ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) – Minnesota Duluth has proven its ability to persevere while reaching its first Frozen Four since 2004.
With a knack for scoring clutch goals, the Bulldogs ascended to the top of the college hockey rankings in November. UMD won five overtime games in the season’s first two months and pulling out those close ones games might have masked any potential pitfalls though.
“Sometimes those early wins in those situations can be good, and can be bad,” coach Scott Sandelin said. “I think maybe at times we thought we were better than we really were and got away from some things.”
However, a midseason slip in which UMD went 1-3-1 in December had the Bulldogs’ chances of reaching the Frozen Four in their home state slipping away.
With a renewed approach focused on special teams and team unity, UMD got its momentum back and will face Notre Dame in Thursday’s first semifinal in St. Paul.
The Bulldogs traveled some 150 miles south to St. Paul for the Frozen Four after knocking off No. 1 overall seed Yale in the East Regional.
Right around the time of their December slump, the Bulldogs learned sophomore defenseman Dylan Olsen wouldn’t return to the team.
Olsen — who had 13 points in 17 games — left to play for Canada in the World Junior Championships. Olsen then signed a professional contract with the Chicago Blackhawks, who had drafted him in the first round in the 2009 draft.
“This team has come through every time when their backs have been against the wall or they faced a little bit of adversity, and I thing that’s a strong testament to this group,” Sandelin said. “But you’ve got to go through that. Sometimes you’ve got to get kicked in the teeth a couple of times. Sometimes you’ve got to go through those rough patches to see what you’re made of.”
The adversity brought the team together, and they decided to have a little fun with it.
The players dyed their hair in a show of unity and the Bulldogs promptly swept St. Cloud State in the Western Collegiate Hockey Association playoffs, before losing to Bemidji State in overtime in the WCHA Final Five.
As a No. 3 seed in the NCAA tournament, UMD upset Yale 5-3 in the regional finals.
“We just kicked up our intensity I feel,” said Bulldogs goaltender Kenny Reiter, who was named the regional’s most outstanding player.
The past two teams to play in a Frozen Four in their home state came away with championships. Wisconsin won the 2006 title in Milwaukee and Minnesota won in 2002 when the Frozen Four was last played in St. Paul.
And there’s a certain sense of pride the Bulldogs feel for being Minnesota’s lone in-state representative at the Frozen Four.
“It’s a big honor for us,” senior captain Mike Montgomery said. “There’s a lot of good teams playing college hockey in Minnesota this year, and traditionally. For us to be one of the last teams, it’s really an honor. We’re really excited. There’s a lot of guys from the state, from the metro area and Duluth is really excited right now too. The whole town is buzzing.”
After everything its been through, UMD isn’t feeling any extra pressure being the local favorite.
“I don’t think we have added pressure here at all,” senior forward Justin Fontaine said. “We’re excited. We’re familiar with the building. We’ve played some games here over the last few years, and I think everyone is ready and wants to get this thing going.”
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