College Hockey:
Amid talk of everyone else, Minnesota-Duluth makes a name for itself

Under the radar and into the Frozen Four.

That’s the way it might have felt for Minnesota-Duluth at the East Regional in Bridgeport, Conn., last weekend.

 (2011 Melissa Wade)

Minnesota-Duluth's Jack Connolly centers one of the nation's top lines (photo: Melissa Wade).

“When we got to breakfast today our sign said University of Minnesota, so we’re going to have to change that in a hurry,” Bulldogs coach Scott Sandelin quipped at the tournament’s opening news conference last Thursday.

That misnomer aside, much of the on-ice talk was focused on the three other teams in the bracket, particularly each of their respective power-play units. But in the end, it was UMD left standing and on its way to its first Frozen Four since 2004.

“Our power play came through,” Sandelin said following UMD’s 2-0 win over Union in the opening game Friday. “People talked about all the other three [teams' power plays] coming in here and we kind of laughed about that. Our power play has been pretty effective over the last two or three years.”

That continued in Connecticut, as UMD finished combined 5-of-17 on the man advantage for the weekend.

Both goals against the Dutchmen came on the power play and the Bulldogs popped two during Brian O’Neill’s five-minute major Saturday against Yale, helping secure a 5-3 win over the tournament’s top seed in the regional final.

UMD will face Notre Dame on Thursday, April 7 at the Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul, Minn., the same location of its overtime loss to Bemidji State in the WCHA Final Five on St. Patrick’s Day.

The short trip to St. Paul comes after a long trip to Bridgeport for Minnesota-Duluth, which will play the remainder of its season in its backyard. They’ll be the only Minnesota team at the Xcel Energy Center, a fact that wasn’t lost following the Yale win.

“Anytime we’re ahead of the Gophers is a good thing for us,” forward Mike Connolly said. “We’re fortunate enough to be there and have the support of the state. It’s not very often you get an opportunity to have the whole state behind you.”

Top line comes through again

The numbers speak for themselves, as each of UMD’s skaters on its top line enters the Frozen Four with over 50 points on the year. But if there’s any doubt, ask Yale defender Jimmy Martin.

“They’re as talented as a top line as you’ll see in college hockey,” the senior said following Yale’s loss to UMD Saturday. “They’re a tough matchup for us. I thought we battled against them but they’re talented players.”

That line, centered by Hobey Baker finalist Jack Connolly and with Mike Connolly and Justin Fontaine on the wings, combined for nine points on the weekend (four goals, five assists).

“It’s our second year in a row together and coach has given us the opportunity to play together and be creative out there,” Mike Connolly said prior to the tournament. “We’re not the biggest line, but we like to create with our speed.”

It almost wasn’t to be, as Sandelin said Fontaine had a chance to leave early but decided to come back for his senior year.

While that trio will be a story line heading into the Frozen Four, the Bulldogs are riding the performance of goalie Kenny Reiter, who was named the regional’s most outstanding player.

 (2011 Melissa Wade)

Kenny Reiter was the East Regional's most outstanding player (photo: Melissa Wade).

The junior helped stifle Union’s top-ranked power play on all nine of its chances Friday before holding off Yale’s high-scoring offense in the final.

“Kenny was phenomenal,” Jack Connolly said. “He stood on his head all weekend and made huge stops. He was our No. 1 star for the weekend. He played out of his mind.”

Starters and closers

They may have been overlooked heading into Bridgeport, but the Bulldogs started the year on fire, capturing the top spot in the USCHO.com Division I Men’s Poll for three weeks in a row in November. They entered December with an 11-1-2 record.

It’s unfair to call the rest of the season a total collapse, but the Bulldogs did slow down a bit and lost a chance to capture the WCHA crown with the 3-2 overtime loss to Bemidji State in the WCHA Final Five.

“There were a lot of people who didn’t think we were going to get to the Final Five,” Sandelin said. “We stumbled down the stretch. We weren’t great, we weren’t terrible, and we were in between. We won a lot of games early in overtime. We won a lot of tight games. I think that helps you when you get to this point. This team has never lost two games in a row all year. It’s pretty impressive. It tells you a lot about the character of the team.”

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  • Birdog

    Thanks for the nice article about the Bulldogs!
    Well written.

    • #1 Ranked

      And an ECAC writer, at that! Yes, well scripted and balanced viewpoint.

  • Former Player,Coach & Official

    The Bulldogs scored two shorties in this game as well. Am a die hard Gopher fan but certainly want the Dogs to win it all. Nice job by coaches and promotion of team work. Where’s Hoagie?

  • 5280

    Excellent comments by Nate Owen. As a Denver fan I would like to see the Bulldogs go all the way. If Reiter plays well I would not consider their winning as big an upset as others.

