The chocolate milk toast would have to wait. As the winners' drinks were being poured in Minnesota Duluth's locker room Thursday night, Jack Connolly -- in a black suit, black shirt and black Bulldogs knit cap -- rushed barefoot to his stall.

The junior center was running late for a postgame news conference, which required shoes. Connolly has been working both sides of the media recently, blogging for the Bulldogs' website ( and dishing out interviews through UMD's run to the NCAA Frozen Four. After scoring the goal that beat Notre Dame in Thursday's semifinal, he handled the rest of his duties with the same cool.

Calm as he looked, Connolly was bursting with emotions: pride, anticipation and the thrill of stepping to the edge of history. As a Duluth kid, he understands exactly what it would mean to his community to win UMD's first national championship in hockey. It's been a charmed season already, for many reasons. Saturday, the former soccer player and lifelong Bulldogs devotee can help make it the greatest in the program's 50 years in Division I.

"I know it would mean the world to Duluth," said Connolly, whose power-play goal early in the second period put the Bulldogs into the title game for the second time in history. "We've had teams get close, but even with the great players that have come through the program, this is something that's never been done.

"I grew up watching this team. When I got the opportunity to play for them, I jumped all over it. I would love to bring home some hardware and make some history."

At just 5-8 and 175 pounds, Connolly's body looks more suited to the other sport he could have played in college. But he never seriously considered the offers he got to play soccer at the Division II level. He has a heart, and a face, made for hockey, with a bushy brown playoff beard -- easily the best of the Bulldogs' bunch -- still growing in this gloriously long season.

Connolly used to go to Bulldogs games with his parents and his brother, Chris, who won an NCAA hockey championship in 2009 with Boston University. His UMD career was fast-tracked by coach Scott Sandelin, who watched him tear up the USHL in his first season with Sioux Falls. A planned two-year stay was cut to one when Connolly's tenacity, vision and hockey sense led to a league-high 72 points.

The USA Hockey junior player of the year and USHL rookie of the year in 2007-08, Connolly blossomed as a UMD sophomore and improved upon that performance this season. He has never missed a game, skating in all 124 over the past three seasons. The nation's third-leading scorer this season with 59 points, he is the Bulldogs' first two-time first-team all-WCHA player in 25 years and was a top-10 finalist for the 2011 Hobey Baker Award as the best player in college hockey.

Connolly also was named to the NCAA East Regional all-tournament team and is a two-time member of the WCHA's all-academic team. That's all fine and well by him, but he still doesn't have what he wants most -- and what his brother already has. Two years ago, Jack watched on TV as Chris and his Boston University teammates won the NCAA championship.

Chris traveled to the Twin Cities on Thursday morning and was at Xcel Energy Center for the semifinal. "He told me, first of all, to take it all in," said Connolly, who has two goals and two assists in UMD's three NCAA tournament games. "It's a once-in-a-lifetime experience, and he told me to enjoy the moment. He also said I shouldn't be too nervous, that this is just another hockey game, like the other 40 we've played all year."

Well, not quite. But even with a chance to make history in his home state, Connolly intends to keep his cool, which has been crucial to getting this far. "He has such an even keel," Sandelin said. "And beyond that, he's a hell of a hockey player."

Saturday, he can finish off one heck of a season in historic fashion. If that happens, he won't mind waiting one last time for that chocolate milk.

"I was so happy for my brother when he won," Connolly said. "I would love to match him and win one myself, especially here in St. Paul, with our fans here. I've had a great experience so far. To win a title would really mean a lot."

Rachel Blount •