A powerful victory for UMD
ST. PAUL – As media member after media member asked Minnesota-Duluth’s players about the team's effective power play, Bulldogs defenseman Justin Faulk was waiting for a different question to be asked.
UMD scored on three of its first four man advantages at the Xcel Energy Center on Thursday and finished 3-for-5 on the power play, the obvious difference in a 4-3 victory against Notre Dame in a NCAA Frozen Four men’s hockey national semifinal game.
Finally, the question Faulk was waiting for was directed his way, and he couldn’t help but smile as he answered. As important as Faulk, a freshman defenseman from South St. Paul, is to UMD’s power play, he’s equally valuable to the Bulldogs penalty kill. And one quick glance at the stat sheet shows just how valuable UMD’s penalty-killing units were on Thursday. The Bulldogs held Notre Dame scoreless on five attempts and allowed just two shots on goal while killing those penalties.
"We pressured the puck and didn’t make it easy for them to get through the neutral zone," said Faulk, who assisted on three of UMD’s goals, including a pair of power play goals. "When they did get into the zone we kept pressuring them along the wall and our guys sacrificed their bodies for the team, dropped and blocked some shots."
UMD’s efficient special teams are the reason the Bulldogs (25-10-6) will play in the national championship game for just the second time in school history. They’ll meet Michigan at 6 p.m. Saturday in search of their first national title.
UMD’s previous appearance in the championship game, 27 years ago, ended in heartbreaking fashion. The Bulldogs lost to Bowling Green, 5-4, in four overtimes in the 1984 title game at Lake Placid, N.Y.
If UMD is to have a different outcome this time, its special teams will have to continue to play at a high level. Through three games in the NCAA tournament, the Bulldogs have scored 11 goals. Eight of those have come courtesy of their special teams; seven on the power play, one short-handed.
"The power play has been huge for us," said UMD junior center Jack Connolly, who scored the game winning goal 5:51 into the second period. "We drew penalties by moving our feet and working hard. The five of us who are out there on the power play, we feel like we’re out there for a reason. We owe it to our team to create some momentum and put the puck in the net."
Notre Dame (25-14-5) took leads of 1-0 and 2-1 in the first period, on goals by Jeff Costello and T.J. Tynan, but UMD answered each time, as J.T. Brown and Kyle Schmidt scored within three minutes of each Fighting Irish goal. Mike Connolly added a power play goal at 13:31 of the first to give UMD the lead for good.
"It was obvious, people could see the game, it was dictated by one thing – special teams," Notre Dame coach Jeff Jackson said. "Duluth has an exceptional power play and we couldn’t generate anything on our power play."
While UMD excelled on the power play, Notre Dame got back into the game while killing a penalty. Calle Ridderwall scored shorthanded 2:05 into the third to pull the Fighting Irish within 4-3, but Notre Dame couldn’t get another shot past Bulldogs goalie Kenny Reiter, despite outshooting UMD 15-2 in the final period.
"The third period wasn't our best," Bulldogs coach Scott Sandelin said, "but we got some gutsy performances. We built a lead, held on and found a way to get to Saturday night."