‘Goofy’ Minnesota Duluth squad proving to be band of marathon men

25 Mar 17:  The University of Minnesota Duluth Bulldogs play against the Boston University Terriers in the 2017 NCAA West Regional Final at Scheels Arena in Fargo, ND. (Jim Rosvold)
Minnesota Duluth toppled both Ohio State and Boston University at last weekend’s West Regional in Fargo, N.D. (photo: Jim Rosvold)

FARGO, N.D. — After nine overtime games in the regular season and one more to start the postseason, what’s another two?

The Minnesota Duluth Bulldogs have made their marks as marathon men.

UMD carries a 27-6-7 record into this year’s Frozen Four in Chicago despite playing a dozen overtime games and winning eight of another 12 one-goal tilts that ended in regulation. One of those four losses came in an exhibition against the United States National Under-18 Team on Oct. 22.

Free hockey extended into the NCHC playoffs when Duluth beat visiting Miami 4-3 in overtime in Game 1 of the teams’ best-of-three first-round series. The Bulldogs went on to sweep the RedHawks before downing No. 8 Western Michigan 5-2 and then No. 11 North Dakota 4-3 to win the league’s postseason title.

Doing so cemented UMD’s spot as the No. 1 seed at last week’s West Regional. The grind only continued after the Bulldogs arrived in Fargo, N.D., as two more overtime wins sent Duluth to its first Frozen Four since UMD won its first national championship in 2011.

The action last weekend at Scheels Arena never seemed to want to end. All three games went to extra periods, beginning with third-seeded Boston University’s 4-3 double-overtime win Friday afternoon against host North Dakota. Later that day – much later – in the second semifinal, a Willie Raskob bomb 11:58 into overtime lifted UMD to a 3-2 win over Ohio State.

Duluth went to overtime again Saturday in the regional final, but it wasn’t long after the extra period began before maroon and gold equipment laid strewn on the ice while the Bulldogs celebrated.

BU’s Bobo Carpenter was whistled for hooking at neutral ice 1:39 into the extra period, and the game was over 22 seconds later when UMD sophomore forward Adam Johnson sniped a wrist shot from the right circle past Terriers goaltender Jake Oettinger.

Cometh the hour, cometh potential captain material for the future. Johnson’s overtime goal Saturday was his fourth game-winner this season.

“I guess this game was a little bigger maybe than the last ones, but we’ve been in that position a lot and I think that was our 12th overtime game, so we knew how to get through it,” Johnson told reporters after the regional final. “We had a good overtime and we were fortunate enough to pull it out.”

For Joey Anderson, a freshman UMD forward who picked up a goal and an assist Saturday, not many lasting effects stemmed from Friday’s late-night win over Ohio State.

“I don’t think a lot changes,” Anderson said. “I think guys kind of got to just do what they do to get ready to play, and that’s kind of what I did.

“I just stuck to the regular routine, and that’s what we all did, and out there in the game obviously you’ve got to be smart with the puck and we just played a really good game.”

UMD coach Scott Sandelin said he didn’t need to tell his team much in the dressing room before Saturday’s overtime began. Makes sense: a trip to the Frozen Four was on the line, but the Bulldogs knew how to handle themselves in tight games.

Sandelin was also asked if he and his team had learned anything from Friday’s late win over Ohio State that could carry over into extra hockey again Saturday against BU.

“That we won,” Sandelin joked. “It reminded me of the year we won the national title, we had a lot of overtime games. And I remember going to overtime against Michigan (in the 2011 title game) telling the guys the same things: you’ve been in these situations, we’ve had success in overtime, do these things.

“Sometimes they work, sometimes they don’t and tonight they worked, but I think those experiences help players, but I think this whole year our mindset is a little bit different because we’ve been in a lot of close games.”

UMD has earned extended rest before an April 6 national semifinal game against Harvard. Before then, the Bulldogs will decompress from the drama in Fargo.

After that, it’ll be time to go back to work.

“The guys played a lot of minutes this weekend, and some of the emotional, not just physical, but there will be guys that will probably want to get on the ice,” Sandelin said after Saturday’s regional final victory. “Most of our team came over and skated this morning. They’re goofy that way.

“We’ve got some things to keep working on and sharpen up on, no question, so I think we’ll take that time and do a little bit each day. It’s more about containing their excitement and kind of getting them refocused here, but I want them to enjoy it.”