Minnesota-Duluth outmuscles North Dakota in NCHC semifinal

Minnesota-Duluth celebrates its semifinal win over North Dakota (photo: Bradley K. Olson).

MINNEAPOLIS — North Dakota has been at the top of the national rankings and the NCHC for most of the season, something no one seemed to tell Minnesota-Duluth.

The Bulldogs outmuscled the NCHC regular season champion Fighting Hawks 4-2 on Friday night.

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“They’re a good team,” UND coach Brad Berry said. “They are an experienced, well-coached team and obviously hats off to them.”

It became apparent early on in Friday’s semifinal game that the Bulldogs were not going to go away quietly. From the start of the game, UMD’s entire team was flying around the ice and hitting hard. The Fighting Hawks may have scored first, but UMD controlled the game the rest of the period by clogging the blue line and preventing UND from getting any quality scoring opportunities.

While UMD was solid all game long, it was the second period where the Bulldogs really started to come alive.

The second period mirrored the first, but it was UMD doing the scoring while taking advantage of UND’s missed opportunities.

After UND freshman Rhett Gardner had a great shot at the net, UMD took the puck the other way into the Hawks’ zone. Forward Dominic Toninato then put the puck past UND goaltender Cam Johnson 28 seconds into the second period to tie the game.

Later on in the second, UND forward Drake Caggiula had a prime opportunity to find the back of the net and swing the momentum in the Hawks’ favor. Instead, the Bulldogs were able to push the puck back into the UND zone and make UND pay. Defenseman Willie Raskob was able to find Forward Alex Iafallo after connecting on a centering pass to put the Bulldogs up for the first time in the game by a score of 2-1.

Duluth continued to gain momentum even after scoring two goals in a row by forcing a five-on-three power play. While the Bulldogs were not able to capitalize on that opportunity, the scoring continued a few minutes later.

It took an official review, but UMD forward Austin Farley was able to tip the puck past Johnson for a commanding 3-1 lead.

While it was the UMD offense that came alive in the second, Duluth would not have been in the position they were in without goaltender Kasimir Kaskisuo. The sophomore from Vantaa, Finland, blocked 13 out of 14 shots in the second period and made key stops that turned into scoring opportunities for UMD.

“Kas has played tremendous for us all year,” Toninato said. “It’s good we can finally start getting some wins for him. He keeps us in every hockey game and that’s what we ask from our goalie. He is a huge part of our team moving forward.”

North Dakota made it a game in the end of the second period off the stick of UND defenseman Troy Stecher, making the score 3-2. But through UMD’s strong defensive performance, that was as close as the game got.

The dagger came in the third as Toninato was able to connect on his second goal of the game and put UND away for good.

“It feels good,” UMD coach Scott Sandelin said. “I am happy for our team. I am happy for our players. They stayed the course and that’s a credit to them.”