GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. — There will not be a three-peat.
Minnesota-Duluth knocked off the two-time national champion Golden Gophers of Minnesota, 3-1, to advance to the 2004 NCAA Frozen Four. It was the fifth win this season by the Bulldogs over their cross-state rival.
Luke Stauffacher had the game-winning goal at 1:37 in the third. Isaac Reichmuth, the Midwest Regional MVP, had 22 saves in the game, and allowed just one goal in two contests.
The Bulldogs’ win brings to an end the Gophers’ 16-game playoff win streak. Duluth will face WCHA foe Denver in a semifinal game in Boston at noon (ET), April 8.
After going up 1-0 in the first on Evan Schwabe’s second goal of the tourney, the Bulldogs held on through a grinding, scoreless second period and redoubled their efforts in the third to keep the lead.
“That’s been a trademark of this team — our guys have competed so hard,” said UMD head coach Scott Sandelin, who is going to his first Frozen Four as a head coach, in this his fourth season. He went as an assistant in North Dakota, winning national titles in 1997 and 2000. “They deserve this. I couldn’t be prouder of the step that we took as a program.
“They saved their best for the third, I guess. It was nice to have the lead. I was just thankful to get out of the second period. We were running around and they were controlling the puck quite a bit. They didn’t get a ton of chances. They were close, through the crease of the slot area, but I was just hoping to get out of that period with the lead. Our guys dug deep, and 20 minutes away from a ‘W’ and they did that.”
This was the sixth meeting between the Bulldogs and Gophers and the fifth UMD victory. Minnesota’s lone win over Duluth was in last week’s WCHA Final Five, when the Gophers eliminated the Bulldogs in a 7-4 semifinal contest.
“I’d like to congratulate Duluth. They have an outstanding team,” said Minnesota head coach Don Lucia. “They beat us five out of six games and they deserve to go to the Frozen Four and I think they’ll represent the WCHA tremendously.”
The game was very cautiously played through the first 40 minutes, the only goal being Schwabe’s at 18:10 in the first. After a flurry in front of Reichmuth, Nick Anderson picked up the puck and touched up to Schwabe, who flew up the left wing, skated in alone, crossed to the right and backhanded it behind Minnesota netminder Kellen Briggs for his 19th goal of the season.
Twenty-seven seconds into the third period, the Bulldogs appeared to take a 2-0 lead on a scramble in front of the net, but the goal — a shot by Anderson — was disallowed because of a UMD man in the crease. The Bulldogs shook that off, however, and scored 1:10 later, Stauffacher’s game-winning tally, a blast from the right circle that went behind Briggs, hit the crossbar, and went in.
With Schwabe in the box for slashing four minutes later, Grant Potulny cut Duluth’s lead in half on Gino Guyer’s cross-crease feed, but Jesse Unklesbay netted his second of the regional at 10:19 to again put UMD ahead by two. After a highlight-reel save by Reichmuth on Troy Riddle from point-blank range, Unklesbay found the rebound, streaked into the Minnesota zone past a Gopher defender and fired from the right circle, beating Briggs five-hole.
“That’s what happens when you’re pressing and you’ve got to score a goal,” said Lucia. “We gave up some rushes in the third that they capitalized on but you’re almost forced to play that way because of the score.”
Because of the nature of the game, Reichmuth wasn’t tested often, but when he was — on Riddle, especially, and during a first-period penalty kill — he was dead on.
“He played unbelievable today,” said UMD defenseman Beau Geisler. “He kept us in the games and made some really key saves. It’s great from a defenseman’s standpoint. We have confidence in our goaltender … so we can take some chances maybe offensively and defensively.”
The Bulldogs finished 0-for-3 on the power play, while the Gophers were 1-for-4. Briggs had 17 saves. Minnesota outshot UMD 23-20.
This is the first NCAA appearance for Minnesota-Duluth (28-12-4) in 11 years, but Sandelin said that it isn’t enough to merely get here.
“I’m obviously excited for the program to be back in the national tournament after such a long absence because quite honestly, I think that’s where Duluth hockey should be, and we’re going to try to keep it that way,” said Sandelin, an Iron Range native.
“Our guys have bought into what we’re trying to do, and they’ve made that commitment. They made that commitment to each other and the program. Obviously, [this is] a great reward, but they want to go all the way. They want to do something the school has never done, and … it’s probably the one thing we’ve talked about.”
Minnesota finishes the 2003-2004 season 27-14-3 after dominating the WCHA and the national scene for two years.
“I told the guys sitting out there, to have 16 straight playoff wins … especially so much of it single eliminations, these seniors have been a part getting two playoff titles, two national titles — you see how difficult it is to get to a Frozen Four once, to be able to win back-to-back national titles is a tremendous accomplishment,” said Lucia. “They’ve had the weight of that on their shoulders all year. I couldn’t be more proud of our guys and what they’ve accomplished.”