DULUTH, Minn. — Minnesota Duluth capped off the longest home game in school history 73 seconds into a third overtime Saturday night as goal-scoring leader Mike Connolly put in his own rebound for a 3-2 victory to sweep St. Cloud State in a Western Collegiate Hockey Association best-of-three first-round playoff series before 5,076 fans at Amsoil Arena.
The No. 11 Bulldogs (22-9-6), who led 2-0 after one period on two Jack Connolly goals, saw No. 20 St. Cloud State rally to tie, which followed a Huskies goal being disallowed for goaltender interference. Senior winger Justin Fontaine had three assists.
That win puts UMD into the WCHA Final Five starting Thursday at St. Paul’s Xcel Energy Center against Bemidji State. The Beavers (14-17-5) completed an upset sweep at Nebraska-Omaha. The winner of Sunday’s Wisconsin-Colorado College deciding game plays Alaska Anchorage in the other quarterfinal. North Dakota and Denver, after first-round sweeps, have a bye into Friday’s semifinals.
“The attitude in this locker room has been tremendous. We wanted to end the series tonight, we didn’t want to give St. Cloud any second life. We didn’t want this to go to a deciding game because anything can happen then,” said Mike Connolly, an All-WCHA first-team pick. “We worked our tails off and it showed. We had our legs in overtime.”
The game went 101 minutes, 13 seconds, the second-longest game in UMD history, ending at 11:18 p.m. The Bulldogs led in total shots on goal 63-39, including 28-13 in overtime. It was the second-most shots on goal in one game in UMD history.
The winning play developed as Justin Faulk kept the puck in the offensive zone. Jake Hendrickson, replacing Jack Connolly on a line change, passed from the left circle to the right edge of the net to Mike Connolly. He kicked the puck to his stick, put a shot on goalie Mike Lee, who made a pad save. Connolly got his own rebound. He put that in for his 25th goal of the season.
“I wasn’t going to quit until I got the puck in the net,” said Connolly of his fourth career OT goal, which includes a winner against Princeton in the 2009 NCAA Division I tournament.
The Bulldogs are 6-1-6 in overtime in 13 sudden death games this season, the most in program history. Sophomore Lee had 60 saves and Kenny Reiter, with a second straight win, made 37.
The Huskies (15-18-5) came into the series 4-0-2 the last six games against UMD and playing their best hockey of the season. The Bulldogs won the opener 4-2.
“I kept telling our guys ‘We’ve been in a lot of these overtimes this season, so we’re in good shape for this,’” said UMD coach Scott Sandelin. “It was a heck of a battle and Mike Lee and St. Cloud played great, but we had such good performances from every one of our players.”
St. Cloud State defeated UMD 3-2 in triple overtime on March 11, 2007 at the National Hockey Center in St. Cloud, Minn. That took 111 minutes and 33 seconds, the longest game in WCHA history and the sixth-longest in Division I history.
All-American center Jack Connolly scored goals 5:30 apart in the first period for a 2-0 lead Saturday, getting passes from Fontaine on each. A two-on-one rush led to the first score at 7:34 with Connolly connecting from the left circle. He then drove a shot from the right circle with 6:59 left in the period with a man advantage as St. Cloud State defenseman Taylor Johnson was called for slashing the stick out of Kyle Schmidt’s hands on a break. UMD didn’t score again until the winning goal.
St. Cloud State had the only two power plays of the second period and tied it on the first. Right winger David Eddy, who had a goal Friday, scored from the crease at 3:06.
The Huskies looked to tie the game at 8:02 of the third period, but Nic Dowd’s shot was negated by goalie interference, determined after a lengthy video review by the referees. Just 72 seconds later, St. Cloud State did score. A rebound was left unattended at the right edge of the UMD crease and Johnson rushed in from the point and knocked the puck home at 9:20. UMD led in shots on goal 35-26 through regulation.
“St. Cloud came out stronger than Friday and we matched their intensity and compete level,” said Jack Connolly, who has 54 points in 37 games this season. “We wanted two good back-to-back games, that’s what we were stressing. To win like we did is a great moment for our team.”
UMD dominated the first overtime, outshooting the Huskies 15-4. Lee had the save of the game with 53 seconds remaining, gloving a Faulk drive. In the second overtime, UMD’s J.T. Brown got loose on a break in the final seconds and was stopped at the crease.
Then came the overtime winner which pushed UMD to 5-4-2 at their new home, which opened Dec. 30. Overall the Bulldogs were 12-5-2 at home including, 7-1 at the DECC.
“Everyone got their money’s worth tonight,” UMD captain Mike Montgomery told the crowd afterward. “I couldn’t be more proud
of the work and commitment put forth by this team tonight and all season.”
UMD had won its previous four WCHA home playoff series, all in three games — Colorado College in 2010, Minnesota State-Mankato in 2004, St. Cloud State in 2003 and Minnesota in 1998. The Bulldogs and Huskies were meeting in the first round for a sixth time in 17 years.
Since the league went to a best-of-three series format in 1987-88, the Bulldogs had been home for six series, won five, yet swept only one, in 1993 against Alaska Anchorage, until Saturday.