BRIDGEPORT, Conn. — When the field for the East Regional was announced last Sunday, there was a lot of talk about the power play units for three of the participants: Union, Yale and Air Force.
It was the one team that wasn’t mentioned — Minnesota-Duluth — whose power play was successful at the right time, scoring twice on Friday while the Bulldogs penalty kill shut down Union in all nine of its power play attempts in a 2-0 win in the opening game of the NCAA East Regional in Bridgeport, Conn.
Minnesota-Duluth will play the winner of the Yale-Air Force game in Saturday’s regional final, with a berth in the 2011 Frozen Four at stake.
“Our power play came through,” said Minnesota-Duluth coach Scott Sandelin, whose Bulldogs are looking for their fourth trip to the Frozen Four and first since 2004. “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. Maybe it’s not as high as the three teams in the tournament. But the bottom line is tonight, ours scored two and [Union's] didn’t and that was the difference in the game.”
While the power play provided the offensive spark for the Bulldogs, it was a superb penalty kill that shut down the Dutchmen’s national-best power play. Not surprising, that PK unit was led by goaltender Kenny Reiter, who stopped 17 shots when down a man and 32 total in the game.
Reiter looked to be in the zone from the game’s opening minutes. After stopping Kelly Zajac on a partial breakaway just 29 seconds into the game, leading to Union’s first power play, he then robbed Jeremy Welsh a minute later.
“That first power play when Welsh had that shot, that was a great save for [Reiter],” said Sandelin. “He can shoot the puck so I thought that was an important save and to get a couple more [right away] was huge for him.”
After UMD frustrated the Dutchmen early, keeping them off the board despite Union holding a lopsided 10-1 advantage in shots, the Bulldogs were opportunistic, scoring on their first opportunity with the man advantage at 14:38.
Mike Montgomery blasted a shot from the point that deflected off both Mike Seidel and finally Kyle Schmidt before beating Union netminder Keith Kinkaid (26 saves) for the 1-0 lead.
It was just the second goal for Schmidt since Dec. 3, his other an empty-netter in the first game of the Bulldogs’ WCHA first-round series against St. Cloud State.
“I haven’t been on the score sheet in the goal department that much,” said Schmidt. “It’s a huge feeling.”
Much of the game lacked flow due to a combined total of 17 power plays. Both teams were guilty of clutching and grabbing and the officiating crew called things tight, taking away the chance for the teams to play at five-on-five for extended periods.
Not surprisingly, then, it was the power play that led to UMD’s insurance marker at 6:24 of the third. After Union again pinned the Bulldogs back on their heels, an unnecessary hitting from behind by Union’s Greg Coburn in the offensive zone led to the strike.
It took just 11 seconds for the Bulldogs to cash in, as Justin Fontaine buried a second rebound opportunity with Kinkaid out of position.
“I popped out and got a nice pass that ended up being a save,” said Fontaine. “The rebound shot hit the goalie and happened to pop back out and I just put in into the open net.”
Union attempted to mount a rally, and a late penalty to Brady Lamb for tripping gave the Dutchmen life. Reiter, though, snuffed out the final chances for the Dutchmen, closing an impressive game with a beautiful toe save on Welsh with 1:48 remaining that ultimately sealed the victory and sent Minnesota-Duluth (23-10-6) to its second regional final in three years.
The Dutchmen (26-10-4) end the most successful season in school history in disappointing fashion. Union, after capturing its first regular season title in school history, was a period away from reaching the ECAC semifinal three weekends ago before eventually losing that game and the following to end hope of an ECAC title. Friday’s loss made it three in a row to end the season.
That, though, won’t take away from the accomplishments of its senior class, the first to ever post four straight winning seasons in the program’s Division I history.
“[This senior class] came into a tough situation as freshmen and were looked to kind of carry the mail,” said Union coach Nate Leaman. “They’ve done a tremendous job at leadership and they’ve done a tremendous job of representing our university.”
Video: Minnesota-Duluth’s news conference:
Video: Union’s news conference: