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Frozen Four notebook: Luck runs out for Bulldogs

CHICAGO -- Minnesota Duluth men's hockey coach Scott Sandelin talked about the Bulldogs' uncanny run leading up to the NCAA Division I hockey championship.

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Denver goalie Tanner Jalliet tries to cover up a loose puck in front of his net during Saturday's NCAA title game at United Center in Chicago. Clint Austin / caustin@duluthnews.com

CHICAGO - Minnesota Duluth men's hockey coach Scott Sandelin talked about the Bulldogs' uncanny run leading up to the NCAA Division I hockey championship.

UMD seemingly could do no wrong as of late, having gone 14-4 in one-goal games this season, including four straight playoff victories.

That ended Saturday night as NCHC rival Denver held on for a 3-2 victory over the Bulldogs on Saturday before a capacity crowd at United Center.

"Maybe we just ran out of puck luck," Sandelin said.

UMD (28-7-7) was hoping for its second national title, having won the first in St. Paul in 2011. Instead it was Denver (33-7-4) tying North Dakota for second all-time with its eighth national championship.

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"We've been resilient all year," UMD junior forward Karson Kuhlman of Esko said. "We have a lot of belief on this team. Nobody thought for a second we couldn't come back. We've learned lessons throughout the year, and they almost paid off there."

Jarid Lukosevicius' hat trick, including two goals in a 16-second span of the second period, proved too much to overcome. UMD outshot Denver 17-3 in the third period and 40-28 for the game.

Freshman goalie Hunter Miska, who has been stellar all year, kept the Bulldogs in it early, making 25 saves.

"That's one position I don't have to worry about," Sandelin said.

With the likes of Miska and Kuhlman likely back, among others, the future of Bulldogs hockey is bright.

They graduate an excellent senior class that felt it had unfinished business, coming back to win a title this year.

"Really unbelievable," Kuhlman said of the seniors. "It's a special group of guys, starting with Dom (Toninato), our captain and our leader, and trickles down from there. The three years I spent with them was special. I love those guys to death."

UMD fan Jeremy Beck, a Two Harbors native who lives in Minneapolis, said there was no shame in the Bulldogs' effort Saturday.

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"I didn't see any tears, but I saw lot of glum looking faces, mine included," Beck said of watching the final seconds tick away. "You never like to end it this way, but looking back on it, we've put other teams in this position, with tough losses like that. It's all part of sports."

Mayor enjoys the experience

Duluth Mayor Emily Larson, meanwhile, left Duluth about 5 a.m. Saturday. She arrived at United Center about an hour before the game with UMD marketing director Lynne Williams. Earlier, the first place they tried to stop for some pregame fun was too busy, with the bar tweeting that half the town of Duluth was there, so they went to Billy Goat Tavern, which wasn't much better.

"Making our way here, to see all of these places packed, it is chaotic, but it is fun," Larson said. "We actually wanted to get something to eat, so we had to go somewhere else, but then that place was filled with Bulldogs fans and one Denver fan. The poor guy."

Larson, wearing a black shirt with white lettering that said, "Duluth is a cool city," attends three or four UMD hockey games each season but had never been to a national championship game. She was soaking it all in. ESPN play-by-play man John Buccigross talked about the Bulldogs' "blue collar work ethic," something Larson said reflects her city as well, and something she is proud of.

"This is icing on the cake for who we are," she said. "We are a hard-working, hard-playing city, with people who do what we love and give it our all. To me, this experience totally exemplifies our city. To see it in lights, to see it hanging up around the city, to see Duluth being advertised, driving into Chicago, all over the city, you really can't put a price tag on it."

Related Topics: BULLDOG SPORTS
Jon Nowacki joined the News Tribune in August 1998 as a sports reporter. He grew up in Stephen, Minnesota, in the northwest corner of the state, where he was actively involved in school and sports and was a proud member of the Tigers’ 1992 state championship nine-man football team.

After graduating in 1993, Nowacki majored in print journalism at the University of St. Thomas in St. Paul, serving as editor of the college paper, “The Aquin,” and graduating with honors in December 1997. He worked with the Associated Press during the “tobacco trial” of 1998, leading to the industry’s historic $206 billion settlement, before moving to Duluth.

Nowacki started as a prep reporter for the News Tribune before moving onto the college ranks, with an emphasis on Minnesota Duluth football, including coverage of the Bulldogs’ NCAA Division II championships in 2008 and 2010.

Nowacki continues to focus on college sports while filling in as a backup on preps, especially at tournament time. He covers the Duluth Huskies baseball team and auto racing in the summer. When time allows, he also writes an offbeat and lighthearted food column entitled “The Taco Stand,” a reference to the “Taco Jon” nickname given to him by his older brother when he was a teenager that stuck with him through college. He has a teenage daughter, Emma.

Nowacki can be reached at jnowacki@duluthnews.com or (218) 380-7027. Follow him on Twitter @TacoJon1.
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