Roman Augustoviz spends Minnesota's winters covering college hockey, specifically the Gophers, and other University of Minnesota sports. During the summer, he writes about the WNBA's Minnesota Lynx, with a dose of U sports sprinkled in. Follow him on Twitter @RomanStrib.

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Frozen Four: UMD hopes strong offense, defense mix leads to first NCAA title

Posted by: Roman Augustoviz under Frozen Four Updated: March 29, 2011 - 10:25 PM

Coach Scott Sandelin and junior center Jack Connolly of Minnesota Duluth were on a Frozen Four teleconference call on Monday. It lasted for two hours.

For true puckheads, talking college hockey for 120 minutes was like heaven on earth.

Various media members asked questions, so there was no flow. It was a lot like UMD's penalty-filled recent hockey game against Union. Here is what I learned from Sandelin and Jack Connolly in the 35 or so minutes they took center stage:

"We certainly are excited to get to St. Paul," Sandelin said. "It's only a couple hours down the road. ... It's been a goal of ours since last year when we didn't get in [the NCAA tournament].

"What got us through was strong goaltending and the play of our top line. Saturday night, Ken Reiter was outstanding in goal. ... The special teams really stepped up in the first game. We blocked shots and won the special teams battle. We are certainly excited to get going next [week on] Thursday."

UMD plays Notre Dame at 4 p.m. on April 7 at the X in the first Frozen Four semifinal.

CLOSE SQUAD

"This is a pretty close group with a lot of belief in each other," Sandelin said. "Through the year we had out little setbacks. [Defenseman] Dylan Olsen left at Christmas. He was a pretty good player, but Dylan leaving allowed other players to step into positions."

Olsen signed with the Chicago in late December; he was a Blackhawks' first round pick in the 2009 NHL draft; No. 28 overall.. 

"We has some struggles to score but one thing, this group never stopped believing in themselves. When they put their mind to it, they were a good hockey team," Sandelin said.

"It's good to have some struggles. Especially in our league, everybody gets better. ... We never lost two games in a row all year, back to back,. that shows the character this team has.

WHY TOP LINE EXCELS

Jack Connolly said Mike Connolly, Justin Fontaine and him have chemistry together. "We know where each is, we feed well off each other with the little give and go plays," Jack Connolly said. And it definitely makes it easier for me to have two linemates who put the puck in the net.

Jack C's stats, 17 goals, 41 assists, 58 points; JF is 22-33--55; MC is 27-26--53.

"We have played together for the better part of 2, 2-1/2 years," Jack C said. "I'm fortunate to have guys who think the game the way I do."

Jack Connolly, of Duluth, said he dreamed of playing for his hometown and playing for the Bulldogs growing up.

The bonus for him is the Frozen Four. "We have definitely been thinking of the Frozen Four for a while. We felt we had all the potential in thwe world with this team," Jack Connolly said. "We have given ourselves the opportunity to make history in this program. We can't wait to get to St. Paul."

This is the Bulldogs' fourth Frozen Four.

JACK C. SAYS

* On his strengths: "I would think more of myself as a pass first, shoot second player. I have two phenomenal linesmates in Mike Connolly and Justin Fontaine. I do my part to find the open man. The reason I have so many assists, a big part of that is those guys."

* On whether anybody has asked the coaches to dye their hair blond as most of the players have: "No. ... A couple of seniors decided to do something different."

SADELIN SAYS

* On the six players from northeastern Minnesota on team: "I know those guys take a lot of pride in being from here. Obviously, they chose this program. Sometimes kids want to get away from home, but they chose us. They are great additions to this program. Our goals since we started here on the coaching staff, is to identify the best players in the are and go after them. It is great to have a local flavor."

* On Notre Dame: "We will watch a lot of tapes this week. I was very impressed with the team I saw Sunday. [Notre Dame beat New Hampshire 2-1]. They are very disciplined, have a great freshmen class. Look at T.J. Tynan and Anders Lee. ... They are very similar to us. We lost in the first round [of our conference tournament."

Notre Dame lost in the CCHA semifinals 6-2 to Miami (Ohio) and  4-2 to Michigan in the third-place game. UMD lost 3-2 in overtime to Bemidji State in the Final Five quarterfinals.

* On the Bulldogs's offense in the East Regional: "Offensively, we need a better push. ... We got outshot in both games but we managed to score goals."

* On whether he has talked to North Dakota's Dave Hakstol, coach of the other WCHA team in the Final Five: "We sent texts. We have not talked. We are good friends."

* On team's success in overtimes: "We had certainly, in the first half, a lot of wins in ovetime. They were games that could have gone either way. But we had the right guys in the right positions. As we won some of those games, the guys were never phased by playing the. You develop an aggressive mindset when you win some. We have had a couple losses."

UMD started the season 5-0-2 in overtime games and now are 6-3-6.

* On style Bulldogs like to play: "We like to pressure the puck, control the puck. Our top line is a huge catalyst for us. The key is good solid goaltending. Going in there was some question about our goalies but they have had great years. Kenny and Cranny [Aaron Crandall] both give us good, solid games."

* On defensemen: "We did a great job blocking shots [in the regional]. They have really bought into that aspect and it is critical at this time of the year."

* On playing at the X: "This group was in the Final Five this year and two years ago won the FInal Five. We are familiar with the building. The goal of every team is to get there. It is a great rink."

 

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