Frozen Four Final: Notre Dame & Minnesota-Duluth

There is something about college hockey that is so entertaining. Maybe it’s the number of teams across the nation fighting for supremacy. Maybe it’s the lack of stardom, setting the stage for young players to make a name for themselves as they forge their path to professional hockey careers. Maybe it’s the speed and sheer unpredictability of the game.

Or maybe it’s all of those things. Hockey fans got a fair dose of those three attributes on Thursday night as the University of Minnesota-Duluth (UMD) held out against Ohio State University (OSU) while Notre Dame broke the hearts of the University of Michiganboth matches decided by just one goal. It was a Frozen Four that will surely be remembered for some time for a plethora of reasons.

Notre Dame & Michigan’s Wild Finale

The game between the Fighting Irish and Wolverines was decided by a few secondsliterally. With just 5.2 seconds left, Montreal Canadiens prospect Jake Evans put home a one-timer to clinch an NCAA Championship Game berth.

Sophomore Cam Morrison, a Colorado Avalanche prospect, received a pass from Evans as Notre Dame broke out of its own zone. He was forced to the left side of the net by Michigan junior Joseph Cecconi but curled a no-look pass into the slot. Evans was able to beat freshman Quinn Hughes to the puck and bury it through both the defenseman and goaltender Hayden Lavigne’s legs to give the Fighting Irish the 4-3 victory.

But what made these dying seconds of the matchup so awestriking was how tight the game was for 59 minutes and 55 seconds. Just over eight minutes into the game, Michigan struck first. Senior captain Tony Calderone received the puck in the corner and curved to the left faceoff dot where he ripped one through a screen, beating sophomore goaltender Cale Morris.

Just 17 seconds into the second period, the Wolverines stole some luck of the Irish. Senior forward Dexter Dancs skated along the boards to the left side of the zone. Being closed in on by two Notre Dame players, the Vancouver native threw the puck on net where it deflected off a Fighting Irish defenseman in front and found the twine.

Notre Dame Scores Three Unanswered

But Notre Dame kept its cool. Just two-and-a-half minutes later, Cecconi took a penalty for holding, setting up a Fighting Irish power play that was ranked No. 10 in the nation entering play. After winning the faceoff, Notre Dame got the puck back to the point where a slap shot was blocked by Michigan senior defenseman Sam Piazza. The puck deflected to junior Andrew Oglevie at the top of the left circle. He sent a pass down to Evans who sent it back to Oglevie, allowing him to rip a wrist shot into the back of Michigan’s net to bring the Fighting Irish within one.

That’s when the game changed. Notre Dame, who seemed to be in over their heads during the first frame, suddenly started building up some momentum. Under four minutes later, the Irish tied the game at two apiece. With a screen in front, Evans was able to rifle a one-timer home from the point.

Notre Dame Fighting Irish Forward Jake Evans
Jake Evans celebrating his second-period game-tying goal against the Michigan Wolverines. (Brad Rempel-USA TODAY Sports)

Midway through the second period, Notre Dame took two penalties but Michigan was unable to capitalize on either of them. Just over a minute into the third frame, the Fighting Irish took a 3-2 lead. Sophomore Cal Burke pulled a veteran move by fending off the stick of a Michigan defenseman giving himself just enough space to send home a one-timer off a pass from junior Dylan Malmquist.

With just over five minutes remaining in the game, the Wolverines found themselves in desperation mode. In fact, they outshot Notre Dame 11-4 in the final frame. Hughes kept the puck in at the blueline, maintaining Michigan’s possession. Shortly thereafter, freshman Michael Pastujov found a gift in the slot but was stuffed by Morris. The rebound found its way into Fighting Irish skates in front where Pastujov was given another shot, and he made it count. Michigan had tied the game 3-3.

Then, of course, just as everyone watching thought the game was destined for overtime, Evans buried his second goal of the game to win it for Notre Dame. Madness ensued, as Evan streaked toward the Fighting Irish bench to celebrate with his teammates. It was their fifth game in the tournament in which the team scored the game-winning goal with less than a minute remaining in the contest.

