ST. PAUL, Minn. — There was disappointment, but there was also satisfaction.
Minnesota-Duluth’s 7-4 loss to Minnesota Friday kept the Bulldogs from a chance at the Broadmoor Trophy, after a regular season in which UMD led the standings late in the year but couldn’t hold off North Dakota.
With UMD also losing Game 1 of its first-round playoff series against Minnesota State before rallying to advance to the Final Five, there seemed to be chinks in the armor for a team which ascended to national prominence this season.
So Saturday’s game — “consolation,” or “third-place,” or whatever you want to call it — meant a little more to these Bulldogs.
“You want to leave on a winning note. As a team, we want to get better every day, and today was no exception,” said Jesse Unklesbay after the Bulldogs’ 4-2 win over Alaska-Anchorage.
“Getting a little better” was a critical step into the NCAAs after UMD’s performance against Minnesota, in which the Bulldogs led 3-1 before watching the Gophers score six of the game’s last seven goals.
“We just had to rebound and get our game back on track going into next weekend,” said Marco Peluso, who had two assists Saturday.
That they did, and in stirring fashion. The Cinderella Seawolves, looking to end a season of redemption with a win, looked more motivated early.
So when, in the first period, Curtis Glencross stopped on a dime and unleashed a rocket of a slapshot for a 1-0 UAA lead, one could have been forgiven for thinking that the Bulldogs’ hearts weren’t in this one.
That couldn’t have been less true. UMD scored the next four goals to take charge, and cruised home with the victory. The win seemed to put the NCAA-bound ‘Dogs in the right frame of mind.
“We’ve had some breakdowns, but we know what we’ve got in the locker room,” said Unklesbay. “I think we’re going to be okay.”
Injuries haven’t helped the Bulldogs’ cause. Tyler Brosz and Tim Hambly missed the WCHA playoffs with injuries, and the nation’s leading goalscorer, WCHA Player of the Year Junior Lessard, went down in the second period Saturday with a knee injury.
All three are expected back for the NCAA regionals, although head coach Scott Sandelin expressed reservations about their condition.
“Whether they’ll be 100 percent is a different story,” he said.
Another concern is in net. Normally-steady Isaac Reichmuth gave up six goals to Minnesota Friday, one fewer than he permitted in four regular-season games, all won by the Bulldogs.
The importance of Reichmuth to the Bulldogs escaped no one, particularly UMD’s Saturday opponent.
“I think if Isaac can get his game back to where it was, [UMD] can go far,” said UAA head coach John Hill.
Still, all eyes are fixed on next weekend. Unlike last season, when UMD had to cross its fingers and hope — in vain, as it turned out — to hear its name called, the Bulldogs know that they’ll be among the anointed on Sunday afternoon.
“There’s no question it’s very exciting,” said Sandelin, the WCHA’s Coach of the Year. “It’s a big step for this program. … This year we’ve known, even coming into the [WCHA] tournament, that it’s going to happen.”
“I’ve been on some bad teams, and I’ve been on some decent teams,” said Unklesbay. “This is the best team I’ve been on, and it’s the opportunity of a lifetime.”
Twenty-six wins overall, and a second-place finish in the nation’s most competitive conference this season will do that for a team. The Bulldogs are fifth in USCHO.com’s PairWise Rankings, indicating a No. 2 seed in the NCAAs for UMD.
The venue is not yet known, but the wait for that answer will end soon, as well.
“It’s a goal [the players] set for themselves, and it’s becoming a reality,” said Sandelin. “Maybe they’re four games from winning a championship.”