UMD’s NCAA Championship Makes a Dynasty of Destiny

John Gilbert

Coach Scott Sandelin addressed a capacity crowd Tuesday at Romano Gym celebrating UMD’s second straight NCAA championship. Photo credit: John Gilbert
Coach Scott Sandelin addressed a capacity crowd Tuesday at Romano Gym celebrating UMD’s second straight NCAA championship. Photo credit: John Gilbert

The term “team of destiny” has been used so much it’s become pretty trite. Up here in the Great White North, we don’t deal with teams of destiny, because we have our own “Dynasty of Destiny” with the UMD hockey team.

The Bulldogs overcame all sorts of adversity this season, much of it their own doing, after being picked as the favorite to win the NCHC championship. They didn’t do that. St. Cloud State ran away with the title, and the fact the Huskies lost only two regular season league games remain a mystery as well as a record. UMD out-battled Denver, Western Michigan and North Dakota to claim second place — 19 points behind St. Cloud State.

Think about that. UMD seems to spend the NCHC season, tough as it is, to get ready for the NCAA tournament that comes after the league playoff. When St. Cloud State was upset by Ameircan International in the opening regional game, UMD seized the opportunity and won the Midwest Regional to reach the Frozen Four. That’s when adversity seemed to hit the Bulldogs.

They came out strong against a very physical Providence outfit in the Allentown Regional, and any thought the Friars might have had to get physical with the Bulldogs dissipated like a puff of smoke when big Nick Wolff — “The Wolfman,” they called him on ESPN’s broadcast — leveled a Friar on his first shift with a clean and mighty bodycheck in open ice. That gave the Bulldogs all the momentum and they capitalized during a scramble at the crease when always hustling senior Billy Exell struck for the fourth line by swatting in a loose puck.

But the referee waved it off. They reviewed it from several angles, but the ground-level video from the right corner shtowed the puck a blur as it entered the goal just as the whistle blew. If you could stop action every frame, I believe the puck crossed the goal line before the whistle, but may not have hit the net until the whistle was being blown. In any case, the review should have overturned the on-ice call, but it remained disallowed.

Captain Parker Mackay, MVP of both the Midwest Regional and the NCAA Frozen Four, made closing remarks. Photo credit: John Gilbert
Captain Parker Mackay, MVP of both the Midwest Regional and the NCAA Frozen Four, made closing remarks. Photo credit: John Gilbert

No problem. The Bulldogs went back to work, and at 16:40 of the first period, freshman Cole Koepke was trying to get in front of the crease as captain Parker Mackay sent a pass to Mikey Anderson, who fired a hard shot. As Koepke eluded a Friars defenseman to get in front, the defenseman tried to lock up with him and though a half-stride late, he wrapped his leg around Koepke’s and tried to shove him into the crease. Koepke held his ground, with no more than one skate entering the crease and only briefly was knocked into the goalie. He then got back out of the crease while the goalie backed into the crease to prepare for Mikey Anderson’s shot. The shot seemed to hit Koepke, or the goalie, and fell free. Koepke spotted it first and reached to his left, around the goalie, and tucked it in. That made it 1-0 after all..,.or did it? No! The officials took a lengthy amount of time and then declared Koepke had interfered with the goaltender, which means he prevented him from having a fair chance at stopping the shot.

But the shot didn’t go in. Koepke’s conversion of the clean rebound did. So the first period ended Referees 2, Bulldogs 0, Friars 0.

That counts as two doses of adversity, but the Bulldogs persevered and in the second period, a big hit by Louie Roehl, sophomore defenseman, turned the puck over and Mackay cut all the way across the rink before entering the offensive zone, then making a neat pass to the right boards where Justin Richards snapped off a quick shot that went in for a 1-0 lead. It didn’t last, because Josh Wilkins nocked in a rebound from the right side at 11:17 to tie it 1-1.

In the third period, the Bulldogs were awarded successive penalties to freshman Tanner Laderoute and Noah Cates, but they killed the extended penalty, including 1:18 of a two-man power play. A couple minutes later, the fourth line was out there — at a time where no other coach dared play a fourth line — and Billy Exell spotted Kobe Roth out near the blue line, so he broke for the net. Roth shot, and when Exell went hard for the bouncing rebound, it hit is knee and the ricochet went in before he could get his stick on it.

No matter. It was 2-1, and should have been 4-1, but 2-1 was enough for this gang of Bulldogs. Besides, when Providence pulled its goaltender, Dylan Samberg, another of those sophomore defensemen, banged a clearing pass with intent off the left boards, and the puck zipped between a defenseman’s skates and slid 150 feet into the open net at 19:27. The Bulldogs exulted, and at 19:54 they did it again, because Richards skated down the rink and put another one into the empty net. Bulldog fans celebrated the 4-1 victory, and if anyone says “Yeah, but you had two empty-net goals,” the proper response would be, “Yeah, but we should have had two more goals.”

