Nick Wolff is a sophomore on the Minnesota Duluth hockey team. He’s the grandpa of his position group.

“I suppose you could put it that way,” he said.

Wolff is the only defenseman in the Bulldogs lineup who is not a freshman. That’s one sophomore and five freshmen, which seems unheard of on any team, much less one that finds itself on the doorstep of winning a national championship.

If UMD’s defensive corps was a rock band, it should be called “Wolff and the Pups.”

Who says experience matters?

UMD’s blue line youth movement was supposed to be the team’s undoing this season. Instead, the Bulldogs are right back where they finished last season, in the NCAA national championship game after defeating Ohio State 2-1 Thursday in the Frozen Four semifinals at Xcel Energy Center.

“A lot of people said this would be a rebuilding year,” said Dylan Samberg, one of the five newbies on defense. “We proved them wrong.”

Actually, that quintet — Samberg, Scott Perunovich, Mikey Anderson, Matt Anderson and Louie Roehl — drop-kicked the whole notion that experience is invaluable.

The Bulldogs lost to Denver in the NCAA championship game last season and then lost 10 players from the roster (seven to graduation, three to the NHL).

The fact they are back in the championship is a testament to Scott Sandelin’s coaching chops and his team’s refusal to let youth become an excuse for failure.

Being young doesn’t have to become a barrier for success if those young players have talent, work ethic and a willingness to accept to coaching.

The Bulldog defensemen check all those boxes.

“It shows how much heart and talent we have,” Wolff said. “It’s all about dedication.”

And poise. Their freshmen defenders were on the ice during the final few frenetic minutes of regulation as a veteran Ohio State team pushed to tie the score. None of them looked rattled.

“I had some nerves, but I think we all handled it pretty well,” Perunovich said. “We weren’t too jumpy.”

The defensive pairing of Matt Anderson and Roehl gave the Bulldogs their first goal less than two minutes after opening faceoff. Anderson threaded a cross-ice pass perfectly to Roehl, who found some open net and buried it.

The Bulldogs kept flying around the zone on the attack as Ohio State appeared to experience big-game jitters. The Buckeyes were a step slow getting to pucks, gave up two goals in the first four minutes and were outshot 17-4 in the period.

Ohio State eventually settled in and made a late push, but the Bulldogs weren’t going to be denied a return trip to the championship game. Rebuilding year because of their freshmen? Don’t tell them that.

 

Chip Scoggins chip.scoggins@startribune.com