UMD men's hockey: Bulldogs ready to begin another postseason run at NCHC Frozen Faceoff

Minnesota Duluth, winners of 12-straight postseason games and the reigning NCHC and NCAA postseason champions, opens the NCHC Frozen Faceoff at 7:37 p.m. Saturday against Western Michigan in Grand Forks, North Dakota.

Minnesota Duluth's Tanner Laderoute (13) and Jesse Jacques (18) celebrate after the Bulldogs defeated St. Cloud State 3-2 in double overtime in the 2019 NCHC Frozen Faceoff Championship at Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul. After the COVID-19 pandemic wiped out last year's tournament, UMD looks to defend its conference postseason title this time in Grand Forks, North Dakota. Clint Austin / File / The Rink Live

Minnesota Duluth capped the regular season last Saturday by losing for the fourth time in five games, falling 4-3 in overtime at St. Cloud State despite rallying from an early 3-0 deficit.

While it was by no means the way Bulldogs coach Scott Sandelin prefered the final game of the regular season to go, he did learn something important about his team that afternoon in St. Cloud.

“When you get down 3-0, you don’t know which way it’s going to go,” Sandelin said. “That told me a little bit more about our team. We do have the guys that understand.”

The resilience and unwillingness to quit on a game where no titles were on the line, just postseason seeding, left an impression on the Bulldogs’ three-time national championship coach, but he’d rather see his team “start on time” over the next five weeks.


The 2020-21 postseason gets underway at 7:37 p.m. Saturday for UMD with an NCHC Frozen Faceoff quarterfinal game against Western Michigan at Ralph Engelstad Arena. It’s the first of what the Bulldogs hope to be three games in four days in Grand Forks, North Dakota.

With the COVID-19 pandemic wiping out the 2019-20 postseason — and changing this year’s Frozen Faceoff from a two-day, four-team tournament at Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul to an eight-team, five-day tourney at the home of the Fighting Hawks — the Bulldogs are still the NCHC’s reigning postseason champions, and reigning back-to-back NCAA national champions.

UMD has won 12-consecutive postseason games dating back to the start of their 2017-18 national championship run and trailed in just three of those games. The biggest deficit was 2-0 to Minnesota State-Mankato after the first period of the 2018 West Regional semifinals in Sioux Falls, South Dakota.

“It's a tough, tough road to go,” Sandelin said of playing from behind. “Playing catch-up hockey against teams at this time of the year is something you don't want to do a lot of. You might trail 1-0 or 2-0, but if you start getting down three, it makes it tough to climb back in.”

Minnesota Duluth's Nick Swaney (23) scores the game winning goal against St. Cloud State goaltender Dávid Hrenák (34) in double overtime of the 2019 NCHC Frozen Faceoff Championship at Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul. Clint Austin / File / The Rink Live

The Bulldogs still have 13 players on the roster from the 2018-19 team that won the last NCHC Frozen Faceoff in double overtime against St. Cloud — one of the three games UMD trailed in over its 12-straight postseason wins — and the 2019 NCAA championship in Buffalo, New York.


Six players — Nick Swaney, Kobe Roth, Kobe Bender, Louie Roehl, Matt Anderson and Ben Patt — remain from the 2018 national championship team, and senior graduate transfer Matt Cairns played in a pair of ECAC and NCAA tournaments during his three years at Cornell.

But thanks to the pandemic cutting last season short, 10 Bulldogs freshmen and sophomores have absolutely no postseason experience at the college level. Sandelin said it’s an excited group, especially the sophomores, who were a little over 24 hours away from playing their first postseason game last March when COVID-19 shut down the sports world and canceled the Bulldogs’ home playoff series against Miami.

Sandelin said he is looking to his older players to keep the younger ones calm and focused.

Noah Cates (21), Ben Patt (36), Tanner Laderoute (13) and Jackson Cates (20) of Minnesota Duluth celebrate after defeating Massachusetts 3-0 the 2019 NCAA Championship at the KeyBank Center in Buffalo, New York. They are four of 13 Bulldogs who remain on the roster from that team. Clint Austin / File / The Rink Live

“Our juniors and seniors have obviously been able to experience a lot with winning championships,” Anderson said. “It's just kind of exciting to be able to show them what it's like and for them to get these new experiences of playing playoff hockey.”

Bulldogs junior wing and captain Noah Cates remembers what it was like to be a freshman in 2018-19 and getting ready to play his first collegiate postseason games, on a team that was beginning its quest to win back-to-back national championships.

What stood out to Cates was the demeanor and attitude of the upperclassmen. Everyone was dialed in, but at the same time loose.


“They didn't say too much, it was kind of just how they acted, their demeanor,” Cates said. “You knew it was a big game, but we kind of had the same mentality all year, maybe just a little more focus with a little more on the line.”

Broncos coming in hot

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Minnesota Duluth goaltender Ryan Fanti (39) passes the puck from behind the net before Western Michigan forward Ethen Frank (26) can get to it in the first period Saturday, Jan. 23, at Amsoil Arena. (Tyler Schank / File /

While the Bulldogs lost four of their last five regular season games, Western Michigan has won five-straight by following a 5-4 overtime victory at St. Cloud State with sweeps of UMD and Miami.

