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We meet again: 2017 NCAA title combatants Denver, UMD set for another rematch at NCHC Frozen Faceoff

For the fifth time this season, the college hockey world will be treated to a rematch of the 2017 NCAA championship game. Third-seeded and defending NCHC postseason champion Minnesota Duluth will take on second-seeded and defending NCAA champion ...

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Minnesota Duluth senior wing Karson Kuhlman (20) controls the puck against Denver's Michael Davies (21) on Dec. 1 at Amsoil Arena in Duluth. The Bulldogs and Pioneers will meet for a fifth time this season Friday in the semifinals of the NCHC Frozen Faceoff at Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul. Clint Austin / caustin@duluthnews.com
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For the fifth time this season, the college hockey world will be treated to a rematch of the 2017 NCAA championship game.

Third-seeded and defending NCHC postseason champion Minnesota Duluth will take on second-seeded and defending NCAA champion Denver at 7:38 p.m. Friday in the second semifinal of the NCHC Frozen Faceoff at the Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul, with top-seeded St. Cloud State and fourth-seeded North Dakota meeting in the first semifinal at 4:08 p.m.

The Pioneers (20-9-8), who needed three games to get by Colorado College in the quarterfinals, have won five straight against UMD (21-14-3) going back to last year's Frozen Four title game at United Center in Chicago.

Six of the last seven games between the Bulldogs and Pioneers dating back to last season have been decided by a single goal and the one game that wasn't was a two-goal Bulldogs victory thanks to an empty netter.

Denver swept UMD during the 2017-18 regular season, winning 1-0 and 2-1 Dec. 1-2 in Duluth and 1-0 and 4-3 Feb. 2-3 in Colorado. Since then, the Bulldogs have won seven of eight games, including five via shutouts.

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"Our team has had some really good moments. We've played well and defensively we've done a better job," UMD coach Scott Sandelin said Saturday after his Bulldogs swept Western Michigan 5-0 and 2-0 in an NCHC quarterfinal series at Amsoil Arena. "We've been scoring some goals, we've had different guys score goals, just like (Saturday) again. That's what it's going to take. We've got to do it again by committee and we've got to play strong defensively. Hopefully our special teams can keep doing what they're doing."

In their last eight games, the Bulldogs power play has gone 10-of-34 (29.4 percent) and the penalty kill went 31-of-33 (93.9 percent). On the season, the power play is 24.7 percent (second in the NCHC) while the penalty kill is a league-best 84.7 percent.

Sophomore goaltender Hunter Shepard has been especially tough to beat with a .973 save percentage and 0.63 goals against average in the last eight games. His .927 save percentage on the season is now tied with Denver senior goalie Tanner Jaillet atop the league while the 1.92 GAA for the Cohasset native is two hundredths back of Jaillet.

"He's seeing everything," UMD senior captain Karson Kuhlman said of Shepard. "It's awesome, we have to keep him going."

The losers of Friday's NCHC semifinals will play at 3:38 p.m. on Saturday at Xcel Energy Center while the winners play for the NCHC championship at 7:38 p.m. at Xcel.

North Dakota reached the semifinals via a sweep of Nebraska-Omaha while regular season champion St. Cloud State needed overtime on Sunday to beat last-place Miami in three games.

Mackay makes his return

The Bulldogs got one of its two captains back Saturday in junior wing Parker Mackay, who had missed eight-straight games with an undisclosed injury going back to a Feb. 2-3 series at Denver.

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Mackay, the Bulldogs assistant captain, has eight goals and nine assists in 29 games this season. Playing alongside senior wing Blake Young and freshman center Justin Richards on Saturday, Mackay had one shot on goal, one blocked shot and an even plus/minus rating in his return.

"He's a leader for us, a key guy. It's nice to get him in there and get that energy in the room," Sandelin said. "He played a great game for not having played in awhile. He got some penalty kill time, 5-on-5 he did a really good job. To me he looked like a leader out there (Saturday). Hopefully he gets some confidence moving forward into the rest of the playoffs."

Mackay was held out of Friday's game after practicing all week with the team, but in a non-contact jersey. The Bulldogs turned to Mackay on Saturday when freshman wing Kobe Roth was ruled out due to what Sandelin said he hopes is a short-term injury.

"It felt good. It was good to get that one out of the way," Mackay said of his first game back. "I don't think we planned it to be (Saturday) but with Kobe being out, it was good to be back for sure."

Roth appeared in 18-straight games since Christmas before missing Saturday's win over Western, posting four goals and four assists in that span.

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Minnesota Duluth junior wing Parker Mackay (39) is upended by Denver's Tariq Hammond (3) on Dec. 2 at Amsoil Arena in Duluth. The Bulldogs and Pioneers will meet for a fifth time this season Friday in the semifinals of the NCHC Frozen Faceoff at Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul. Clint Austin / caustin@duluthnews.com

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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