Monday, April 11, 2011

National Championship Thoughts - Bulldogs Rule

UMD Turns Away Michigan 3-2 OT for First National Championship

It is the top of the college hockey world. Minnesota – Duluth reached the pinnacle Saturday night with a 3-2 OT win over Michigan Wolverines Xcel Energy Center in Saint Paul.

Kyle Schmidt celebrates his game winning goal with teammates
The first Men’s Hockey National Championship is sweet. The season was a roller coaster, but in the end, UMD won the gems they needed to get into the NCAA Tournament. Once into the tourney, they went on a four game winning streak to capture the crown.

The final game was not at all a lock. Again for the second game in the Frozen Four, UMD’s opponent scored first and took a lead into the first intermission with the 1-0 lead.

The second period went back and forth with the Bulldogs taking their first lead 2-1. But at the end of the period, the Wolverines showed that they were not going to roll over by tying the score at 2-2.

Third period was scoreless leading to overtime. Overtime, the place UMD fans should remember well from the only other Bulldog team to play in a National Championship, an overtime loss to Bowling Green in 1984.

No one could tell this Bulldogs squad that they weren’t going to win it. They were in familiar territory playing in their 15th OT game of the year going 7-2-6 for the season. “We played a lot of overtime games, especially in the beginning of the season,” said freshman J.T. Brown, voted the Most Outstanding Performer of the Frozen Four. “Not always something you want to play, but we found a little knack for getting it done in overtime, and that's one of the things we did pride ourselves going into the overtime period.”

Early in season, we did express some concern on how UMD seemed to wait until the end to tie then rely on OT to win. Brown maybe said it best that it was practice. The Bulldogs worked their plan, right? Anyway, it all worked out in the end.

There were many expectations of this team from the start of the season. With All-American Jack Connolly returning with linemates Justin Fontaine and Mike Connolly, fans and experts expected to see point production and wins stack up. Early in the season they did both in earning the #1 ranking in polls for three weeks in mid-November.

Down the stretch it was the FCC line that scored their share, but they also drew much attention for opponents. That is where the “other” players come in. The overlooked players that very good n their own right, but were “lost” in other team’s gameplans by the FCC line. Players like Brown, Travis Oleksuk and Kyle Schmidt, UMD’s second line. Additionally there were the hard working Mike Seidel and Jake Hendrickson who tallied a few goals, but worked hard when called upon to keep opponents in check.

In the championship, it is fitting that the FCC line did not record a point. The goals were scored from the likes of Travis Oleksuk, Max Tardy (first UMD goal) and Kyle Schmidt. In addition, Brady Lamb contributed three assists.

On the other side of the puck, the team defense has helped propel UMD through the NCAA Tournament to the championship. Kenny Reiter is good, but when the guys in front of him, starting with the defensemen, take their defensive responsibilities, Reiter becomes a very good if not great goalie. No other play than Jack Connolly batting the puck out of the air that was destined for the UMD goal to help the Bulldogs cause. That play and the many team blocked shots are a value that can be easily overlooked.

That is the way UMD has won all season, playing as a team, everyone chipping in. That sense of team is the way that a championship team should be. It is a championship of the whole team, school and Duluth community.

“You win as a team,” said Sandelin. “It’s the beauty of the game.”

National Championship Box Score

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