FARGO, N.D. — Minnesota Duluth’s quest to three-peat as NCAA champions — delayed by a year because of the COVID-19 pandemic — will continue next week at the NCAA Frozen Four on April 8-10 in Pittsburgh after a marathon five-overtime win over top-seeded North Dakota this weekend.
The Bulldogs will play Massachusetts on April 8 at PPG Paints Arena in a rematch of the 2019 NCAA championship game in Buffalo, won 3-0 by UMD.
In a 6 hour, 12-minute game that began at 6:30 p.m. on Saturday and ended at 12:42 a.m. Sunday, freshman wing Luke Mylymok scored 2:13 into the fifth overtime to give the Bulldogs a 3-2 win and end the longest game in NCAA men’s or women’s hockey tournament history at 142 minutes, 13 seconds.
Junior center Jackson Cates and junior wing Cole Koepke gave the Bulldogs a 2-0 lead in the opening five minutes of the third period Saturday, however, Fighting Hawks senior forwards Collin Adams and Jordan Kawaguchi tied the game with extra-attacker goals in the final two minutes of the third period to force overtime.
UMD celebrated while North Dakota mourned a game-winning goal by senior wing Kobe Roth off a feed by senior wing Kobe Bender 7:33 into the first overtime, however, the goal was reviewed and disallowed after video showed Bender went offside while reaching back for the puck on the zone entry.
In just his eighth career start, freshman goaltender Zach Stejskal made 57 saves for UMD. He had to depart after 124:37. Sophomore Ryan Fanti played the final 17:36 and stopped all six shots he faced. North Dakota senior goaltender Adam Scheel finished with 51 saves.
Below are a pair of thumbs up — How can anyone give a thumbs down from that game for either side? — from the historic regional final by News Tribune college hockey writer Matt Wellens, plus his three stars of the night/morning.
Thumbs up to UMD freshman wing Luke Mylymok
A 5-foot-11, 183-pound winger from Boise, Idaho, who had played in just 10 games prior to Saturday and Sunday’s regional final, Mylymok was originally “ecstatic” just to be in the lineup against North Dakota. He even admitted to being a bit emotional about the opportunity.
Mylymok appeared to have cracked the Bulldogs lineup out of the NCHC Pod in Omaha, playing five consecutive games between Dec. 19 and Jan. 9, even picking up his first collegiate goal on Jan. 8 against St. Cloud State.
But then the UMD men’s hockey program was shut down for 10 days because of a positive COVID-19 test result. Mylymok dressed for only three of the final 11 regular season games and neither game at the NCHC Frozen Faceoff in Grand Forks, North Dakota.
Paired with fellow freshman wing Blake Biondi and sophomore center Luke Loheit, Mylymok’s line saw semi-regular shifts during the first and second periods. By the third period, however, they became spectators, with only Loheit getting periodic shifts to spell teammates on the top three lines.
But Mylymok was not discouraged.
“You just try to be a good teammate on the bench, making your voice heard and letting the guys know you’re there for them even though you’re not playing,” he said. “That’s the biggest part when you’re in a role like that. You want the boys to know you’re with them 100 percent of the way, and we were. You try to be a huge energy guy.”
Early in the fourth overtime, after rolling the top three lines almost exclusively for four consecutive periods, Bulldogs coach Scott Sandelin began throwing Biondi and Mylymok out on the ice more, as well as Loheit. At first, they went out to quickly spell a teammate here and there. By the end of the game’s seventh period, they were back together as a line.
“The way our guys were, we felt we had to get those guys out there, whether they were a line or whether they were spotting for somebody,” Sandelin said. “By the fifth (OT), we said we were going to plan on getting those guys a regular shift. I think that helped our other guys.”
Mylymok, Biondi and Loheit were all on the ice together for the game-winning goal. Mylymok picked up a loose puck along the boards and carried it out of the UMD defensive zone while Biondi raced to catch up, creating a two-on-two scenario against the two Hawks defenders hanging back to prevent any breakaways. Biondi, trailing, drew one defender his way while Mylymok went up against Hawks junior defenseman Jacob Bernard-Docker.
When Mylymok got to the top of the faceoff circle, he heard his teammates on the bench yelling, “Shoot! Shoot!” He used Bernard-Docker as a screen and ripped a shot through the defensemen’s legs and through the five-hole of Scheel to set off a second game-winning celebration for UMD.
