Minnesota Duluth captured its second NCHC Frozen Faceoff championship in three years on Saturday via a 3-2 double overtime victory over regular-season champion St. Cloud State before a crowd of 10,621 at Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul.
Junior goaltender Hunter Shepard made 37 saves to earn tournament MVP honors. Sophomore wing Nick Swaney, a Minnesota Wild prospect, scored the game-winning goal via a backhander on a two-on-one rush 7:29 into overtime.
Senior wing Billy Exell tied the game for the Bulldogs with a shorthanded goal that came with 4:51 left in regulation.
Both the game-tying and game-winning goals were set up by freshman wing Tanner Laderoute, who dished to Swaney on the odd-man rush. Laderoute forced a SCSU turnover forechecking on the penalty kill before passing to Exell for the game-tying goal.
Sophomore defenseman Mikey Anderson tied the game in the first period at 1-1 with a slapshot.
Below are two thumbs up by News Tribune college hockey writer Matt Wellens from Saturday's dramatic win, plus his three stars of the night and a special 'They said it' to wrap up what was another big night for the Bulldogs at Xcel.
Thumbs up to UMD thriving with jumbled lines
Before every game, line charts are made available to the media up in the press box.
By the second period, the Bulldogs line chart was torched thanks to a number of factors that once explained by coach Scott Sandelin seemed too crazy for UMD to overcome.
Things started to go awry in the second period after the Bulldogs had to kill back-to-back penalties in the opening seven minutes of the period. On top of that, injured sophomore defenseman Scott Perunovich was having a tough time going and junior center Jade Miller had to leave the game with an injury, leaving the team with just three centers.
And one of those centermen was the inexperienced Jesse Jacques, a freshman who was filling in for the ill Jackson Cates.
"We pretty much played three lines so some of those centers were quick shifting," Sandelin said. "There was just a lot of mismatches. Not bad, it's just guys having to do that. Sometimes it works out. Sometimes it works out better. It's just what we had to do."
We started seeing sophomore wing Kobe Roth playing alongside senior center Peter Krieger and Swaney. Freshman wing Cole Koepke was taking shifts on multiple lines. Junior wing Riley Tufte and freshman wing Noah Cates disappeared for awhile too, only to reappear on power plays and penalty kills.
It was a free-for-all, with Perunovich eventually returning to the ice not to play defenseman, but wing.
"He played on a couple different lines. It got him in the game. He's a pretty good forward too," Sandelin said of Perunovich. "He went out in the second period and I go, 'Scotty, you mind playing forward a little bit?' He goes, 'No', so it was a matter of where I was going to put him."
We saw things go back to normal briefly early in the third period - Perunovich was back at defense - but when Exell tied the game, he was killing a penalty with Laderoute, Mikey Anderson and Dylan Samberg.
Swaney scored the game winner playing alongside Laderoute and Jacques.
Sandelin spent the past few weeks talking about how the Bulldogs needed all four lines to be rolling for this team to have success in the postseason. That theory got shot to bits tonight, because his Bulldogs just beat the deepest team in the country - no Ryan Poehling tonight, no real problem for SCSU - with three lines at best.
That was a gritty effort by the Bulldogs, who will likely get an extra day of rest playing in the Midwest Regional in Allentown, Pa. That one doesn't begin until Saturday.
"Some guys really stepped up. I thought (Exell) had a lot of energy, I thought (Laderoute) had a lot of energy," Sandelin said. "Obviously they made big plays for us. Some of our top guys got a little exhausted killing penalties too.
"We defended so much that we were damn tired so when we got the puck we didn't generate anything offensively."
Thumbs up to the UMD penalty kill
St. Cloud State coach Brett Larson said after Saturday's game that his team's downfall was not building a big enough lead on the Bulldogs.
The Huskies sure had their chances, especially on the power play. They failed to score on a couple early advantages in the first period - including one when SCSU scored prior to the power play on a delayed penalty.
The Huskies came up empty again on back-to-back power plays in the opening minutes of the second period.
SCSU took a 2-1 lead via a power play goal in the opening minute of the third, but then gave up the shorthanded goal with 4:51 to play, leading to overtime.
The Huskies had six power plays, and wound up finishing even on the night. Job well done to what is likely an exhausted group of PKers at UMD.
"Special teams are a big part of the game. They can either win or lose a game," Swaney said. "We knew the penalty kill had to step up and I think every single guys did a great job there. It's something that you can use toyour advantage. You can build off that and use that going forward. Being able to kill off those two penalties in the second was big for us. It gave us a little jump."
Matt's Three Stars
3. UMD freshman wing Tanner Laderoute: He made two outstanding plays - one late in the third period and another in double overtime to get the Bulldogs their second NCHC postseason title.
2. UMD sophomore wing Nick Swaney: The game-winning goal was Swaney's 15th goal of the season.
1. UMD junior goaltender Hunter Shepard: He made 37 saves, including a number of unreal stops to keep a very talented St. Cloud State team out of the back of the net. His tournament MVP honor is well deserved.
They said it:
"It was hard, for sure. Yeah, I'm close to those guys personally, but right now I'm feeling extremely close to the guys in our room. We're in battle together. It hurt. It was painful. I'm not going to lie to you. We set out to achieve a goal and fell a little bit short. But I've also in the past been a part of some tough losses that led to great runs. I'm hoping that's where we are heading." - SCSU coach Brett Larson on watching his former team and players at UMD celebrate the NCHC Frozen Faceoff championship