ST. PAUL, Minn. — It was a case of history repeating for Minnesota Duluth, which defeated Notre Dame 2-1 on Saturday to win its second national title.
The Bulldogs’ other championship in 2011 also came at the Xcel Energy Center.
But this was also a repeat of more recent events. Minnesota Duluth also won its semifinal game against Ohio State by a 2-1 score. And that’s also how UMD got to St. Paul, thanks to a 2-1 victory over Air Force in the West Regional final.
In all three cases, the Bulldogs opened early 2-0 leads and had plenty of chances to put the game away, but never were able to get that third goal.
But in each of those games, it all worked out thanks to a stifling defense and superb goaltending by Hunter Shepard.
“I don’t know what it is; we can’t find that third goal,” said Bulldogs forward Jared Thomas, who scored the eventual game-winner with 1:21 left in the first period.
“It’s how we like winning games, I guess, 2-1, Close games, get a lead and hold on.”
“We weren’t nervous,” said sophomore defenseman Nick Wolff, who was on the ice for both UMD goals. “We were confident in how we play. We’ve been getting off to a hot start and we did that today. It would have been nicer if we got a third, but we hung on, stuck to our structure and won the game. That’s all that matters.”
Minnesota Duluth coach Scott Sandelin, who improved to 17-6 all-time in NCAA tournament games, echoed those thoughts.
“Obviously we used the same M.O. the last three games,” he said.
Sandelin is used to tight NCAA tournament games. Minnesota Duluth became the first team to win a national championship after winning each of its four tournament games by a single goal. The Bulldogs opened the tournament with a 3-2 overtime win over Minnesota State.
In all, the last 11 NCAA tournament games played by the Bulldogs were one-goal affairs dating to March 28, 2015. UMD is 8-3 in those games.
As they say, close games don’t matter as long as you win them.
“That’s how we end games,” said Wolff. “We were confident with [Shepard] back there. Time and time again.”
“There was never a panic,” said Thomas. “There was never any doubt. If we needed to win a game 2-1 we were going to win 2-1. You saw that in the third period. We shut them down toward the end of the third period.”
After Notre Dame’s Andrew Oglevie scored on the power play at 7:40 of the second period to pull the Fighting Irish to within one, the Bulldogs held the Irish to only 11 shots over the rest of the game, including just five in the third period.
“Any time you’re in a game like this against a team like Notre Dame, you know they’re going to make a big push,” said Thomas. “And we had to weather the storm a bit and stick to our game plan.”
And the same M.O. It’s a formula that delivered a national championship.