With one more victory, Minnesota Duluth will be partying like it’s 2011.
The Bulldogs defeated Ohio State 2-1 on Thursday in the first semifinal of the NCAA Frozen Four at Xcel Energy Center, securing a spot in the national championship against Notre Dame, a 4-3 semifinal winner over Michigan. On Saturday night, Minnesota Duluth will try to win the second NCAA championship in program history — in the exact, same place it won it all in 2011.
Minnesota Duluth, last year’s NCAA runner-up to Denver, returned to the title game on the strength of a dominant start and the ability to hang on late. Louie Roehl and Jared Thomas scored goals in the first 3 minutes, 4 seconds of the game, and the Bulldogs asserted themselves by outshooting Ohio State 17-4 in the first period.
“It was a huge start for us,’’ Thomas said. “It’s hard for teams to come back on us when we get a lead.’’
The Buckeyes, however, kept plugging away, keeping the deficit at two goals and giving themselves a chance to rally when Tanner Laczynski scored a power-play goal with 10:33 left in the third period. Ohio State pulled goalie Sean Romeo with 2:05 left, but the Bulldogs weathered the storm to reach their fourth national title game in team history.
“To be able to play in the final game of the year is pretty special,’’ Bulldogs coach Scott Sandelin said.
Early on, it looked as if the Bulldogs (24-16-3) would have no problem reaching that final. They were quicker to the puck, more decisive and constantly parked in front of Romeo. Ohio State (26-10-5) just was a step behind in the first period.
Roehl, a freshman defenseman, struck first at 1:53 of the first when he took a pass from Matt Anderson and scored from the right circle as Romeo was late sliding across the crease.
That fired up the partisan Bulldogs crowd — announced at 18,026 — which got even louder when Thomas made it 2-0 at 3:04. Thomas, on a breakaway after forcing a turnover by Buckeyes defenseman Matt Miller, took a pass from captain Karson Kuhlman, slipped the puck past Romeo, beating him five-hole with a backhander.
“Tough way to start a game,’’ said Ohio State coach Steve Rohlik, whose team had only two shots on goal through the game’s first 10 minutes. “We dug ourselves a hole.’’
In the second period, Ohio State began to find its game, outshooting Minnesota Duluth 8-6 in the period. But UMD goalie Hunter Shepard, who finished with 19 saves, was sharp.
“You get smacked in the face like that early, it wakes you up,’’ Rohlik said.
Ohio State had back-to-back power plays in the third period, and Laczynski cashed in on the second. When Wyatt Edge’s stick snapped on a shot from the point, the puck deflected off a Bulldog’s skate and went to Joshua, who fed Laczynski, who fired a rising shot over Shepard’s glove.
From there, the Bulldogs — tested by 10 consecutive one-goal games in NCAA tournament play — held on and secured another Saturday night date in early April at Xcel Center.
“I remember in 2011 when we came out the building was electric,’’ Sandelin said. “You could feel it in warm-up, and I hope it’s the same way because I thought that game was an outstanding hockey game and I expect the same thing Saturday.’’