NCAA Frozen Four: Another year, another fun final practice for the Bulldogs
BUFFALO, N.Y. — No matter the sport, or even the level, rarely does a team know when it's final practice or game of the season will take place.
Minnesota Duluth has been the exception to that rule the past three seasons, once again playing for the NCAA title Saturday, this time against Massachusetts at 7 p.m. at KeyBank Center.
As is custom at the Frozen Four, the two remaining teams — the Bulldogs and Minutemen — held their final practice of the season Friday afternoon in preparation for the championship game. It's the Bulldogs' third time holding their last practice of the season at the Frozen Four after losing in the 2017 NCAA title game to Denver in Chicago and beating Notre Dame in last year's championship in St. Paul.
Like the previous two final Fridays, the Bulldogs began with a game of three-puck, then ran some drills before closing things off with an Afternoon Hockey League game that was cut short due to time constraints.
"Today is a little bit unique just because guys are really excited," Sandelin said Friday. "I just want to get them out there, get them moving. Again, have some fun out there, not make them think too much right now. They'll get dialed in later tonight and tomorrow.
"Today they're still enjoying it a little bit. You want them to have fun out there, too."
For seniors such as wings Parker Mackay and Billy Exell, center Peter Krieger and goaltender Nick Deery, Friday wasn't just their final practice of the season. It was their final practice as Bulldogs.
That's something that hadn't dawned on Mackay until he was asked about it after practice wrapped up.
"I actually didn't even think about it, to be honest, but anytime you know it's your last practice, obviously you're having a successful season," Mackay said. "It was fun, especially with it being the magnitude that it is the day before the national championship game.
"I'll let it sink in a bit, but I had a lot of fun out there. We won the game of three-puck — that's huge — and we won a game of AHL."
After four straight days of juggling a jumbled schedule rarely seen by teams throughout the regular season, Sandelin said Saturday's championship schedule for his team will be as normal as it gets.
Like they would for a regular-season game, the team will start with breakfast and hold a morning skate. They'll return to the team hotel and watch a bit of video before shutting things down for the afternoon. The 8 p.m. Eastern start is a little later than normal — Sandelin said he'd prefer 6 p.m. — but when you consider that's 7 p.m. Central, Saturday will be pretty close to a normal gameday for the Bulldogs.
• There was nothing normal about Massachuset's day on Thursday as it bled into Friday. Their 4-3 overtime win over Denver ended at 12:02 a.m. ET, making it the latest calendar date for an NCAA semifinal to end. The Minutemen were back at KeyBank Center 11 hours later.
Coach Greg Carvel admitted he passed off pre-scouting duties to his assistants last night and Friday morning. Meanwhile the head coach said he spent his morning rescheduling a family vacation to Florida that he booked back in September. The flights were scheduled for the night of April 13 — Saturday, the night of the national championship. He didn't realize that, thought the season would be over, and only picked that date because his kids are off from school next week.
"It was the happiest $200 per flight charge I'll ever make," Carvel said. "But that's been the biggest stress in my family. 'How are we going to get to Florida?' I said, 'We're going to Buffalo and hopefully stay there.' That consumed an hour of my morning, but that's all set. We got a couple days before I got to worry about that."
• The Bulldogs will be the eighth team to appear in three-straight national championship games, joining Boston College (2006-08), Lake Superior State (1992-94), Wisconsin (1981-83), Michigan Tech and Minnesota (1974-76) and Michigan twice (1955-57, 51-53).