Key players in UMD’s NCAA championship were, from left, sophomore defenseman Scott Perunovich, junior goaltender Hunter Shepard, and sophomore defenseman  Mikey Anderson. Photo credit: John Gilbert
Key players in UMD’s NCAA championship were, from left, sophomore defenseman Scott Perunovich, junior goaltender Hunter Shepard, and sophomore defenseman Mikey Anderson. Photo credit: John Gilbert

A day of rest followed, while everybody east of the NCHC marshaled their hopes behind UMass. This is a school that used to be Mass-Amherst, and was never a factor in Hockey East, where it was a target for powers like Boston College, Boston University, New Hampshire, Providence and Maine routinely whipped them. But now the Minutemen can be proud to say they’re from UMass, and they’ve been ranked among the top half-dozen teams in the country all season, led by flashy sophomore defenseman Cale Makar. who spent the day off winning the Hobey Baker Award.

UMD coach Scott Sandelin, who is finally getting the credit he’s deserved, may have pulled off a master stroke of psychology before the championship game Saturday. “We talked about how we had been well, but I didn’t think we had played our best game — yet,” Sandelin said at Tuesday night’s championship celebration at Romano Gym. “Then we went out and played it.”

True, the Bulldogs were absolutely perfect, or as close to perfect as any hockey team can play in such a circumstance. The game started, and UMD altered their tendency to start cautiously and came at UMass, drawing a penalty, which led to a power-play goal after only 3:51 had elapsed. Big Riley Tufte, playing hard through the playoffs even without scoring the kind of goals we’d like to see from him, passed to Mikey Anderson at the left point. Anderson one-timed a remarkable pass toward the net, and Mackay, angling perfectly, caught the pass, took one step and backhanded it into the left edge of the cage.

The shots were 8-0 at that point, and ended up 14-5 after one period. And 1-0 was as close as UMass would get to getting a puck past Hunter Shepard.

Mikey Anderson is a story himself. For two years he and Dylan Samberg have been a steady and impressive duo on defense. Before the final game, Near the end of the season, star puck-rusher Scott Perunovich went out with a back problem, and in his absence, Mikey Anderson seemed supercharged to have a bigger offensive impact from defense. His statistics rose to nearly equal Perunovich’s impressive tally, and when Perunovich came back to rejoin The Wolffman, the Mikey Anderson-Samberg pair kept playing at their heightened level. Before the final game, broadcaster and former NHL player and coach Barry Melrose picked Scott Perunovich to be UMD’s key player, and said “He’s their best player, and he’s a great offensive defenseman — in fact, he’s their only offensive defenseman.”

Wrong, Barry. The entire defensive group can contribute offensively, and what about Mikey Anderson? Sure enough, after his quite amazing pass for the first goal, Mikey was at the right point when Mackay got the puck deep in the right corner. His path to the net blocked, Mackay circled to the end boards and came back up to the circle, when he spotted Anderson moving in from the point unnoticed. Mackay fed him a perfect pass, and Mike Anderson took a stride or two to the slot, and rifled a shot into the extreme upper right corner of the net at 15:50 of the second period for a 2-0 lead,.

All this time, UMD’s unparalleled balance kept UMass frustrated, and in the third period, Laderoute came up 2-on-1, and when his pass attempt was blocked, he dropped it off to freshman center Jackson Cates, who drilled his shot into the net with 2:42 remaining in the game.

“We believed in each other, and we trusted each other,” Sandelin said at the celebration. “Playing your best hockey at the end of the season isn’t an easy thing to do…We’ve had great leadership from our seniors, and Parker Mackay was named the most outstanding player at the regional and national tournaments. More important for me, we were able to do this for our university, our alumni, but what is most important to me as coach is they did it for the guys behind me.”

What the Bulldogs did by winning their second straight NCAA championship is to become the dominant power in college hockey with three national titles and a runner-up finish, all in the last eight years, under Sandelin. They’ve used the same philosophy for all three title runs, in 2011, and in 2018 and 2019 — absolute unselfish teamwork, no stars, with every player capable of scoring the big goal or stopping the big opposing chance.

And Saturday night was the capper. This might not be the best team in UMD history, but then again it might be. But when you think of the sensational way they beat Denver 3-0 with two empty net goals, and St. Cloud State in double overtime to win the NCHC Frozen Four, then the way they took down both teams in the Midwest Regional, then overcoming two disallowed goals to whip Providence in the NCAA semifinal, climaxed by the perfect 3-0 victory over UMass in the final, well it doesn’t get much better than that.

UMD was so good in the championship game that Makar was reduced to being pretty ordinary. Hobey who? Oh, he’s really good all right…He’s no Mikey Anderson, but he’s good.

The Bulldogs lose Parker Mackay, Peter Krieger, and Billy Exell as departing seniors who were regulars. The NHL might come after some underclassmen, like Shepard, or Perunovich, or a couple others. But if they don’t, you heard it here first: UMD is already the clearcut favorite to win its third straight championship in 2020. This is a great team, and just played in its third straight NCAA championship game, losing in overtime to Denver two years ago, beating Notre Dame last year, and crushing UMass this year. That, friends, is a dynasty.