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Stars of the north: UMD defeats St. Cloud State in OT to win final North Star College Cup

UMD's Dominic Toninato (19) celebrates with his teammates Saturday after the Bulldogs won the North Star College Cup by beating St. Cloud State at the Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul. (Photo by Jim Rosvold)1 / 2
Minnesota Duluth's Sammy Spurrell ties up an unidentified St. Cloud State player during the championship game of the North Star College Cup on Saturday night at Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul. Photo by Jim Rosvold2 / 2

ST. PAUL — Titles can be hard to come by as the University of Minnesota Duluth men’s hockey team has learned over the past few seasons after disappointing outcomes in a pair of NCAA Northeast Regional finals, plus the loss in last year’s NCHC Frozen Faceoff championship.

On Saturday, UMD’s veterans put everything they learned from those tournament losses to good use.

The Bulldogs took part in what they hope is the first of many championship celebrations this season following a 2-1 overtime victory over St. Cloud State in the North Star College Cup championship game at Xcel Energy Center — the final edition of the tournament after just four seasons.

Senior wings Alex Iafallo and Kyle Osterberg had the Bulldogs goals while UMD freshman goaltender Hunter Miska made 29 saves Saturday, one night after stopping 37 shots in a 3-2 semifinal win over Minnesota. Miska was named the tournament’s most valuable player.

“It feels good, Step 1 of the run we’re going to have to have here,” Iafallo said. “It’s good for us to get that feeling of winning a championship here and just doing what it takes to win every shift, not just the game.”

Osterberg scored six minutes into overtime to give the leaders of the NCHC and Pairwise rankings their first ever North Star College Cup title in three tries, having lost to Minnesota in a shootout in the inaugural title game in 2014.

Osterberg not only scored the game-winner, but set it all up after putting a shot on net coming into the offensive zone and picking up his own rebound. Osterberg then made a cross-zone pass to sophomore defenseman Neal Pionk of Hermantown. Pionk fired a shot toward the net that according to Osterberg was tipped by junior wing Karson Kuhlman of Esko. Osterberg then finished off what he said was a lucky bounce to bring the puck back his way.

“It feels good obviously, you always want to win,” Osterberg said. “That’s why a lot of us play the game. We love to strive for success. In the past some things haven’t gone our way. This year our team has done really well in situations like these games. When things aren’t going our way, if we’re not playing our game completely right, we stick with it and I think the best thing about our team is we find a way to win.”

Iafallo tied the game at 1-1 just 42 seconds into the third period after he was gifted a puck on the doorstep of the Huskies’ crease, just waiting to be batted in.

Iafallo, the Bulldogs’ leading scorer with 12 goals and 15 assists, entered the North Star on a nine-game goalless streak, but leaves St. Paul with goals in back-to-back games after tying Saturday’s final and giving UMD a 2-1 lead on Friday against Minnesota.

“You are going to have some off weekends, that’s the way it’s going to go. It’s a long season,” Iafallo said of his slump. “Just got to stay positive and then things like this happen and you feel great.”

Saturday was the 10th meeting in two seasons between the Bulldogs and Huskies, who are guaranteed each season to play each other four times as rivalry partners in the NCHC. The two programs already have played each other five times now in 2016-17, including three times in the last three weeks.

Two of the past 10 meetings have been for titles here in the Twin Cities, with St. Cloud State beating UMD 3-1 a year ago in the NCHC Frozen Faceoff final at Target Center in Minneapolis.

Saturday, UMD returned the favor, beating the Huskies in overtime for the second time this season.

The Huskies struck first Saturday, just like they did in three of their previous four meetings, when sophomore defenseman Will Borgen made it 1-0 with just under two minutes to play in the first period.

Borgen was fashionably late to join his teammates on the rush, but sophomore Robby Jackson was able to find the straggler alone behind the play ready to fire a bullet into the back of the Bulldogs’ net.

“We came here to win a couple hockey games and we did that,” UMD coach Scott Sandelin said. “They were both very good hockey games. We beat a very good team in Minnesota late night. Tonight we beat another very good team. It kind of goes along with our year. We’ve had a great non conference schedule. We played some really good teams outside of our league and this was a great way to end the nonconference for sure.”

UMD, which finished 6-1-3 in nonconference play, returns to NCHC action this week when it hosts Nebraska-Omaha at Amsoil Arena. The Bulldogs now have company atop the NCHC standings after Denver created a first-place tie in the league via a home sweep of the Mavericks.

Minnesota Duluth............... 0-0-1-1—2

St. Cloud State.................... 1-0-0-0—1

First period — 1. SCSU, Will Borgen 2 (Robby Jackson, Jon Lizotte), 18:17. Penalties — Bench minor, SCSU (too many men on the ice), 4:17; Jake Wahlin, SCSU (boarding), 12:15.

Second period — No scoring. Penalties — Willie Raskob, UMD (hooking), 14:15.

Third period — 2. UMD, Alex Iafallo 12 (Adam Johnson, Carson Soucy), 0:42. Penalties — None.

Overtime — 3. UMD, Kyle Osterberg 11 (Neal Pionk, Joey Anderson), 6:00. Penalties — None

Shots on goal — UMD 6-8-12-8—34; SCSU 7-10-12-3—32. Goalies — Hunter Miska, UMD (32 shots-31 saves); Jeff Smith, SCSU (34-32). Power plays — UMD 0-of-2; SCSU 0-of-1. Referees — Brian Aaron, Tom Sterns. Linesmen — Joseph Hutek, Jonathan Morrison. Att. — 11,098.

Minnesota 4, Bemidji State 0

The host Gophers picked up just their second win in eight games at the North Star College Cup — not counting the shootout win over UMD in the 2014 final to break a 4-4 tie — by tallying three goals in the third period to pull away.

Leon Bristedt got the Gophers on the board 45 seconds into the second period. Ryan Norman, Taylor Cammarata and Justin Kloos scored in the third, with Cammarata’s goal coming on the power play and Kloos backhanding a puck into an empty net.

With the loss, the WCHA-leading Beavers finish 2016-17 with an 0-7-1 nonconference record.

Matt Wellens

College hockey reporter for the Duluth News Tribune covering the Minnesota Duluth Bulldogs men's and women's teams, as well as the NCAA Division III programs at St. Scholastica and Wisconsin-Superior.

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