UMD men's hockey: Bulldogs are back in NCAA tournament to face memorable foe from first title run
In a rematch of the 2011 NCAA championship game in St. Paul, Minnesota Duluth and Michigan will meet in the NCAA Midwest Regional semifinals on Friday in Fargo, North Dakota.
Minnesota Duluth is heading back to the NCAA men’s hockey tournament for a sixth consecutive season and for the 14th time in program history.
The still back-to-back defending NCAA champion Bulldogs, whose sixth-straight tournament berth is the longest active streak in the country, are a No. 3 seed taking on second-seeded Michigan at 3 p.m. Friday in the NCAA Midwest Regional semifinals at Scheels Arena in Fargo, North Dakota.
North Dakota, the regional host, is the No. 1 seed in the regional and top overall seed in the tournament after winning both the NCHC regular and postseason title. The Fighting Hawks will take on No. 4 American International in the second semifinal at 8:30 p.m. Friday.
Bulldogs senior defenseman Louie Roehl said watching this year’s selection show on Sunday night was definitely a different experience than past years due to all the uncertainty, though he’s thankful the bracket was actually released this year after COVID-19 wiped out last season’s tournament.
The bracket is set! 🏒— NCAA Ice Hockey (@NCAAIceHockey) March 21, 2021
“It was a little different, kind of unexpected, not knowing who exactly was going to be seeded where,” Roehl said. “(The seeding) is kind of irrelevant going into the tournament. It just comes down to playing four games. Still an exciting feeling seeing your name pop up there. I couldn’t be more happy for this group.
“It’s something we’ve earned as a team, and it feels good. Our coaching staff is proud of us. I’m proud of our guys, and we’re looking forward to it.”
This year’s NCAA tournament was selected and seeded like it was in the old days. Pandemic scheduling that included little-to-no interconference play crippled the effectiveness of the Pairwise rankings. Instead, it was up to a committee of three college hockey coaches and three college hockey administrators representing these six leagues to put together the 16-team field.
The Bulldogs were unable to nab an automatic bid to the NCAA tournament after losing to St. Cloud State last week in the NCHC Frozen Faceoff semifinals, and while most prognosticators considered UMD a lock, no one was truly 100% sure.
For senior defenseman Matt Anderson, it all reminded him of his freshman year, when the team squeaked into the tournament by one ten-thousandth of a percentage point (.0001).
“It had a weird feeling, kind of similar to freshman year when we didn’t know if we were in,” Anderson said. “Then we did some crunching of the numbers, all of us, and we figured out, ‘OK, we’re probably in here.’”
While the Bulldogs did go 2-5 over their final seven games to post a 14-10-2 record heading into the NCAA tournament, UMD did finish third in the NCHC during the regular season, and they reached the conference tournament semifinals.
Anderson said senior wing Nick Swaney was the team’s lead bracketologist, and the assistant captain liked the fact that UMD finished third in a league — the NCHC — that typically gets at least three teams into the NCAA tournament each year.
“He’s usually right,” Anderson said of Swaney. “He does pretty well in school.”
The NCHC actually landed four teams in the tournament this year, with St. Cloud State and Omaha joining the Bulldogs and Fighting Hawks. The only other league to get as many as the NCHC was the Big 10, who also landed four when Notre Dame snuck into the field as an at-large bid after ECAC postseason champion St. Lawrence had to withdraw from the tournament Sunday due to a positive COVID-19 test result by head coach Brent Brekke.
As for the big winner of Sunday’s selection show, that was the State of Hockey. All five of Minnesota’s NCAA Division I men’s hockey programs received bids to the tournament for the first time in NCAA history. The at-large bid for the Beavers ends an 11-year drought for the program.
“I think it’s awesome. It's great for our state,” Bulldogs coach Scott Sandelin said. “It's great for all the guys, the coaches, because they're all good guys, and they're friends of mine. I'm just glad we won't see any of them until later.”
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The Bulldogs have now received bids to eight of the last 10 NCAA tournaments. If not for COVID-19 wiping out last year’s NCAA tournament — the Bulldogs were considered a lock and in contention for a No. 1 seed — Friday would have been UMD’s seventh-straight NCAA tournament appearance.
UMD is riding an eight-game NCAA tournament winning streak and has posted a 13-3 record in the national tournament dating back to 2015. UMD has also won three-straight regional titles and appeared in the last three national championship games (2017, 2018, 2019).
Since coach Scott Sandelin took over in 2000, the Bulldogs are 21-6 in the NCAA tournament, with the three national titles in 2011, 2018 and 2019. That first title for Sandelin and the Bulldogs came over Michigan in 2011 via a 3-2 overtime win over the Wolverines at Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul.
Mel Pearson, the former Michigan assistant coach and head coach of Michigan Tech, has since taken over the Wolverines from Red Berenson. Michigan, back in the NCAA tournament for the first time since reaching the 2018 Frozen Four in St. Paul, comes into the tournament with a 15-10-1 record after finishing third in the Big 10 during the regular season and losing in the conference semifinals to Minnesota in overtime last week.
“Speed — they play up and down,” Sandelin said of the Wolverines. “Mel’s teams and Michigan in general has always played with a lot of pace and tempo. They have a lot of high-end talent there.”
2021 NCAA men’s hockey tournament
2. Michigan vs. 3. Minnesota Duluth, 3 p.m. (ESPNU)
1. North Dakota vs. 4. AIC, 8:30 p.m. (ESPN3)
Semifinal winners, 5:30 p.m. (ESPNU)
1. Wisconsin vs. 4. Bemidji State, noon (ESPN2)
2. UMass vs. 3. Lake Superior State, 5:30 p.m. (ESPNU)
Semifinal winners, 3 p.m. (ESPNU)
1. Minnesota vs. 4. Omaha, 8 p.m. (ESPNU)
2. Minnesota State vs. 3. Quinnipiac, 3 p.m. (ESPN3)
Semifinal winners, 7 p.m. (ESPN2)
1. Boston College vs. 4. Notre Dame, noon (ESPNews)
2. St. Cloud State vs. 3. Boston University, 5:30 p.m. (ESPNews)
Semifinal winners, 4:30 p.m. (ESPN2)
Coming Monday, The Rink Live reporters Brad Schlossman, Matt Wellens, Jess Myers, Austin Monteith, Jason Feldman and Mick Hatten will be together on TheRinkLive.com podcast to discuss the 16-team NCAA Division I men's hockey tournament field.
This story was updated at 8:45 p.m. with more information and comments from the Bulldogs. It was originally published at 6:17 p.m. on March 21, 2021.