Before Saturday night’s NCAA Frozen Four championship game between Minnesota Duluth and Notre Dame at Xcel Energy Center, there was a pregame moment of silence in honor of the victims of the bus crash involving the Humboldt (Saskatchewan) Broncos junior hockey team on Friday.
The crash, which killed 15 and injured 14, hit home for Minnesota Duluth senior forward Blake Young of Battleford, Saskatchewan.
“I found out with my mom last night,’’ said Young, who played for the Battleford North Stars of the Saskatchewan Junior Hockey League, of which Humboldt is a member. “It’s tough because Saskatchewan is such a tight-knit group of people, small communities, everyone knows everyone. Your heart aches when you hear news like that. I was fortunate enough to play with some of those guys on that team. So just not knowing was a struggle.
“It was definitely on my mind all of last night and all of today,’’ Young added. “And I just told myself to go out there and lay it on the line for those guys who can’t anymore.’’
Next stop: Buffalo
Next year’s Frozen Four will be in Buffalo, N.Y., site of the 2003 event that saw the Gophers repeat as national champions. After that, it’s Detroit in 2020, Pittsburgh in 2021 and Boston in 2022.
So, when will it return to Xcel Energy Center?
Tom McGinnis, Gophers senior associate athletic director and chairman of the NCAA Division I hockey committee, said the university will bid on the next Frozen Fours available.
“We’re strong advocates that the most premier event in college hockey should be in the State of Hockey as often as we can have it here,’’ McGinnis said. “Whenever the NCAA puts out the next opportunity for the next four-year cycle, we certainly will be putting forth a bid to make sure we can get the championship back here.’’
McGinnis expects that next four-year cycle of announcements to be in 2019 or 2020. He also said that the university would be interested in hosting future regional tournaments at Xcel.
Minnesota Duluth forward Karson Kuhlman, who had a goal and an assist Saturday and an assist in the semifinal win over Ohio State on Thursday, was named the tournament’s most outstanding player. Joining him on the all-tournament team were forwards Jared Thomas (UMD) and Andrew Oglevie (Notre Dame), defensemen Scott Perunovich (UMD) and Jordan Gross (Notre Dame) and goalie Hunter Shepard (UMD).
Bulldogs coach Scott Sandelin had nothing but praise for Kuhlman, who also was most outstanding player of the West Regional in Sioux Falls.
“I think I’ve said it every year,’’ Sandelin said. “If I could have 25 guys like him, my job would be really easy. He’s a special kid.’’
As his teammates threw their sticks and gloves into the air, UMD forward Jared Thomas headed for the bench. He wanted to help freshman winger Kobe Roth, who injured his leg in the first period, come out on the ice for the celebration.
Roth was hurt when he was checked by Notre Dame’s Justin Wade and did not return to the game. Thomas said Roth is his one of his best friends on the team, and he didn’t want him to miss the fun.
“He’s kind of like a little Mini-Me,’’ Thomas joked. “I kind of took him under my wing. I wanted to get him out there. He took a hit to make a play.’’
• Minnesota Duluth became the third team in the past six years to win the NCAA title as the last at-large team to make the tournament. Yale did so in 2013, Providence in 2015.
• Gophers hockey legend John Mayasich dropped the ceremonial puck.
• The previous two NCAA finals at the X ended in overtime, and the players who scored those goals were in attendance and saluted. The Gophers’ Grant Potulny got the winner against Maine in 2002, and UMD’s Kyle Schmidt scored against Michigan in 2011 to give the Bulldogs their first title.
• Immediately after the game, many fans waved front pages from the Duluth News Tribune with the headline “TOP DOGS,’’ commemorating the victory.
• UMD Chancellor Lendley C. Black was on the ice for the postgame celebration, wearing a Bulldogs jersey with his name on the back. “It’s an incredible accomplishment,’’ he said. “I’m so proud of these students.’’