ST. PAUL, Minn. — The Minnesota-Duluth Bulldogs made history on Saturday night, and it was a hometown boy who will forever be remembered as the hero.
Kyle Schmidt, who grew up just minutes outside of Duluth in Hermantown, Minn., scored the overtime game-winning goal 3:22 into the extra session, setting off an explosion of the 19,222 fans at the Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul, Minn., as the Bulldogs won their first NCAA championship in school history, 3-2, over Michigan.
Schmidt’s game-winner came as the Bulldogs had pinned the Wolverines in their defensive zone in the overtime. The puck cycled below the net to Travis Oleksuk. As J.T. Brown drove the net on the near post, Schmidt skated unnoticed to the back door and buried the puck into the open net.
“I didn’t really do a whole lot,” said Schmidt of the goal. “My linemates were working their butts off in the corner. Luckily, it was a gimmie, because I was probably way too nervous to do anything else.”
Minnesota-Duluth is the first new champion of the tournament since Maine won in 1993.
While the Bulldogs earned their first rings, Michigan was denied expanding their NCAA record total of nine championships. If the Wolverines had gotten to 10, no doubt the main reason would’ve been the play of goaltender Shawn Hunwick.
Hunwick, who made 40 saves in Thursday’s 2-0 upset of North Dakota, nearly stole yet another game in which the Michigan team was outplayed by its opponent. The Bulldogs outshot Michigan, 38-24 in the game, and out-attempted them, 65-38.
“[Minnesota-Duluth] was the better team,” said Michigan coach Red Berenson. “I didn’t think our team really got to play their best hockey this weekend for one reason or another. Shawn Hunwick was terrific, and gave us a chance to win but it wasn’t to be.”
One major reason that Michigan was outshot so badly was penalties. Minnesota-Duluth got nine chances on the power play in the game and registered 11 shots, compared to just four power plays that produced two shots for Michigan.
At the same time, Michigan’s penalty killing unit did a great job holding the Bulldogs at bay. Minnesota-Duluth had scored eight power-play goals in the three games on the tournament, but were able to muster just one in Saturday’s final.
The game began with a somewhat sloppy, disjointed first period. Carl Hagelin looked to give Michigan the lead just 4:20 in when he poked home a mishandled rebound of a Mac Bennett shot. Referee Tim Benedetto though, ruled that he had lost sight of the puck prior to it entering the net, keeping the game scoreless.
“I kind of knew they weren’t going to allow the goal,” said Hagelin. “I heard the whistle when I touched the puck. We tried to keep going.”
Keep going Michigan did, and eventually got that lead. Mike Rust won the draw back to one of Thursday’s stars, Ben Winnett. He tallied the game-winning goal in the semifinal win and kept the scoring touch going, firing a quick shot through a screen to beat Kenny Reiter (22 saves) at 14:42 for the 1-0 lead.
In the second, the Bulldogs drew even at 1:39 when Oleksuk buried a rebound of a blocked Brady Lamb shot.
Midway through the period, Minnesota-Duluth took its first lead on what was a major momentum shift end-to-end. At 8:28, Bulldogs standout Jack Connolly picked a loose puck headed for the goal out of midair with his stick, saving a goal.
Just 31 seconds later, Bennett headed to the box for hooking and the ever-dangerous Bulldogs power play struck.
“That [momentum swing] was huge,” said Minnesota-Duluth coach Scott Sandelin. “Thank God Jack’s got great hand-eye coordination. You always look for those [swings].”
Once on the man advantage, the Bulldogs got a goal from an unlikely hero. Fourth line center Max Tardy, who was moved up to the power play this weekend after practicing there during the regional tournament, attempted a cross-crease pass that was blocked, but it ended up right back on the rookie’s stick. He made no mistake, burying his first-career goal at 9:31 for a 2-1 lead.
However, Michigan answered with a late goal, as its own fourth line struck. Greg Pateryn’s shot for the left point hit traffic in front of Reiter. Jeff Rohrkemper, with his back to the net, sent a high backhanded shot on goal that Reiter never saw, sending the game to the third tied at two.
In the third, the amount of quality chances was lessened for each team, but that didn’t keep each goaltender from having to make their best stops of the game. It was Hunwick first, who made a nifty glove save at 10:20 on Mike Connolly, who walked in untouched through the slot, firing a low snap shot.
Reiter though, one-upped his goaltending counterpart when Hagelin and Louie Caporusso walked in on a short-handed two-on-one. Hagelin slid a perfect pass that forced Reiter to make an incredible sliding pad save on Caporusso and keep the game tied through regulation.
That set up the dramatic ending, and something that the Minnesota-Duluth faithful have waited for far too long: a championship.
“We’ve got a great group of guys,” said Sandelin. “We’ve got the right pieces of the puzzle. But everything’s got to come together, and this group was resilient all year long.
“I’ve had a design on the [championship] ring planned since I got here. So now I get to put it into reality.”