The Bulldogs originally swept the Broncos on Jan. 23-24 at Amsoil Arena in Duluth, winning 5-1 and 4-1 while holding Western to 1-for-7 on the power play. Three weeks later on Feb. 12-13 at Lawson Ice Arena in Kalamazoo, Michigan, the Broncos went 4-for-6 on the power play to beat the Bulldogs 4-0 and 4-1.

UMD’s penalty kill has given up a goal in each of the last five games, and is 8-for-15 in that span. Meanwhile, the power play isn’t doing much better, going 0-for-14 over the last five contests.

“We got to get those guys going and get them doing their jobs,” Sandelin said.

The Bulldogs power play finished 2-for-10 against the Broncos during the regular season, but Andy Murray’s teams have never been easy to score against whether you’re at even strength or on the man advantage.

Western never gives the opposition much room to work, especially when you visit Lawson Ice Arena, the Bulldogs said.

“They're a fast team, heavy team,” Cates said. “They play north and they play quick. We have to try to counter that and play our game down low and hold pucks, possess pucks.”


Added Anderson: “They are good with their sticks, they work hard. We got to expect that pressure and just battle through it and match their battle level, and the outcome will be what it will be.”
Sandelin praised the Broncos “talented forwards,” specifically senior wing Ethan Frank, who leads the team with 12 goals in 23 games.

The highest praise came for Broncos sophomore defenseman and leading scorer, Ronnie Attard, the All-NCHC First Team defenseman and NCHC Offensive Defenseman of the Year. Attard posted eight goals and 14 assists in 24 games this season and reminded Sandelin of a certain Hobey Baker Memorial Award winner the Bulldogs had patrolling the blue line the previous three seasons.

“He had a tremendous year,” Sandelin said. “He’s an offensive threat. He’s like our (Scott) Perunovich was last year — a bigger version. He’s involved in the offense and can defend.”

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Western Michigan defenseman Ronnie Attard (7) checks St. Cloud State forward Sam Hentges (19) in the third period Wednesday, Dec. 9, 2020, at Baxter Arena in the NCHC Pod in Omaha. Tyler Schank / File / The Rink Live

The OmaPod Mini

The NCHC opened the season by playing 38 games in 21 days at Baxter Arena in Omaha, Nebraska. Now the league closes 2020-21 by playing seven games in five days in Grand Forks.

The quarterfinals are split up over two days, with No. 7 Colorado College and No. 2 St. Cloud State opening the tournament at 2:37 p.m. Friday, followed by No. 8 Miami and No. 1 North Dakota at 7:37 p.m. On Saturday, No. 5 Denver and No. 4 Omaha play at 2:37 p.m. before the Bulldogs and Broncos in the evening.

The tournament will be reseeded for the semifinals, which take place at 3:06 and 8:06 p.m. on Monday. The championship is scheduled for 7:37 p.m. on Tuesday.

By missing out on second place last Saturday in St. Cloud, the Bulldogs will have to win three games in four days to remain the reigning NCHC postseason champions and nab the league’s automatic berth to the NCAA tournament.

Going into the Pod in Omaha, fatigue was a major concern for all eight teams, with everyone playing between 8-10 games in a three-week span, including three games in four days at some point.

Will Sandelin again be budgeting his resources to survive the first leg of this month’s postseason sprint?

“Hell no. It’s go time, man,” Sandelin said. “You can’t worry about it. You got to win the games. You do whatever you can to win the games. If you got to shorten the bench, you got to play certain guys more or less, whatever it takes. It doesn’t matter because you can’t hope that you have another day. You got to have that mentality.”

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North Dakota (above) and Minnesota Duluth players stand as the National Anthem is played before the start of their game Saturday, Dec. 19, 2020, at Baxter Arena in the NCHC Pod in Omaha. (Tyler Schank / File /

Minnesota Duluth at NCHC Frozen Faceoff

At Ralph Engelstad Arena, Grand Forks, North Dakota

Quarterfinals: UMD vs. Western Michigan

7:37 p.m. Saturday


Twitter: Follow News Tribune college hockey reporter Matt Wellens

Live Blog: The Rink Live provides updates throughout the game, starting an hour before puck drop .


Online streaming: (subscription required)

TV: My 9 Sports


Radio: KDAL 610 AM/103.9 FM

Semifinals and championship

  • If the Bulldogs advance to the semifinals, they'll play at either 3:06 p.m. or 8:06 p.m. on Monday, March 15.
  • The NCHC Frozen Faceoff championship is scheduled for 7:37 p.m. on Tuesday, March 16


Twitter: Follow News Tribune college hockey reporter Matt Wellens

Live Blog: The Rink Live provides updates throughout the game, starting an hour before puck drop .


Online streaming: CBS Sports Network (subscription required)

TV: CBS Sports Network


Radio: KDAL 610 AM/103.9 FM

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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