Minnesota Duluth’s incredible 5-4 overtime win Friday against Princeton defies easy categorization. For each team, the game’s script had elements both of the familiar and the fantastic.
Winning games they weren’t supposed to was nothing new for the Bulldogs, who did that three times last weekend in the WCHA Final Five.
UMD, the seventh-seeded team in the league tournament, started by upending Minnesota in what was effectively a home game for the Gophers, then cruised in workmanlike fashion past regular-season champion North Dakota and eventual NCAA No. 1 seed Denver to become the first team to win the Broadmoor Trophy from the play-in game.
Those games were won with similar themes: get ahead early and stay there by taking advantage of a defense anchored by goaltender Alex Stalock.
Friday had little to do with that plan. Yes, UMD scored the game’s first goal, but promptly fell behind thanks to three straight Princeton goals in a 14-minute span of the first and second periods.
That put the Tigers in familiar and ultimately unhappy territory. Princeton held a 3-1 lead against Cornell in the ECAC semifinals but coughed up the lead in the final three minutes of regulation before falling to the Big Red in double overtime.
For Guy Gadowsky’s crew, that made Friday’s last-minute sequence a horrible reenactment, a screenplay inspired by a true and painfully recent story.
“Unfortunately, we did see something similar a week ago,” acknowledged Princeton’s Brett Wilson, a description that doesn’t capture the eerie, crushing similarities from the Tigers’ perspective.
In fact, the only difference between the two games was that the Bulldogs took even less time to erase the Tigers’ edge, and ended the overtime tension all the more quickly.
UMD scored two goals in the final minute of regulation to force overtime, the second on a play that will long be remembered in both Minnesota and New Jersey. Evan Oberg fired the puck over Zane Kalemba with eight-tenths of a second showing on the clock to paralyze the Tigers, exhilarate the Bulldogs and send the pro-UMD crowd at Mariucci Arena into a frenzy.
“The last time I heard a crowd that loud was when we were playing Minnesota, and I didn’t like it,” quipped UMD head coach Scott Sandelin.
The game wasn’t over, of course.
“To be honest with you, our guys always came through these challenges — mental challenges — with flying colors,” said Gadowsky. “I honestly didn’t feel bad [after UMD forced overtime] and going into the locker room we had to show that.”
Naturally, for the Bulldogs the problem was the opposite.
“It was like we won the game,” said Sandelin of the mood before OT. “That’s your biggest fear, making sure your guys aren’t too high.”
They weren’t, as Mike Connolly proved with the winning goal, a tap into a wide-open net during a power play that will likely rank as one of the easiest and yet most memorable goals Connolly ever scores.
Now Sandelin’s versatile history-makers get Miami in the regional final. Another day, another opponent, and maybe, just maybe, another way to win for the Bulldogs.
As Sandelin pointed out, no matter what, one more element of the Bulldogs’ script won’t follow last weekend.
“The nice thing is, we know we’re not going to play three games in a row,” he said.