To say Parker Mackay had big shoes to fill in taking over as Minnesota Duluth’s captain would be an understatement. After all, last year’s captain, Karson Kuhlman, guided a young UMD team to the NCAA championship, scoring a goal and assisting on the other in the Bulldogs’ 2-1 victory over Notre Dame in the national title game.
“He showed up every day with the same mentality. You can hear it from anybody: He led by example and was an absolute workhorse on and off the ice,’’ Mackay said of Kuhlman, who’s scored two goals in seven games as a Boston Bruins rookie this season while spending most of the season in the AHL. “There’s nobody questioning why he’s having the success he has this year.’’
Mackay has been successful, too, in his leadership role, helping Minnesota Duluth to a 25-11-2 record entering Saturday’s Midwest Regional semifinal against Bowling Green (25-10-5) in Allentown, Pa. (3 p.m., ESPNU). The senior from Irma, Alberta, has 12 goals and 15 assists and is a plus-12 this season. More importantly, the Bulldogs are peaking at the right time, coming off a 3-2 double-overtime victory over No. 1 St. Cloud State in the NCHC Frozen Faceoff championship game last Saturday.
In that game, the regular-season champion Huskies outshot the Bulldogs 15-6 in the first period and twice had one-goal leads.
“St. Cloud did a really good job of coming out early and taking a lot of pucks to the net,’’ Mackay said. “It was intense to start, and we had to weather some storms early. We settled in once we scored that first one. The belief was there, the mentality was there, and the outcome was what we wanted.’’
Mackay and the Bulldogs will try to take that approach while opening defense of their NCAA championship. In Bowling Green, UMD meets a team that fell 3-2 at Minnesota State in the WCHA championship game last weekend.
“They’ve beat some really good teams and have the record to show for it’’ Mackay said. “… It’s going to be hard to create in the offensive zone. Just the way that they play in in the WCHA, it’s a heavy game. We’re expecting that.’’
Steeled by an 8-2 NCAA tournament record the past three seasons, the Bulldogs draw confidence that they can navigate any situation, as they showed in the NCHC final and in last year’s West Regional first round, when Mackay’s overtime goal beat Minnesota State 3-2.
“It was a huge character win for our team,’’ Mackay said of the victory over St. Cloud Stat. “We might need to pull that game out moving forward. With the outcome we had last year, the belief is there at any time, like that first game against Mankato last year when we came back from down two goals.’’