GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. — The Minnesota-Duluth Bulldogs delivered an old-fashioned shellacking to the Michigan State Spartans, winning 5-0 in the second Midwest Regional contest to advance to Sunday’s regional final against Minnesota.
After his first NCAA appearance as head coach, UMD’s Scott Sandelin said the win was all about the Bulldog players.
“It’s more exciting for the program and the players than it is for me,” said Sandelin. “I’m glad it didn’t start oh-and-one … but I’m more happy for our seniors to continue to play and for our whole team to continue to play.”
The Bulldogs led 1-0 after one on Evan Schwabe’s goal, then broke loose for four more unanswered markers in the second period, including two by Junior Lessard, his 29th and 30th of the season.
Lessard, the nation’s leading scorer and a Hobey Baker finalist, returned to play after injuring his left knee in the second period of the Bulldogs’ 4-2 win over Alaska-Anchorage in the WCHA Final Five consolation game.
Forward Tyler Brosz and defenseman Tim Hambly have also battled the injury bug, and Sandelin said that having everyone in the lineup was a boost for the Bulldogs.
“Brosz has had a good year. Hambly is one of our top defensemen. When you get those players back, it changes the team chemistry and the team thought process. We have more depth, and at this time of year you need that — not that we didn’t have other players that were ready to go.”
Spartan head coach Rick Comley gave all the credit to UMD. “We had a good week of practice and the guys were ready to play. The first period was pretty good … and obviously they exploded in the second period. They’re a very polished team, they compete well, and score.”
Schwabe’s game-winning goal at 12:16 in the first was a shot from the top of left circle that went past MSU netminder Dominic Vicari long and clean. Jesse Unklesbay’s tally at 1:14 in the second opened the floodgates.
Comley said that Unklesbay’s goal was the result of a freshman mistake. Rookie defenseman Ethan Graham had the puck along the boards near the blue line at the top of the right MSU circle and lost to Nick Anderson, who passed up to Unklesbay in front of the Spartan crease.
“I’m not critical of our kids,” said Comley. “I’m not going to sit up here and rip guys. I think we’re better than we were tonight, and I don’t think they’re terribly better than we are. They played with more bite, with more intensity, with more stick strength, the things you have to do at this time of the year.”
Brett Hammond had the third UMD goal at 5:36 in the second, scoring on a third rebound. Lessard’s first goal was a slapshot that Vicari couldn’t hold on to, and it was 4-0 UMD at 8:13 in the third.
Matt Migliaccio replaced Vicari after Lessard scored, but was himself victimized by the junior on the Bulldog power play at 13:01 in the middle stanza.
The Bulldogs were 1-for-5 on the power play, the Spartans 0-for-4. Vicari had 11 saves through 28:13, Migliaccio 12 in the remaining 31:47.
Much of the postgame talk centered on the Sunday afternoon match between the Bulldogs and the Golden Gophers. Sunday’s game will be the first-ever meeting between the UMD (27-12-4) and Minnesota (27-13-3) in NCAA tournament play. UMD was 4-1-0 against Minnesota this year, but it’s the last game, Minnesota’s 7-4 win in the WCHA Final Five semifinals, that the Bulldogs remember most.
“They’ve been in my mind since we played them last time,” said Sandelin. “Again, the intensity of the game, we won’t have that same atmosphere as we did last Friday at the Xcel Center but it’s actually kind of nice for us [because] there won’t be all those Gopher fans.
“Our guys were not happy with the way we played and we got beat by a better team. Through the year, we had success against them and it’s going to come down to one game.
“We know who we’re playing, we know they’re a great team, and it’s going to come down to a bounce or a break. That doesn’t mean that we’re better than they are; tomorrow afternoon, we hope that we are.”
The Spartans (23-17-2) have been held scoreless in their last 194:18 of NCAA play, dating back to a game against Wisconsin on March 25, 2001, also in Van Andel Arena.
“I’m not embarrassed. Frustrated, sure,” said Comley. “It’s an overall good group of kids. I think we’re deficient defensively. I think early losses have really hurt this program. You want an awful lot of people who really aren’t ready to give it, or people who really aren’t that pure offensively. I think they’re good kids, I think they try hard, and you do get very frustrated, obviously.
“It’s not a good enough effort. It’s not acceptable losing five-nothing in a national tournament. There’s nothing acceptable about it. We’ve just got to learn from it, benefit from the experience of being here, and see who we get back. We only have two seniors on the team, and I’m not convinced this whole package will be back. But people have got to go where it’s the right place for them, and we need people who understand the importance of being here and making this their focal point.”
The Bulldogs and Golden Gophers face off at 1 p.m. Sunday in Van Andel Arena, and the winner goes to the Frozen Four in Boston in two weeks. The two-game attendance for the first day of the Midwest Regional was 5,325.