  • Anonymous

    Good work on the article. Frankly I don’t see how anyone with much experience watching this team could have overlooked them. That top line is one of the best in college hockey, and when they’re on the Bulldogs can skate with anyone. Best of luck in the semi’s, I’m pulling for a UND/Duluth matchup in the finals.

    • Scooby6647

      Nothing would be better than being able to wear a 2011 NCAA Men’s Division 1 Ice Hockey Champions T-shirt when an intern from UND comes back to work for the summer.


    • Guest

      Exactly, how could anyone overlook UMD. They were highly rated and battled hard in the WCHA. They competed in a tougher conference with a tough schedule. Anyone out west would have not considered Yale or Union to have any significant competitive advantage over UMD.

      Union and Yale had all season to prepare for the much awaited tournament matchup against a WCHA school. Just because Yale and Union were overrated and possibly overmatched it does not mean that anyone should overlook UMD. Because the tournament was in the East yes the fans (including the East coast press) from back East had high hopes for Eastern schools.

      There is a difference between the ignorant bliss of wanting a favorite Eastern team to win and harsh realities of whether or not a team is prepared or healthy enough to compete successfully against a worthy opponent or teams from a more competative conference.

      • Zamboni0ne

        You took the words right outta my moouth

  • ND1

    Bandwagon is now full !

  • ND1

    You guys are crackin me up. Can not see red socks cheering for yankees , ohio state cheering for michigan ,but hey this web site has some really cool gear if you order now you will be able be all decked out in new gear by game time. Oh and maybe you could get a two for one special VCU t-shirt very hot now. That is the round ball.

    • Bulldog Fan

      Why does this bother you so much? Some people may not like UND and others are rooting for a Minnesota team big deal quit writing about it.

      • Nd1

        You are right . I apologize . Good luck with whichever team you root for. Should be a great frozen four

        • Brett

          As a Sioux fan, you have to figure that to be at the top, you’re going to have teams rooting against you — even if it means they’re jumping on the ‘last remaining bandwagon’ for a team they’d normally consider a rival, just in the hopes of them beating UND. I’d be much more concerned when other fanbases weren’t, because it would mean UND wasn’t setting the bar.

          Anyway, should be a great weekend and congratz to the Bulldogs who definitely deserve to be at the big show (same for Notre Dame and Mich). I’d still love to see a WCHA matchup for the hardware, though…

        • Scot

          No worries ND1 am a little testy I grew up in Duluth and now I live in Wisconsin and I am sick of the Badgers lol. Looking forward to a great frozen four..I think why people are rooting more for Duluth is that ND is a very good team and they seem to always be at the frozen four. I for one am impressed each year how UND is up there almost every year. Great team and great fans.

  • Scot

    Well written article. Go Dogs!

  • CG

    There is no clear favorite in my opinion. I want the Sioux to bring home but UMD, Michigan and Notre Dame are all talented teams for sure.

  • collegehockeyfan

    cool article! I would love nothing more than a UMD/UND title game, will be a battle if it comes to that.

    Only thing I would have added is that yeah, they are only team quote ‘from Minnesota’ but they do have to figure in that there are probably more UND fans in Minnesota than UMD fans. UND is just minutes from Minnesota and there are numerous alumni that reside in Minnesota, just take a look at the fans at the Final Five…. Need I say more?

    • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_N2OICDAG4QBRJKEV3X7BOF4YEM P. C. Majxx

      North Dakota is hands down a much more experienced and offensively lethal team with a better defense and a penchant for playing more lines than it’s opponents. UMD makes it to the final it won’t matter, UND isn’t losing another game this season…

      • Ben

        Haha we’ll see about that.

      • UMD Bulldog Fan

        Hey Fans if UMD and UND Sissies are in the Championship game watch out for some fights. Sense it is the last game of the year they cannot become suspend sense the year is over… I like to see Faulk drop his gloves and beat down Frattin…. And am also sure that the Sissies will be up to there out dirty tricks if they play UMD again…

  • WCHA Fan

    Everyone in the WCHA knows how good of a team UMD is. No one from the conference knows to not overlook them. However, I’d definitely say that every other conference team/fan overlooked UMD.

  • bluetell

    I thought Yale might’ve finally broke through for the ECAC and gotten to the frozen four. Some people said the ECAC got screwed because Union and Yale were in the same region, but I disagree. They should put ALL the ECAC teams in one region next year….increases the odds that someone from the ECAC will win a regional. /rimshot

  • Herewegoagain

    How does a nice article about a deserving team get turned into more Yale bashing by UND fans? Again psychopaths with nothing better to do. Did you run out of little kids to beat on Xbox? Psycho losers.

    • GeauxSioux

      What on earth are you talking about?

