He’s Sharp, But His Goalie Is Sharper

Pity MacGregor Sharp.

The Minnesota-Duluth senior center made his mark on the WCHA Final Five to the tune of five goals, six points and a plus-5 rating. He scored three times in Saturday’s championship game.

And he left without the most valuable player award thanks to an unprecedented performance by his goaltender.

Alex Stalock one-upped Sharp by stopping 90 of the 91 shots on goal he faced in three games at the Xcel Energy Center, including back-to-back shutouts in the semifinal and championship rounds.

No team had previously won three games in three days at the Final Five. Perhaps no goaltender has ever played this well at the tournament.

Quite a way for the Bulldogs to go into the NCAA tournament.

“I said last year I felt he was the best goalie in the league, and I know what he meant to our team,” UMD coach Scott Sandelin said. “This year, I’ve said it since day one: He’s our best player. He’s the best goalie in the league, and he’s proven that this year, being a first-team guy and winning the goaltending award.

“Maybe we get spoiled because we see him all the time and we know the type of goaltender he can be and is, so we’re very fortunate. It’s a compliment to him, the hard work he’s put in, the focus he has, the competitive level he has and the athleticism that he has. You don’t get guys like that too much.”

But don’t pity Sharp too much. He still highlighted the forwards on the all-tournament team and walked away with a WCHA championship.

If Stalock made the difference for the Bulldogs in knocking off fifth seed Minnesota, first seed North Dakota and second seed Denver, Sharp wasn’t too far behind.

He scored a goal in each of UMD’s first two games here and added an assist against the Sioux.

Just a taste of things to come, it turned out.

He gave the Bulldogs the lead for the third straight night with a first-period, power-play goal. He made it 2-0 with a back-door redirection in the second period.

And he finished things off with an empty-netter late in the third, drawing a shower of hats and foam fingers — the giveaway du jour — from the crowd of 16,749.

It was speculated that, contrary to expectations, the Bulldogs actually got stronger in the third game. Sharp was a central part of that effort.

“I just think we willed our way,” Sharp said. “Nothing was going to stop us.”

Stalock, meanwhile, was good early Saturday and didn’t fall off.

The Bulldogs defense helped out, blocking five of the six shots that the Pioneers attempted in the third period.

“They took away pretty much everything we had tonight,” Denver coach George Gwozdecky said.

That was a team effort, Stalock said.

“I’m seeing the puck pretty good, and the bigger part of the picture is my [defensemen] are letting me see the puck and our forwards are getting back,” Stalock said. “Our defensive zone has been unreal these last five games. We knew we needed to buckle down from where we were at the end of the regular season. We did a hell of a job in the defensive job, and you’ve got to give all the credit to the 19 guys that played in front of me.”

To encapsulate what the Bulldogs did at the Final Five, consider this: Sharp alone scored one more goal than UMD needed to win the title.

He joked that on Saturday, he thought he’d get a couple more for insurance.

None needed.

“He’s obviously been the backbone of our team all year,” Sharp said. “And especially lately, it just seems like if we can get that first goal and play strong defensively in front of him, he’s going to make the huge saves. He makes every save he should and lots that he definitely shouldn’t. The last five games through the playoffs, he’s just been unbelievable.”

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