If this game showed us anything, it is that Notre Dame refuses to be disheartened by a slow start and has the tenacity to score when it counts. Minnesota-Duluth will have to push hard for 60 minutes if it hopes to defeat the Fighting Irish and win the National Title.

Minnesota-Duluth’s Lightning-Fast Start

The Minnesota-Duluth Bulldogs kicked off the Final Four matchups on Thursday night against the Ohio State Buckeyes. The Minnesota faithful were lifted from their seats early with a goal by freshman defenseman Louie Roehl under two minutes into the first frame. With a broken stick, OSU junior defenseman Tommy Parran was left helpless in front of the net. Recognizing that the Bulldogs were virtually on a power play, Roehl snuck in behind a Buckeye guarding the point and rifled home a goal from the right face-off circle.

It was only 71 seconds later that UMD senior Jared Thomas stiffened the lead to 2-0. The Hermantown, Minnesota native pressured OSU’s sophomore defenseman Matt Miller into a turnover. Thomas was then sprung on a breakaway by senior captain Karson Kuhlman, and Thomas made good on the opportunity, beating Buckeyes junior goaltender Sean Romeo by stuffing it through the wickets off the backhand.

The Bulldogs continued to pour on the pressure. Six minutes in, they were winning the shots-on-goal game by a margin of 5-1. Halfway through the period, Ohio State finally got a chance to gain some momentum with an opportunity for their No. 7-ranked power play in the nation to get to work. However, 11 seconds into the man-advantage, sophomore forward Ronnie Hein took a tripping minor, giving up any hope OSU had in turning the tide during the first frame. By the first intermission, UMD was leading 17-4 in shots on goal.

The Buckeyes hit the ice with a bountiful amount of determination as the second period kicked off. After a big save by Romeo, UMD sophomore and Dallas Stars prospect Riley Tufte butted heads with OSU junior Dakota Joshua, resulting in two-minute minors for roughing. The fireworks continued to fly as hits and chirping seemed to become more and more frequent.

Ohio State Comes Up Short

Then it became the story of missed opportunities for the Buckeyes. Fifteen seconds into a power-play opportunity midway through the period, Ohio State failed to capitalize on a wide-open net as UMD defensemen scrambled in front of a shot to deter it wide. 30 seconds into a power play in the third period, the Buckeyes were once again unable to execute on another shot at an open net. A minute later, UMD’s sophomore goaltender, Hunter Shepard, robbed OSU of another outstanding chance.

Roughly halfway through the final frame, Minnesota-Duluth sophomore defenseman Nick Wolff was called for a tripping penalty. Sophomore Tanner Laczynski, a sixth-round pick by the Philadelphia Flyers, ensured that this power play would not go to waste.

The Bulldogs were unable to clear the zone, leaving Laczynski with the puck and allowing him to skate to the top of the right face-off circle and let one rip. The puck took a slight deflection off the glove of UMD’s Thomas and found the back of the net to make it a one-goal game.

But that’s all the Buckeyes would muster. With just over a minute to go, Miller was denied at the doorstep and the Bulldogs moved on to the National Championship game. It is the second year in a row that Minnesota-Duluth has made it to the final game of the NCAA Hockey season. Last year they were thwarted by the University of Denver by a score of 3-2.

Minnesota-Duluth Bulldogs
8 Apr 17: Riley Tufte of the Minnesota-Duluth Bulldogs playing against the University of Denver in the National Championship game of the 2017 NCAA Final Four. (Jim Rosvold / Univ. of Minn. Duluth Athletics).

On Saturday in St. Paul, Minnesota, the Minnesota-Duluth Bulldogs will take on the Notre Dame Fighting Irish in a game that will decide 2018’s champion. Notre Dame is looking to take home their first national championship in the program’s history. The Bulldogs, on the other hand, will be looking to win their second title. When was the first time Minnesota-Duluth won it all? The year 2011in St. Paul.