Minnesota Duluth’s signature hockey moment came at Xcel Energy Center in 2011, when Kyle Schmidt’s goal 3 minutes, 22 seconds into overtime gave the Bulldogs a 3-2 victory over Michigan and the program’s first national championship.
Seven years later, coach Scott Sandelin still sees that breakthrough as program-changing.
“It changed it a lot,’’ Sandelin said Wednesday at Xcel Energy Center during Frozen Four news conferences. “We had the 1983-84-85 group that had sustained back-to-back tournaments under Mike Sertich. We got [to the Frozen Four] in ’04, but to win it and do something for the first time it’s tremendous exposure nationally for your program. I’d say it’s helped in recruiting. … It’s helped in a lot of different ways.’’
Sandelin stressed how important the title was for the players, too.
“When you get to these stages, it’s about what the players go through,’’ he said. “When you go through those together, it’s pretty special. We didn’t wait for a 10-year reunion with that group; we did it after five years. And they wanted to do it every year.’’
The Bulldogs have built on that success, adding an NCAA runner-up finish last year with a 3-2 loss to Denver in the final, and now they’re back in the Frozen Four. With a national championship, a second-place finish and a third Frozen Four trip, UMD has had more NCAA tournament success in the past decade than any other Minnesota team.
“It’s done a lot for our program and put us on the map,’’ Sandelin said. “But you can’t get lazy with it. You’ve got to keep working.’’
Minnesota Duluth’s Anderson brothers — sophomore forward Joey and freshman defenseman Mikey — are known for being intense competitors, even against each other. When asked which of the Andersons would come out of the corner after a battle for the puck, both Bulldogs captain Karson Kuhlman and junior forward Parker Mackay called it a tossup.
But freshman defenseman Scott Perunovich had his own story on the brothers.
“Those guys are pretty insane when they go against each other,’’ Perunovich said. “The first battle they had, they ended up throwing down and getting into a fight on the ice, and I had to break it up.
“… I’d say 51-49 to Joey [on winning that puck battle]. Don’t let Mikey know that.’’
Minnesota Duluth got into the NCAA field as the last at-large team, securing the bid over the Gophers when Notre Dame beat Ohio State in overtime to win the Big Ten tournament title on March 17.
“I owe Jeff Jackson a lot,’’ Sandelin said of the Notre Dame coach. “A couple beers in Florida will probably work.’’
Learning from master
Notre Dame won the NCAA women’s basketball championship on Sunday when Arike Ogunbowale hit a buzzer-beating three-pointer to beat Mississippi State. This came two days after her basket with 1 seconds left in overtime beat Connecticut in the semifinals.
Turns out, Ogunbowale has a class with Fighting Irish senior defenseman Jordan Gross of Maple Grove. “I’m actually in a group project with her,’’ Gross said.
“Better let her finish,’’ Jackson quipped.
Minnesota Duluth, of course, has the most Minnesotans on its roster, with 17, followed by Notre Dame with five, Ohio State with three and Michigan with one.
The Buckeyes and Wolverines have coaching connections with Minnesota ties, too. Ohio State coach Steve Rohlik, a St. Paul native and former Hill-Murray player, was the head coach at Hill-Murray from 1992 to 1997 and a Stillwater assistant in 1991-92. His top assistant is Steve Miller, a former St. Mary’s player.
“This is my life,’’ Rohlik said of St. Paul and the old Civic Center, the site upon which the Xcel Center was built. “ ... I just remember from the time I could walk, I was here. I was here at every state tournament. This was a dream. It was like a playground for me.’’
Michigan coach Mel Pearson played at Edina East High School under legendary coach Willard Ikola. Pearson is the son of George “Mel’’ Pearson, who played for the Minnesota Fighting Saints of the World Hockey Association.