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College men's hockey: UMD falls to North Dakota, squeaks into NCAA field

ST. PAUL -- While the sun soaked St. Patrick's Day revelers in warmth, a perfect Pairwise storm beared down further on the Minnesota Duluth men's hockey team.

Russell Hons / For the News TribuneMinnesota Duluth goaltender Hunter Shepard blocks a shot by North Dakota left wing Ludvig Hoff in the third period of the third-place game at the NCHC Frozen Faceoff on Saturday at Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul.
Russell Hons / For the News Tribune Minnesota Duluth goaltender Hunter Shepard blocks a shot by North Dakota left wing Ludvig Hoff in the third period of the third-place game at the NCHC Frozen Faceoff on Saturday at Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul.
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ST. PAUL - While the sun soaked St. Patrick’s Day revelers in warmth, a perfect Pairwise storm beared down further on the Minnesota Duluth men’s hockey team.
The sky grew a deep, dark blue. The wind began to pick up. A few raindrops even began to fall late into the evening.
Once the regular season was officially all said and done, though, the twister never came to sweep UMD away.
The Bulldogs failed to extend their eight-game winning streak against North Dakota on Saturday, losing 4-1 to the Fighting Hawks in the NCHC Frozen Faceoff third-place game at Xcel Energy Center.
However, the team is projected to receive its program-record fourth straight NCAA tournament berth thanks to another perfect Pairwise storm system that took out the Minnesota Gophers at the last minute. The bracket will be officially unveiled at 11 a.m. today on ESPNU.
“It’s special knowing you’ve been a part of some really good teams in the past,” UMD senior wing Blake Young said of the possibility of his class being the first at UMD to reach the NCAA tournament in all four years. “When it’s your last year, you want to show the young guys just the way to go and how hard it is to get there. It’s an accomplishment to get to that tournament and that was our goal from the start.”
Of course, UMD could have avoided a late night of sitting, waiting and scoreboard watching had they done what was necessary over the weekend. All the Bulldogs needed this weekend was a win in either Friday’s semifinal - a 3-1 loss to Denver - or a win or tie Saturday against the Hawks in the consolation.
The Bulldogs produced none of the above, following up their disappointing 1-for-4 performance on power plays against the Pioneers with an 0-for-3 showing on the man advantage against North Dakota.
“When your power play is not going, it’s tough,” UMD coach Scott Sandelin said. “We didn’t get any momentum or anything really on the power play tonight. They did a good job penalty killing and sometimes you need that spark or that goal off a power play to get a little jump started offensively. We never really seemed to get anything going offensively, or sustained offensively - second and third chances.
“Give credit to them. They did a good job defensively.”
The Bulldogs swept the Hawks during their only regular-season series, winning 5-3 and 5-2 Jan. 19-20 in Duluth. Those wins were UMD’s seventh and eighth straight victories over the Hawks dating to the 2016 NCHC Frozen Faceoff semifinals at Target Center in Minneapolis.
Back in January at Amsoil Arena, UMD was able to light up the Hawks because of a strong power play that finished 6-for-11 on the weekend. That was the start of a good second half for the special teams unit, which entered the Frozen Faceoff converting at a 24.7 percent click for the season after scoring on nine of its last 27 chances.
The Bulldogs scored on their first power play of the Frozen Faceoff on Friday against Denver, getting a goal from freshman defenseman Scott Perunovich. They failed to score after that on Friday despite getting a two-man advantage for one minute and a five-minute major power play that started in the second period and finished in the third.
Those missed opportunities on power plays were momentum killing moments for UMD on Friday, but senior captain Karson Kuhlman said that lack of momentum on special teams didn’t carry over into Saturday’s game.
“We kinda turned the page from (Friday) night. We regrouped, had a video session and thought we figured everything out,” said Kuhlman, the wing out of Esko. “Like Coach said, give them credit. They came hard and won a lot of battles. We put pucks deep, which is what we wanted to do, and then they outworked us. Give them credit there.”
North Dakota took a 2-0 lead into the third period thanks to goals by senior captain Austin Poganski and junior wing Joel Janatuinen in the first two periods. Poganski, a winger, scored on a breakaway that was produced by a Bulldogs turnover while Janatuinen scored off a rebound.
North Dakota’s Shane Gersich and Ludvig Hoff added power-play goals in the final five minutes of regulation after UMD sophomore defenseman Nick Wolff was ejected for a kneeing major. Hoff’s goal came on a two-man advantage after Perunovich was called for hooking.
The Bulldogs’ only goal came shorthanded during the Wolff major penalty as freshman defenseman Mikey Anderson was able to spoil the shutout of Hawks four-year starting goaltender Cam Johnson.
Johnson, playing in his last collegiate game, and Bulldogs sophomore goalie Hunter Shepard each finished with 27 saves.
“Finally, they’ve (UMD) had our number there for a while,” said Johnson, who admitted he was angered by Anderson’s goal because if it was indeed his last college game, he wanted it to be a shutout. “We knew we were due. We’ve played them hard, we’ve had good battles with them. It was all a matter of taking care of business and that’s what we did today. We came out hot. We didn’t have any passengers on the team. Everyone brought their all. It was a good team win.”
The Bulldogs finished 12th in the Pairwise - the system used to select at-large teams and seed the 16-team NCAA tournament field - and are projected to nab the final at-large bid.
The Gophers at No. 13 are the highest ranked team in the Pairwise to miss the NCAA tournament after four automatic bids went to teams on the outside looking in on the tournament.
The Bulldogs secured their bid via championship wins on Saturday by Michigan Tech (WCHA), Air Force (Atlantic Hockey), Notre Dame (Big Ten) and Denver (NCHC). If just one of those teams lost, the Gophers would have gotten in instead.
UMD and Minnesota could have both clinched a bid had Boston University (Hockey East) and Princeton (ECAC) not both won titles on Saturday.
North Dakota’s season came to an end when BU upset Providence.
“One of our goals all year has been to make the regional tournament and be one of the last 16 teams standing,” Kuhlman said. I think if we get there, anything is possible. I think we can learn a lot from this weekend, especially with our young group, just how hard these games are. It’s so tough to end a team’s season and continue yours on. If we’re fortunate enough to be playing next weekend, this will be a good lesson this weekend.”
UMD senior center Jared Thomas had to be helped off the ice early in the third period due to a right leg injury after sliding feet-first into the boards. He returned shortly after hopping his way down the Xcel Energy Center tunnel on one leg.
Playing against his hometown Bulldogs in what was his last collegiate game, Duluth native Trevor Olson started for North Dakota.

