Saturday night's NCHC Frozen Faceoff finale was so much fun for Minnesota Duluth and North Dakota that the Bulldogs and Fighting Hawks might get together again next weekend.
Joey Anderson, a freshman from Roseville, scored with 50.3 seconds left as UMD beat North Dakota 4-3 at Target Center for the conference tournament championship and the automatic NCAA tournament berth that goes with it.
Anderson's goal came on a 5-on-3 power play, after North Dakota's Austin Poganski was called for interference at the 18:08 mark and Joel Janatuinen followed him into the penalty box for hooking only 14 seconds later.
The Bulldogs won their first playoff title in the new conference, formed four years ago after college hockey's radical realignment. The Bulldogs (25-6-7) built a two-goal lead courtesy of a trio of rapid-fire goals in the second period after UND (21-15-3) completely dominated the opening 20 minutes. The postgame news conference's first question was a rhetorical one, from the winning coach.
"What did you think of that game?" joked UMD's Scott Sandelin when the roller-coaster ride was finished. "We came out and won the game in the second period with a great start."
But the Fighting Hawks got one goal back in the second period, and they scored again late in regulation to tie the score. Trevor Olson made it a 3-3 game at the 17:14 mark of the third period.
"Once they scored that third goal we all had to take a deep breath on the bench and make sure we stayed calm," said Anderson, whose game-winner deflected off the skate of North Dakota defenseman Hayden Shaw and past goalie Cam Johnson.
"We had to turn the switch and get going again to make sure we got the next bounce and the next goal."
The Bulldogs are expected to be a No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament when the 16-team field is announced Sunday morning. It's a strong possibility that they could join the Hawks at the West Regional in Fargo, where North Dakota will be the de facto home team.
UMD's Hunter Miska finished with 32 saves, while Cam Johnson had 19 for North Dakota. Bulldogs forward Alex Iafallo was named the tournament MVP after getting a goal and three assists over the weekend.
North Dakota emerged from the opening period up by a goal but missed an opportunity to blow the game open. The Bulldogs were assessed six penalties in the period, including a five-minute major, and spent more than 11 minutes down a man. The Hawks held a 16-4 advantage in shots.
"I don't think it was a missed opportunity," said a defiant North Dakota coach Brad Berry. "I thought we had the momentum and played the right way, we just couldn't continue that the whole game."
The tables turned in an instant once the second period began. The Bulldogs' Dominic Toninato and Riley Tufte scored goals just 17 seconds apart to take a 2-1 lead, then Adam Johnson added a power-play goal for a 3-1 UMD lead. Still, UMD's penalty troubles continued and the Hawks answered with a 5-on-3 power play goal by Tyson Jost to lead 3-2 after two periods. North Dakota had eight of the game's first 10 power plays, scoring on two of them.
"I can't count them all. It was a lot," Sandelin joked of the avalanche of infractions, after 57 penalty minutes were doled out.
The announced crowd of 10,297 was dominated by green-clad North Dakota fans, although the Hawks wore black jerseys for both games of the weekend — a get-up that Berry refers to at the team's "business suits."