MINNEAPOLIS – Here are three takeaways from Minnesota-Duluth’s 4-3 victory over North Dakota in the NCHC championship game on Saturday:
Duluth owns five-on-five
When Brock Boeser scored on a power play at 10:57 of the first period during a stretch of multiple power plays, it seemed the floodgates might open for the Fighting Hawks, who were outplaying Minnesota-Duluth. The Hawks in fact finished the first period with a 16-4 shots on goal advantage, in part due to a five-on-three power play and an extended power play due to a five-minute major on Neal Pionk for charging on North Dakota goalie Cam Johnson.
However, while North Dakota ended up with three goals, all were on power plays; it was their inability to score five-on-five that doomed North Dakota, and is something it has struggled with all year, netting only two even-strength goals in five games against Duluth.
“We’re pretty good five-on-five,” deadpanned Minnesota Duluth coach Scott Sandelin when asked about that. “Certainly at the end it doesn’t matter how many, we’re winning hockey games. If you give up only a couple five-on-five goals or whatever they were, that tells you defensively we’ve done a pretty good job against them. Hunter had a couple shutouts against them too. They’re a good team. We’ve had some success this year against them for whatever reason.”
In Friday’s game against Western Michigan, Minnesota-Duluth faced an early five-on-three penalty kill situation that could have put them in a hole. Against North Dakota on Saturday in the Frozen Faceoff, Duluth was again down five-on-three, this time late in the first after the Bulldogs got a five-minute major 52 seconds into a minor on Willie Raskob.
“It was a lot,” laughed Sandelin about the number of five-on-threes. “It felt like a lot more.”
“We knew we had to kill it,” said tournament MVP Alex Iafallo. “That’s just the way it was going. A lot of guys stepped up. We had how many shot blocks? Everybody on the kill did a heck of a job stepping up, blocking shots, getting pucks out.”
Duluth managed to kill that one off, as well as nearly two minutes of a five-on-three power play for North Dakota in the second period.
“It was nice to get out of it down only one goal for sure,” said Sandelin of the first period. “I think our guys did a hell of a job, from our goaltender all the way through our killers. That’s not an easy situation to be in certainly with their power play and some of the guys they have on there. I think it gave our team a huge lift. Those are big moments in a game, and obviously you saw the way we started the second. We finally had a good second period. We scored the three goals and made that hold up.”
However, the third five-on-three of the game for North Dakota for 47 seconds late in the third allowed Trevor Olson to tie the game 3-3. It seemed fitting that Duluth then got a five-on-three power play after that, which was when Joey Anderson scored the game-winner.
Duluth hangs a banner
After losing in the Frozen Faceoff final last year to St. Cloud State, and then losing the regular season title this year in the final month to Denver, Minnesota Duluth finally gets to hang a banner after taking the Frozen Faceoff. For a team that has a lot of senior leaders who bring key offensive contributions as well as leadership, getting that banner is special.
“It means a lot, not only for the seniors, but the whole team, the city of Duluth,” said Dominic Toninato. “It’s pretty special, and we came up just a little short last year, so obviously that was one of our goals to get back down here and have another chance at it and we were fortunately able to win it.”