North Dakota 1-1-2-4
Minn. Duluth 0-0-1-1
First period - 1. ND, Austin Poganski 11 (Nick Jones), 7:22. Penalties - Billy Exell, UMD (roughing), 6:23; Cole Smith, ND (6:23); Trevor Olson, ND (holding), 11:12.
Second period - 2. ND, Joel Janatuinen 6 (Colton Poolman), 7:09. Penalties - Rhett Gardner, ND (high sticking), 1:33; Shane Gersich, UND (roughing), 12:39; Nick Swaney, UMD (interference), 18:23.
Third period - 3. ND, Shane Gersich 13 (Ludvig Hoff, Poganski), 15:51 (pp); 4. UMD, Mikey Anderson 5 (Dylan Samberg, Billy Exell), 16:37 (sh); 5. ND, Hoff 3 (Christian Wolanin, Jordan Kawaguchi), 19:04. Penalties - Parker Mackay, UMD (slashing), 13:14; Nick Wolff, UMD (kneeing major and game misconduct), 14:42; Scott Perunovich, UMD (hooking), 17:49.
Shots on goal - ND 6-12-13-31; UMD 11-9-8-28. Goalies - Cam Johnson, ND (28 shots-27 saves); Hunter Shepard, UMD (31-27). Power plays - ND 2-of-5; UMD 0-of-3. Referees - Ryan Hersey, Timm Walsh. Linesmen - John Grandt, Justin Hills. Att. - 11,372.

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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