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NCAA Frozen Four: Bulldogs shrug off disallowed goals in win over Providence

BUFFALO, N.Y. -- On the eve of the 2019 NCAA Frozen Four, Providence coach Nate Leaman credited the adversity his team faced throughout the year for getting them to Buffalo this year.

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Clint Austin / caustin@duluthnews.com Minnesota Duluth coach Scott Sandelin gives instructions to his players during Thursday's NCAA Frozen Four semifinal at KeyBank Center in Buffalo, N.Y.
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BUFFALO, N.Y. - On the eve of the 2019 NCAA Frozen Four, Providence coach Nate Leaman credited the adversity his team faced throughout the year for getting them to Buffalo this year.

It's why the Friars were able to come back from a three-goal deficit in the regional semifinals to beat top-seeded Minnesota State-Mankato.

On Thursday at KeyBank Center, it was the defending national champion Bulldogs drawing on the adversity they faced this season, using it to overcome a pair of disallowed goals in a 4-1 victory over Providence to reach the NCAA championship game for the third consecutive season. UMD will face Massachusetts at 7 p.m. Saturday.

Senior wing Billy Exell - who scored the game-winner midway through the third period after taking a slashing penalty that gave the Friars a two-man advantage - had a goal disallowed midway through the first period in the first national semifinal because the whistle blew well before the puck went in and video review confirmed the call.

No one on UMD was lamenting that call afterward.

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"We knew that first one wasn't going to count, obviously, after the whistle there," UMD senior captain Parker Mackay said. "The second one was tough to swallow a bit."

With less than four minutes to play in the first, freshman wing Cole Koepke appeared to give UMD a 1-0 lead, but his goal was overturned by video review for goaltender interference, a call that drew boos not only for the conclusion made by the Atlantic Hockey officiating crew of Chris Ciamaga and Mike Schubert, but because it took the pair six minutes to decide the minimal contact Koepke made with Providence senior goaltender Hayden Hawkey at the top of the crease was illegal.

The NCAA issued a statement after the game via Twitter saying the contact didn't allow Hawkey to "play the position."

Hawkey didn't seemed to think his team caught a break with the referees' interpretation of the rule.

"I just tried to play it and felt something," Hawkey said, sharing his perspective on the play. "I saw the puck to my right side and tried to reach out and couldn't get there somehow. I don't know if that's what is was or what, but I was trying to battle through it. We got a bounce there."

Mackay acknowledged he and his teammates were frustrated with the call.

"The refs are in a tough spot, too, they're calling a huge game. Credit to them, they did a great job the rest of the game," Mackay said. "But yeah, it was tough. I was pretty frustrated for the last five minutes of that period."

Confusing video reviews like the one that went against Koepke are nothing new to UMD. They've had three go against them in the last nine games.

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In the final series of the regular season, St. Cloud State beat the Bulldogs after an overtime goal was upheld the first night because the kicking motion used to score it was not deemed to be distinct enough. The next night, it appeared UMD junior goaltender Hunter Shepard was interfered with on the game-winner, but video review said no.

Two weeks later, another goaltender interference call went against UMD, disallowing a goal by freshman center Jesse Jacques, a Hermantown native like Koepke.

It's been a rough spring for the Hawks.

As frustrating as the latest overturned goal was, Mackay said he and his teammates were able to draw on the adversity they faced earlier in the season, and not let the bad breaks end their pursuit of back-to-back NCAA championships.

"We realized we need to reset," Mackay said. "We can't let that little momentum swing there dictate the rest of our season. We obviously needed to win the game. We had 40 minutes left and you're not gonna let it stop us."

Dominating the dot

The Bulldogs faced another key moment of adversity Thursday during the opening minutes of the third period when minor penalties by freshman wing Tanner Laderoute and Exell put the Bulldogs at a two-man disadvantage.

UMD killed off both penalties to keep the game tied at 1-1 thanks to some big saves by Shepard and key faceoff wins by sophomore center Justin Richards. He won three of four draws during the two-man disadvantage and finished the night 16-10.

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"He's been one of our best faceoff guys for two years," Sandelin said of Richards. "I tried to get him out there as much as I could to take the draws. He played a lot of minutes on that PK, as did Parker. You go with your best guys. He did a great job, as did all of them."

UMD as a team finished the night with a 40-22 advantage in the faceoff circle, with senior center Peter Krieger going 13-6.

Meanwhile the Friars' top two centermen finished the night a combined 6-21.

"Faceoffs were the big weakness for us in the game," Leaman said. "We were chasing the puck too much, particularly in the third. After they scored, they won some good D-zone faceoffs. Then we just gave them too much time off those faceoffs. We weren't on our toes after we lost it."

Sandelin to the NHL?

At the postgame media conference, some of the chatter focused on Scott Sandelin's future - specifically whether he was eyeing a coaching position in the NHL.

It started when a reporter asked Richards, whose father, Todd Richards, is an assistant coach with the Tampa Bay Lightning: "Can you tell me what makes your coach as successful as he's been and whether you think he might one day be able to coach in the NHL and whether that's coming soon."

Sandelin had a facial reaction.

"I like what I'm doing right here right now," Sandelin said, getting a few laughs.

Later, another reporter asked whether it might get to the point where Sandelin has accomplished everything he can at this level.

"At this minute right now, all I'm worried about is we're playing on Saturday," he said. "You know what, I've got a great job, and you know what, if someday that ever pops up I'll look at it for sure. But right now I've got a great situation. I've got a great group of players and we're playing for a national championship on Saturday."

Co-host of the Bulldog Insider Podcast and college hockey reporter for the Duluth News Tribune and The Rink Live covering the Minnesota Duluth men's and women's hockey programs.
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