ALLENTOWN, Pa. - Heigh-ho, heigh-ho, the defending national champion Bulldogs are off to Buffalo.
Top-seeded Minnesota Duluth clinched its third consecutive NCAA regional title and trip to the Frozen Four on Sunday via a 3-1 victory over second-seeded Quinnipiac in the Midwest Regional final at PPL Center.
UMD will face Providence at 4 p.m. CT on Thursday, April 11, in Buffalo, N.Y., in the national semifinals. Denver and Massachusetts will meet in the second semifinal that night. The championship is scheduled for Saturday, April 13.
As his teammates pushed a cart stacked with bags out of the locker room in order to return it to the Lehigh Valley Phantoms of the American Hockey League, Bulldogs senior captain Parker Mackay couldn’t help but feel fortunate to once again be heading to the Frozen Four.
“Some players don’t get the chance or the opportunity to even make it to the regional tournament, let alone three Frozen Fours, so it’s feeling pretty good right now,” said Mackay, who is now 10-2 in NCAA tournament games over the past four years. “We’re enjoying it and feeling just so fortunate to be part of a program that’s had that much success in the last decade. I feel like Duluth is really putting itself on the map.”
Making three straight Frozen Fours is impressive, but it’s actually not historic. North Dakota did it recently, going in 2014, ’15 and winning it all in 2016.
What’s historic about the Bulldogs’ latest trip after winning it all a year ago at Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul is that the previous 13 national champions all have failed to get back to the Frozen Four following their championship run.
That streak started with the last team to go back-to-back, in 2003-04 and ’04-05, the Denver Pioneers, who missed the tournament in their attempt to three-peat in 2005-06.
“Personally, I’m really excited for this group to get an opportunity to get back to another Frozen Four,” said Sandelin, whose Bulldogs are seeking their third national championship this decade after winning the program’s first in 2011. “Those mean a lot and they are very hard to get to. We beat two very well-coached teams, two very, very good hockey teams this weekend. It was not easy. It never is this time of year.
“It’s really, really special, because this is hard. It’s getting harder and harder and harder every year.”
Senior center Peter Krieger, sophomore wing Kobe Roth and Mackay scored in what statistically is UMD’s most lopsided NCAA tournament victory since beating Minnesota 4-1 in a Northeast Regional semifinal in Manchester, N.H., on March 27, 2015.
Since that win, the Bulldogs played in 12 consecutive one-goal NCAA tournament games, winning nine. UMD’s past four NCAA wins were by a 2-1 margin, including Saturday’s overtime victory against Bowling Green.
“They were impressive tonight,” Quinnipiac coach Rand Pecknold said. “I mean, they manhandled us. Our forwards, it’s a young group. I don’t even know how many freshmen we have. It’s a lot. We just didn’t handle it well. We couldn’t find space. There’s a lot of interference out there tonight. They’re good at it, they get away with it. And we had to be tougher and battle through it better.
“But really, really impressed with how they play. I can see why they are going three years in a row. They are a well-coached team and they do everything the right way.”
Patience and poise helped the Bulldogs jump out to a two-goal lead Sunday - a formula that worked well a year ago during their run to the title.
The scoring didn’t start, however, until there was just under five minutes to play in the second period when Krieger was able to take advantage of a feed from sophomore defenseman Scott Perunovich.
The poise and patience of Perunovich created the scoring chance just seconds after a UMD power play expired. The former Hibbing-Chisholm Bluejacket had an open look at the Quinnipiac net after taking a cross-zone pass from sophomore wing Nick Swaney, but with goaltender Andrew Shortridge staring the Bulldogs defenseman down, Perunovich held the puck until he got all five Bobcat skaters to bend his way. That’s when he slung the puck back to the opposite side, where Krieger was waiting to fire from the back door to the top shelf.
“I’ll take the puck on his stick nine times out of 10,” Perunovich said of his play to Krieger. “When I got the puck, I didn’t even look at the net. Some of the guys on the team told me I had a one-on-one with the goalie. I didn’t even know it. My first instinct is just look back-door, and Pete was there.”
The “Miller Line” got the next goal on a three-on-one rush, but that didn’t come until there was just over five minutes remaining in the game. It’s namesake, junior center Jade Miller, made the well-timed play on this goal, getting the lone Quinnipiac defender to take a late diving poke check his way. Miller evaded and backhanded the puck to Roth.
“That line has been unbelievable for us through the stretch and all year,” Krieger said. “The momentum they’ve given us, it’s been tremendous.”
Quinnipiac finally got a puck by Bulldogs junior goaltender Hunter Shepard with 3:03 to go in the third, but needed a two-man advantage to do so via a power play and empty net. Senior wing Craig Martin got open for a shot he put top-shelf to pull the Bobcats within one.
The captain, Mackay, put UMD back up by two on an empty-netter in the final minute. He scored both goals Saturday against the Falcons and was named the regional tournament’s most outstanding player.
That’s a well-deserved accolade according to Shepard, who in a battle of Mike Richter Award finalists for national goaltender of the year made 22 saves on 23 shots, while Shortridge stopped 23 of 25.
“He’s scored a lot of big goals for us in the last two to three years,” Shepard said of Mackay. “Without that guy, I don’t think this team would be where it is right now.”Quinnipiac 0-0-1-1
Minnesota Duluth 0-1-2-3
First period - No scoring. Penalties - Brogan Rafferty, QU (tripping), 17:23.
Second period - 1. UMD, Peter Krieger 9 (Scott Perunovich, Nick Swaney), 15:12. Penalties - Dylan Samberg, UMD (interference), 4:32; Odeen Tufto, Qu (interference), 13:03.
Third period - 2. UMD, Kobe Roth 8 (Jade Miller, Billy Exell), 14:58; 3. QU, Craig Martin 11 ( Rafferty), 17:57 (pp) (ea); 4. UMD, Parker Mackay 15, 19:03 (en). Penalties - Mikey Anderson, UMD (delay of game), 16:44.
Shots on goal - QU 4-9-12-22; UMD 11-6-6-26. Goalies - Andrew Shortridge, QU (25 shots-23 saves); Hunter Shepard, UMD (22-21). Power plays - QU 1-of-2; UMD 0-of-2. Referees - Chris Ciamaga, Mike Schubert. Linesmen - Brendan Lewis, Joe Sherman. Att. - 3.561.