St. Paul, MN – First, let me admit there is some bias in this blog. I’ve been imbedded in St. Cloud State Cardinal and Black for several decades. That’ll never change. But, I am a graduate of the University of Minnesota Duluth and will forever be grateful for the education obtained there and the opportunities it afforded me. Thus, I will always be loyal to the UMD Bulldogs.
With that out-of-the-way, I think you get my jest – I’ll be pulling for the Bulldogs to win their second national championship tonight at the Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul. For the Bulldogs, it’s been a storybook season with one final chapter to complete. And, that’s winning their second title in seven years as close to home as they can possibly get in the NCAA tournament. After ascending to the championship game last season vs Denver, it was probably even money that the Bulldogs would be in that position. You see, they had a team loaded with upperclassmen, 13 to be exact and were loaded with experience, good offensive potential and strong goaltending. After the disappointing loss to Denver, the team was pretty much dismantled through graduation and defections. They lost their outstanding goaltender, Hunter Miska and top forward Adam Johnson to pro signings and 5 defensemen to graduation. This required bringing in 10 new faces for the 2017-18 season. With the wheelhouse full of talented young players, the future looked bright – just not this season.
With first-year players like Nick Perunovich, Nick Swaney, Mikey Anderson and Dylan Samberg it was hoped they could weather the storm for the first half of the season and that they did while these youngsters acclimated themselves to a new level of competition in the NCHC. Finishing third in the final NCHC standings was better than expected and the Bulldogs had their sights set on another NCAA tournament appearance. However, they fell flat n the NCHC post-season tournament losing twice and looking like they ran out of steam. This resulted in a precarious Pairwise position leaving their fate to other post-season results. When all washed out, the Bulldogs eked their way into the NCAA tournament by a sliver nosing out the University of Minnesota by one-one thousand of a percentage point.
The Bulldogs were sent to the West Region in Sioux Falls to battle in-state rivals Minnesota State Mankato and presumably the #1 seed St. Cloud State. The Bulldogs meanwhile fell behind early to another top seed, Minnesota State and had to rally from a two goal deficit to earn the right to the region final. There, they knocked off Air Force in a low-scoring battle to earn the right to participate in the Frozen Four.
After defeating top-ranked Ohio State on Thursday 2-1 in the Frozen Four, the Bulldogs find themselves in the national title game in St.Paul seven years after defeating Michigan for their first NCAA title.They’ll face a defensive-oriented Notre Dame squad fresh off a last second win over Michigan 4-3 on Thursday. With both teams becoming specialists at one-goal wins, this should be an interesting matchup tonight. One would think it’ll be a low-scoring affair decided by a single goal. Both play strong defense, are solid on special teams but average on the offensive side of the puck. If the Bulldogs are to have success, they’ll need to contain Jake Evans, Andrew Oglevie and Cal Burke up front and offensive-minded defensemen, Jordan Gross and Bobby Nardella on the back end. Both goaltenders are very strong with the Irish’s Cale Morris just named the Mike Richter Award winner.
This one can go either way but I think it would be a shame if the final chapter was not completed for the Bulldogs.