Less than a decade ago, the University of Minnesota Duluth had more Hobey Baker Award winners than any other program in the country, and still do to this day, now with five. Positioned in a hockey hotbed where the community eats, sleeps and breathes the frozen pond, they were the big dog of the Northland. They had all the intangibles that most college hockey programs would love to duplicate.
But something was still missing.
Not even a decade ago, the Bulldogs were still searching for that elusive first National Championship in men’s hockey.
That is until senior Kyle Schmidt played hero, burying the final goal of his collegiate career past Michigan goalie Shawn Hunwick in overtime, lifting UMD to a 3-2 win in the National Championship at Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul.
A lot has changed for the ‘Dogs since winning their first National Championship in 2011 and finally hanging a banner in the brand new Amsoil Arena. Since that time, the Bulldogs have been a perennial powerhouse.
Over the past nine seasons, the Bulldogs have made the NCAA Tournament seven times (eight times over the past 11 seasons). In those seven appearances, they have made it through to the Frozen Four four times.
After not winning a national title in 66 seasons as an intercollegiate hockey team, UMD will be going for its third championship over the past nine years and try to be the first team to repeat as champions since Denver did it back in 2004-05.
This year’s Bulldogs are as built as any team to hoist the hardware in Buffalo, being very balanced in all three zones as I laid out in my story leading up to regional play.
Game one in Allentown saw the Bulldogs pushed to overtime against No. 15 Bowling Green yet again before captain Parker Mackay scored his second of the night 11:45 into the extra session.
In the second game of the regional, No. 8 Quinnipiac made it close late after a failed clearing attempt allowed the Bobcats to cut the UMD lead to one. But the ‘Dogs finished it off with an empty netter and punched their ticket to the Frozen Four in a 3-1 victory.
— NCAA Ice Hockey (@NCAAIceHockey) April 1, 2019
The recipe for UMD will stay the same as they rely on depth scoring, solid defense and incredible goaltending. A couple Bulldogs specifically will be riding hot streaks into the semifinal game. Junior netminder Hunter Shepard only surrendered two goals in in Allentown, and Mackay will look to continue his scoring spree after tallying three goals in the Midwest Regional.
Head coach Scott Sandelin is up for NCAA Division I Coach of the Year for the third year in a row. You can bet he will have the Bulldogs ready to compete as he always does in the tournament. Sandelin holds the best NCAA Tournament winning percentage of any active coach at .760 with a 19-6 record.
UMD is the highest seed remaining in the tournament and is set for a date with No. 11 Providence on April 11 to kick off the Frozen Four. The Friars knocked off Minnesota State-Mankato 6-3 and Cornell 4-0 in the East Regional. Providence holds the ninth best offense in the nation, scoring 3.22 goals a game and is tied with UMD for fourth in team defense, giving up 1.95 goals against.
If the ‘Dogs can match the balanced attack the Friars are sure to bring, either No. 4 Massachusetts with defensive star Cale Makar or a rematch of the 2017 National Championship with No. 6 Denver will await.
UMass should be the favorite to win their side of the bracket, carrying the third best offensive attack of anyone in the nation, scoring 3.77 per game and while only sitting a spot behind UMD and Providence defensively, holding teams to 1.97 goals per game. Denver falls just a spot lower in seventh place, defensively, averaging 1.98 goals against, but the Pioneers don’t have the same offensive power they typically possess, only scoring 2.80 goals a game.
There is one first the Bulldogs are still looking to achieve, even after the most successful decade in program history. If they can win in Buffalo, it will be the program’s first title won outside of Xcel Energy Center as both the 2011 and 2018 finals were held in St. Paul.
Strangely enough, the Bulldogs also had to beat Notre Dame in both of those trips to the X, knocking off the Fighting Irish in the final game last season and the semifinal game back in 2011.
In a Frozen Four that looks to be battle of great defenses, UMD should fit right in as the favorite to finish atop the college hockey world for the second year in a row, even if the game is being played outside the Minnesota borders.