    • Yesac104

      Yale plays a JV schedule

  • Enron

    I think a UND/UMD title game would be a wish come true. What better way to get a little vengence for spoiling UMD’s home opener than beating UND on a national stage. Gotta get past Notre Dame first though… Go Bulldogs!!!

    • Tarndog2002

      It won’t happen (that is, beating the Sioux). Period.

      • Panther2360

        Never say never, Besides UND isn’t there yet.

  • theoldNDbarn

    Good article. How can a team that was ranked #1 during the season & that has such a high scoring line be overlooked. Maybe overlooked by Eastern spn but not if they bothered to check the SOS for Yale, Union, NH versus those from the WCHA – it is a tough conference year in & out. Just ask BC.

    • hockey fan

      I am sure BC would explain to you that in regard to your year in year out comment that the seniors have had two national titles in four years.

  • Guest 2

    UMD has been a difficult team to play over the past few seasons. These FF games will be tight and the Dogs are comfortable in this space. I am pulling for the Dogs and look for them to compete and make a big statement on home ice! Go DOGS!!!

  • UnionFan

    What a defensive and goaltending performance by UMD in the Union game. Well deserved win.

  • Michfan

    UMD vs. UND for a final . I hope the players for these two great teams are looking at this the same way. Notre Dame with 12 freshmen , Michigan limping in . Not sure why they would even lace them up. Hmmm Go blue

    • GeauxSioux

      This smells fishy.

      • Michfan

        Nothing fishy. I just like the idea that you are counting my team out before they skate.

      • Michfan

        The smelling fishy did make me laugh. I am a flyfishing guide in Alaska.

      • mich fan

        Good luck in the game. Hope it is a good one.

  • http://twitter.com/SportsDoc63 Ron Seeley

    Congrats to the Bulldogs. They really turned their season around after Dylan Olsen bolted from Canada’s World Junior Team to the Pros. Just remember, before Christmas UMD was 11-1-2 and ranked #1. They have the best line in college hockey and no one should be surprised they are here. They key has been Reiter, he had stretches of mediocre during the season, but was excellent in the Regional.

    I’ve always felt in the one and done format the formula to win is simple: Your star players have to play like stars, especially at crunch time, and you have to get solid goal tending. Yes, the whole team must play their roles, but your stars have to carry you.

    If you look at the top teams who are not here but could have been: BC, Yale, Miami, Denver; they didn’t do that in the Regionals and now they are spectators.

    It is North Dakota’s Tournament to win, but that can be a burden. I hope the Sioux win, I will be rooting for the Sioux to win, but any of these teams can win two games right now and take home the hardware. Looking forward to a great Frozen Four.

  • Yesac104

    you can tell this article was written by someone out east. overlook, number one in the nation at one point, top scoring line in the country, come on man. i hope und loses the first game so i can get a cheap ticket to the championship game. just kidding i would like to see a wcha final. and that guy thinks its gonna be a home game for UMD, ya right 75% Souix fans

    • GeauxSioux

      Based solely on my continued struggles to obtain tickets for under twice the face value, I’m almost inclined to say 75% is an understatement.

  • GoDawgs!!

    I am big dogs fan and have been a season ticket holder since I was a little kid. However, I have my NoDak ties as have very good friends that played and coached for NoDak. I know the Forbort family well and they are friends. If the Dawgs and UND make the final my 3 year old will be faced with his first “moral dilema” of who to root for – Bulldogs or his neighbor, Mr. Forbort? He did ask Derek’s dad the other day if we could get him a bulldogs jersey. Never give up the hope he’ll come home to play. I have a lot of respect for UND and its program (can’t say the same for the Gophers/Rodents). This is going to be special Frozen Four with the programs involved – UND has an incredible fan base – best in college hockey – not even close. Both Michigan and Dame are big money programs with solid followings. The Dogs will be the fan favorite and a program on the rise. I predict a UND v. Bulldogs final. UMD has beaten UND in Grand Forks. Nobody is playing better than UND right now. UND has depth, but in a 1 game series it will come down to the best players of each team and goaltending. I give the nod in goaltending to UND but UMD’s best players are better than UND’s best players – no question. If this were a 5 game series I think UND would win based on depth – but UMD is going to pull it out!!! Go Dawgs!!

  • Central Scrutinizer

    The Dogs will beat Notre Dame…. and if the schools played football against each other, the Dogs would win that game too!
    UND will have to be happy with 2nd place this time- too bad.

  • bdog

    siouxage fans should stay home. I am sick of seeing them at the x year after year for the final five and i hate how minnesotans cheer for them. The state of hockey is Minnesota, may the best team win. I am also a little bitter because so many good players choose to go to UND, but hopefully UMD will prove them wrong and get some good recruits of their own. Go Dogs! shut the siouxage fans up!

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