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College men's hockey: Bulldogs heading to Frozen Four following 3-2 OT win over Boston University

Minnesota Duluth celebrates their 3-2 overtime win over Boston University during their West Regional final Saturday at Scheels Arena in Fargo, N.D. Michael Vosburg / Fargo Forum 1 / 3
Adam Johnson of Minnesota Duluth attempts to score on Boston University goalie Jake Oettinger during their NCAA Northeast Regional final Saturday night at Scheels Arena in Fargo, N.D. Michael Vosburg / Fargo Forum 2 / 3
Goalie Hunter Miska of Minnesota Duluth drops to block a shot by Boston during their NCAA West Regional final hockey game Saturday, March 25, 2017, in Scheels Arena, Fargo. Michael Vosburg / Forum News Service 3 / 3

FARGO, N.D. — For the next two weeks, Bulldogs fans will be left with a very important theological question to ponder as they plan their trip to Chicago.

Coach Ditka vs. a hurricane, who wins? And what if the name of the hurricane, is Hurricane Ditka?

That question and more will be answered when Minnesota Duluth heads to the home of Bill Swerski’s Super Fans to take part in the 2017 NCAA Frozen Four. The Bulldogs are there thanks to a 3-2 overtime victory over Boston University on Saturday night in front of a sold-out West Regional championship crowd of 5,277 fans at Scheels Arena.

The Bulldogs will face Harvard on April 6 at United Center in Chicago with the winner playing for the NCAA title two nights later.

“I’m pretty excited right now. These guys know I don’t get too excited,” Bulldogs coach Scott Sandelin said. “I’m more excited for our team, our program and our seven seniors that have kind of gone through tough defeats in this regional final. To have the opportunity to get to Chicago, to get to the Frozen Four and keep playing is pretty exciting for all of us.”

The Bulldogs had been in the Northeast Regional final each of the previous two seasons, losing 3-2 both times. A late rally fell just short a year ago in Worcester, Mass., against Boston College while a controversial late power-play goal two seasons ago against the Terriers sunk the Bulldogs in Manchester, N.H.

This time the 3-2 margin was in UMD’s favor thanks to Hibbing native Adam Johnson, a sophomore center. He ripped a shot on a power play into the back of the net 1:57 into the extra period to send the Bulldogs back to the Frozen Four for the first time since 2011, when the school won its lone NCAA title at Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul.

Both UMD and Boston played overtime games the night before to advance to the final. The Bulldogs beat Ohio State 3-2 in one overtime and the Terriers needed two overtimes to beat host North Dakota, 4-3.

Saturday was the Bulldogs’ 12th overtime game of 2016-17. UMD is 5-0-7 this season when games require 60-plus minutes, with the five wins being the most in the NCAA.

“This game was a little bigger than the last one, but we’ve been in that position a lot,” said Johnson, whose Bulldogs needed overtime to win the North Star College Cup in January in St. Paul. “I think (Saturday) was our 12th overtime game, so we knew how to get through it. We had a good overtime and we were fortunate enough to pull it out.”

The first four goals Saturday were recorded by a cast of future NHL players, then the lesser known pro prospect from Hibbing came and stole their thunder.

UMD was granted its third power play of the night 99 seconds into the sudden-death period after Terriers sophomore forward Bobo Carpenter was called for tripping in the neutral zone — a call Boston U coach David Quinn said he had no problem with the officials making, because it was the correct call.

“It’s a penalty and our penalty kill has been great all year, and we just weren't able to kill the last one,” Quinn said.

Johnson initially took a pass from sophomore defenseman and Hermantown native Neal Pionk and one-timed it toward the goal. The puck was blocked right back to Johnson via the side boards, so the former Hibbing-Chisholm Bluejacket reset. He settled the puck, skated toward the top of the faceoff circle and faked a shot before unleashing the game-winner from the faceoff dot.

“I told him before the overtime go get one, because I thought his line was good,” Sandelin said. “I thought (Johnson’s) line was really good (Saturday). It was awesome to see it go in quick because who knows how long that game might have gone. Both teams may have been a little fatigued, with the short turnaround for our guys, too.”

Joey Anderson, a freshman wing who was taken by New Jersey in the third round of the NHL Entry Draft last June, drove the net and put away his own rebound to give UMD its first lead of the game with 8:22 remaining in regulation.

The Terriers tied the championship five minutes later when freshman wing Patrick Harper, a Nashville fifth-round pick in 2016, placed a puck top shelf.

Freshman wing Clayton Keller, the seventh overall pick in 2016 by Arizona, gave the Terriers their first 1-0 lead in 12 games by cruising to the front of the UMD net for an easy backhander eight minutes in.

But UMD senior wing Alex Iafallo, one of this spring’s most coveted undrafted free agents, tied the game via a wrap around goal with 17.2 seconds left in the first period after Pionk and Anderson forced a Terriers turnover in the neutral zone.

The goal extended Iafallo’s career-long point streak to 13 games. He later assisted on Johnson’s game-winner to give him nine goals and 15 assists since Feb. 4.

Iafallo is one of seven seniors on the Bulldogs who made reaching the Frozen Four their ultimate goal at the conclusion of the 2015-16 season after seeing a potential game-tying goal against Boston College freeze on the goal line in the closing seconds.

A number of the seniors — including Iafallo  — could have turned pro after the loss to the Eagles, but they all decided to return for one more season of college hockey in Duluth.

Now, they’re off to Chicago.

“Absolutely incredible. It’s the reason why we came back,” Iafallo said about going to the Frozen Four. “Just proud of the guys for sacrificing their bodies. The last two years we came short and this year we didn’t, so it feels absolutely phenomenal.”

  • Bulldogs freshman goaltender Hunter Miska, senior defenseman Willie Raskob, Anderson and Iafallo were named to the West Regional All-Tournament Team with Miska being named the most valuable player. Miska finished with 22 saves Saturday after making 40 in the win over Ohio State. Miska made a big save early — one to rival many of the highlight-reel stops he made Friday — to keep the game scoreless, using a blind stacked-pad save to stop Terriers sophomore center Jacob Forsbacka Karlsson from scoring on the power play.

Boston University....... 1-0-1-0—2

Minnesota Duluth....... 1-0-1-1—3

First period — 1. BU, Clayton Keller 21 (Ryan Cloonan), 7:59; 2. UMD, Alex Iafallo 19 (Joey Anderson, Neal Pionk), 19:42. Penalties — Iafallo, UMD (tripping), 3:40; Dominic Toninato, UMD (roughing), 14:00; Doyle Somerby, BU (roughing), 14:00.

Second period — No scoring. Penalties — Ryan Cloonan, BU (hooking), 10:07; Bench minor, UMD (too many men on the ice), 11:28.

Third period — 3. UMD, Joey Anderson 11 (Riley Tufte), 11:38; 4. BU, Patrick Harper 13 (Chad Krys, Dante Fabbro), 16:47. Penalties — John MacLeod, BU (elbowing), 2:21.

Shots on goal — BU 5-5-13-1—24; UMD 7-7-7-2—23. Goalies — Jake Oettinger, BU (23 shots-20 saves); Hunter Miska, UMD (24-22). Power plays — BU 0-of-2; UMD 1-of-3. Referees — Peter Feola, Chip McDonald. Linesmen — Ryan Knapp, Jim Briggs. Att. — 5,277.

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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