Michigan. In those four games, the Bulldogs were 13-for-14 on the penalty kill.

The win is the third NCHC Frozen Faceoff title for UMD, which also won it in 2019 and 2017. The Bulldogs have won the NCHC tournament more than any other team since it was first played in 2014.

Frozen Faceoff staying in St. Paul

Earlier Saturday, it was announced that the NCHC had signed a three-year contract extension that will keep the Frozen Faceoff at Xcel Energy Center through at least 2025.

“We are thrilled to keep the NCHC Frozen Faceoff at Xcel Energy Center in Saint Paul. Xcel Energy Center is one of the finest NHL and hockey arenas in the country, providing our student-athletes a great experience and the perfect venue to crown our postseason champion,” said Dr. Andy Armacost, President of the University of North Dakota and Chair of the NCHC Board of Directors in a news release. “Along with that, the city of St. Paul in the State of Hockey offers our fans a destination location they can plan to attend annually to watch what we believe is the best college hockey in the nation.”

Home to the NHL’s Minnesota Wild, Xcel Energy Center has also been home to the Frozen Faceoff since 2018.

“The NCHC Frozen Faceoff has become the premier college hockey conference championship in the country and Xcel Energy Center is excited to extend our partnership with the NCHC for the next three years,” said Jack Larson, Vice-President and General Manager of Xcel Energy Center.

NCHC Frozen Faceoff championship games

2022 — Minnesota Duluth 3, Western Michigan 0
2021 — North Dakota 5, St. Cloud State 3
2019 — Minnesota Duluth 3, St. Cloud State 2, 2 OTs
2018 — Denver 4, St. Cloud State 1
2017 — Minnesota Duluth 4, North Dakota 3
2016 — St. Cloud State 3, Minnesota Duluth 1
2015 — Miami 3, St. Cloud State 2
2014 — Denver 4, Miami 3

2022 NCHC All-Tournament Team

F — Blake Biondi, UMD
F — Dominic James, UMD
F — Ty Glover, WMU
D — Ronnie Attard, WMU
D — Wyatt Kaiser, UMD
G — Ryan Fanti, UMD
MVP — Fanti

UMD 3, Western Michigan 0

UMD 1-1-1—3

WMU 0-0-0—0

First period scoring — 1. UMD, Dominic James 6 (unassisted) 5:26. Penalties — None.

Second period scoring — 2. UMD, Casey Gilling 8 (Wyatt Kaiser 17, Koby Bender 18) 5:59 (pp)

Penalties — WMU, Max Sasson (tripping) 4:27; UMD, Owen Gallatin (interference) 15:24; WMU, Aidan Fulp (tripping) 17:08; UMD, Team (too many players) 19:42.

Third period scoring — 3. UMD, Kaiser 2 (unassisted) 9:12. Penalties — UMD, Gallatin (boarding) 4:59; WMU, Tim Washe (tripping) 14:08.

Goalie saves — UMD, Ryan Fanti 5-6-14—25 (0 GA). WMU, Brandon Bussi 2-9-5—16 (3 GA).

Penalties-minutes — UMD 3-6; WMU 3-6.

Power-play goals/opportunities (shots) — UMD 1-3 (4 shots); WMU 0-3 (6 shots).

Faceoffs — WM 23-22.

Referees — Ryan Hersey and Nick Krebsbach.

Linesmen — John Grandt and Tyler Liffrig.

Three stars of the game — 1. Fanti (UMD), 2. Kaiser (UMD), 3. James (UMD).

Attendance — 7,814.

Mick Hatten is a reporter and editor for Forum News Service and helps manage TheRinkLive.com, a website dedicated to hockey. He began working for Forum Communications in November 2018 and has covered St. Cloud State University hockey since 2010. A graduate of St. Cloud State, he has more than 30 years of experience as a journalist and has been a youth hockey coach since 2014. mhatten@forumcomm.com
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