NCAA Frozen Four: Minnesota Duluth Bulldogs Win 1st NCAA Hockey Title In Overtime Thriller

They always say you remember your first….

After fifty long years of having a hockey program, twenty-seven years since a four-overtime loss in the NCAA championship game and three other Frozen Four trips, the University of Minnesota-Duluth can finally call themselves college hockey’s best team. The Bulldogs won their first NCAA Championship Saturday night at the Xcel Energy Center over the University of Michigan with a 3-2 overtime victory in front of 19,222 screaming fans. Kyle Schmidt scored the winning goal for Duluth 3:22 into the extra period off of a Travis Oleksuk pass.

"I didn’t do a whole lot," Schmidt said. "My linemates were working their butts off in the corner. Luckily it was a gimme because I was too late to bury anything else."

The game started off well for the Wolverines, as they were able to draw first blood. After a goal by Carl Hagelin was waved off due to the whistle being blown, Ben Winnett scored his fifth goal of the season (and second of the Frozen Four) right off a faceoff with 5:18 left in the first to give Michigan a 1-0 lead. That has normally been enough for Red Berenson’s team as they were 22-1-3 this season after scoring the first goal but the Bulldogs rallied for two goals in the second. The first came from Oleksuk, who scored right inside the circle 1:39 into the period and scored the first goal on Michigan’s Shawn Hunwick in fifty-five shots.

The second goal came eight minutes later from unlikely goal scorer Max Tardy. Tardy, a freshman fourth-line forward scored his first collegiate goal on the powerplay (which he wasn’t even on a month ago) off of his own rebound. Michigan tied the game at 2 towards the end of the period with a goal from one of their own fourth-liners, Jeff Rohrkemper, and the game stayed that way with both goalies standing tall until Schmidt’s goal in overtime.

The big difference in tonight’s game was once again special teams. Although Michigan became the first team to successfully shut down the Bulldogs power play, the Wolverines put themselves in a whole by going shorthanded nine times. Three players had two minor penalties and eight of the ten overall penalties were taken by underclassmen. While Duluth only scored once (way below their tournament average of 33.8%), the added pressure of having to skate with four men so many times did eventually eat away at Michigan. They were out-shot 38-24 and allowed Minnesota-Duluth to skate past them and be the better team for most of the evening.

In addition, Duluth was able to overcome Michigan keeping the Bulldogs’ first line of Jack Connolly, Mike Connolly and Justin Fontaine off the scoreboard. The three teammates have each put over fifty points and eighteen goals but the Bulldogs relied on the depth of their team to score. After the game, Duluth coach Scott Sandelin commented on this, saying "part of the reason….early in the year we needed to find someone like a J.T. Brown come in as a freshman and be an impact player. And we put him in the positon, and he had a phenomenal year, obviously, phenomenal game tonight."

And with the play of J.T. Brown, of Justin Faulk, of the Connollys and Fontaine and most importantly of Kyle Schmidt, it’s no surprise that the Bulldogs reign supreme in 2011.

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Other Quotes and Notes:
The Frozen Four All-Tournament Team
G Shawn Hunwick Michigan
D Justin Faulk UMD
D Jon Merrill Michigan
F Ben Winnette Michigan
F J.T. Brown UMD
F Kyle Schmidt UMD

Most Outstanding Player: J.T. Brown UMD

-Schmidt was the only player on the Bulldogs who did not dye his hair due to a wedding. Like Grant Potulny (the only non-Minnesotan on the 2002 Gophers), he scored the winning goal.
-This was the fourth consecutive Frozen Four in St. Paul to head to overtime.
-Thursday’s semifinal games rated a 0.24 (early game) and 0.40 (late game) on ESPN2
-Minnesota-Duluth is the third consecutive team to win a national championship in their home state when given the opportunity. The two others are Minnesota (2002) and Wisconsin (2006).
-Jack Connolly joins his brother Chris, who won a national title with BU in 2009 as national champs.
-Both the Twins and Wild plan to honor Minnesota-Duluth tomorrow.
-Schmidt on being asked if he had to give back the National Unsung Hero Award: "I guess if I have to, I will. I’ll take a national championship any day of the week."
-J.T. Brown on the crowd: "It’s kind of hard not to get up and play 100 percent when you have 19,000 people. So I just feel like the crowd, played off the crowd and the crowd was great today."

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