“You realize not playing a lot, your legs are fresh, so I knew I had to get some speed going into the shot and use the (defenseman) as a screen because I was pretty far out,” Mylymok said. “I pulled it in and shot it. It went five hole. You’re not looking for five hole, but you’ll take what you can get.”
Koepke said the goal was a nice reward for a group of guys who had their teammates’ backs all night on the ice and on the bench.
“For awhile, their line wasn’t getting a lot of playing time, and no one wants to sit on the bench during that,” Koepke said. “When they got their chance, they went out there. Their line was standing up on the bench the whole time being great teammates.”
MORE FROM FARGO FROM THE RINK LIVE:
- Bulldog beat North Dakota in longest NCAA tournament game ever to reach fourth-straight Frozen Four
- North Dakota's season comes to excruciating end in longest NCAA tournament game ever
- Bulldogs advance to regional final after Michigan withdraws due to COVID-19
Thumbs up to the Sandelin family
The Saturday-Sunday regional final was not the first roller coaster of a hockey game Scott Sandelin endured this weekend.
Prior to the Bulldogs’ game against North Dakota in Fargo, he was watching his son, Ryan, play for Minnesota State-Mankato in a regional semifinal against Quinnipiac in Loveland, Colorado. When he stopped watching his son’s game to prepare for his, the Mavericks were down 3-1 in the third period.
Dad later got a text that the Mavs had tied the game to force overtime, and then that they prevailed 4-3 in OT. Scott Sandelin said equipment manager Chris Garner made sure the coach saw the highlight of the game-winner, scored by his son, Ryan.
“I know my wife is happy. It was a good day. Good day for the Sandelins,” Scott Sandelin said. “Pretty cool, pretty cool for him to get that goal. Any time anybody scores an overtime goal like Luke there, they are special moments.”
For the Mavericks, Saturday was their first NCAA tournament win in seven tries after falling to 0-6 two years ago when they lost as a No. 1 seed to No. 4 Providence in Providence, Rhode Island. On Sunday, the Mavs got their second NCAA tournament win, beating Minnesota 4-0 to advance to the Frozen Four for the first time in school history.
Ryan Sandelin — a sophomore out of Hermantown — scored again Sunday to give Minnesota State a 2-0 lead over the Gophers in the first period. He's now 2-0 in the NCAA tournament as a player.
The son still has a long way to catch Dad. Scott Sandelin improved to 22-6 all-time as a coach in the NCAA tournament on Sunday morning, with his program winning its ninth-consecutive NCAA tournament game and fourth-straight regional title.
Even with three national championship victories, Scott Sandelin said the five overtime win over North Dakota will rank toward the top for his career.
“It was just phenomenal,” he said. “It probably goes along with the whole year. It was certainly a unique game.”
Matt’s Three Stars
3. North Dakota senior forward Collin Adams: Adams was voted the most outstanding player of the tournament after finishing with three goals. His biggest was the extra-attacker goal with 1:41 remaining in regulation against UMD.
2. UMD freshman goaltender Zach Stejskal: The Bulldogs started a goaltender from Cohasset, Minnesota, for the ninth consecutive NCAA tournament game and improved to 9-0 with a former Grand Rapids Thunderhawk in net. While not as refined as his predecessor, Hunter Shepard, Stejskal used his athleticism to make 57 saves and keep college hockey’s most dangerous offense at bay.
1. UMD freshman wing Luke Mylymok: Two years ago, the Bulldogs got a couple big goals from senior fourth-ling wing Billy Exell to win the NCHC Frozen Faceoff and NCAA championship. Now it’s Mylymok joining the cast of unsung heroes for UMD during the postseason.
Honorable mention: UMD sophomore goaltender Ryan Fanti: The Thunder Bay native only had to make six saves in 17:36 of relief work, but Fanti was called upon to play in the fourth overtime of an NCAA regional final nearly six hours after warming up. UMD took the ice for warmups at around 5:55 p.m. Saturday and Fanti took over the net just past midnight Sunday.
This story was updated at 9:36 p.m. on March 28 following the conclusion of the regional final in Loveland. It was originally published at 5:15 p.m. on March 28.