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After a long, hard winter, one final wintry blast this week can be considered an acceptable mid-April dose of a winter we thought was over. Maybe it’s fate. Maybe Mother Nature didn’t want to see the UMD hockey season end too soon, also.
If we could control the destiny of the UMD hockey team, we might hope to see the Bulldogs face the University of Massachusetts in Saturday’s NCAA championship game. No offense to Denver, which faces UMass Thursday night in the semifinals at Buffalo, N.Y., but we’ve seen the Bulldogs face Denver five times, winning the third of those five in a fantastic 3-0 victory at the NCHC Frozen Faceoff semifinals at Xcel Center.
UMD, meanwhile, had to face a very tough Providence team in Thursday’s first semifinal, and as of this writing, we don’t know how that one comes out.
It is a huge achievement for the Bulldogs to be making their third straight trip to the Frozen Four, with a chance to win back-to-back titles. Coach Scott Sandelin has been very thorough and careful to make sure that his Bulldogs will go into the Frozen Four with the utmost respect for the three teams sharing this final college hockey weekend with them. And truly, any of the four could walk away with the big trophy.
But the Bulldogs are the best balanced of the four. While they haven’t broken out in a splurge of goals, they play tight defensive hockey with a confident poise, never panicking. And if the game turns into a shootout, everybody up and down the UMD lineup can score, while goaltender Hunter Shepard is, in my opinion, the best goalie in the country.
If you want to look at big goals, they don’t come much bigger than the ones scored in the last three weeks by sophomore Nick Swaney on the first line, by senior captain Parker Mackay who accepted set-ups from freshman Cole Koepke and went from set-up artist to scoring three huge goals in the two regional victories from the second line, fantastic set-ups by freshman Tanner Laderoute on the third line, and by fourth line sophomore Kobe Roth and senior Billy Excell.
The defense has been rock-solid, with big Nick Wolff tilting the ice in UMD’s favor while trying to coax sophomore Scott Perunovich back to full health as his puck-rushing partner, and Mikey Anderson has been sensational picking up the offensive punch with Perunovich hindered, while Dylan Samberg has been steady as his partner, and the Matt Anderson-Louie Roehl tandem continues to be the best third unit in the country.
Krieger, the elder statesman at age 25, originally played at Alaska-Fairbanks before transferring to UMD and sitting out a full season, but dropped in a year ago to become a solid regular center and the top scoring forward on the team. He has continued his strong two-way play as a senior, with freshman Noah Cates and sophomore Swaney on his wings. From Oakdale, and St. Thomas Academy, he and Justin Richards have given UMD great stability centering the top two lines.
“I definitely wanted to go to a team where I might have a chance to keep playing in March and April,” said Krieger, before the team’s departure for Buffalo. “It’s great to come here and go to Frozen Fours both years. There are only four teams left, and we know it’s not an automatic thing. The neat thing about this team is the atmosphere, and how Scott gets the most out of every player. We’re all friends, and you can show up and hang out with anyone on the team.”
Perunovich, who led UMD in scoring as a freshman defenseman and it among the top scorers going into this final weekend despite missing four games with a late injury, said he’s ready to go 100 percent this weekend. “We know how tough it is and that we have to beat a good team when we go to the Frozen Four,” the sophomore from Hibbing said. “We’ve got a great coach, and he’s from Hibbing, too. And She has been the backbone of our team for sure, all season.”
Wolff, who has left a trail of stung foes with his under-control, open-ice bodychecks, is 6-foot-4 and 230 pounds, and his force might be welcomed against a feisty Providence team in the semifinals. “Three years in a row,” he said. “We know what to expect now, and what a great achievement it is just to get there. We’ve had a tough 6-7-8 games here now, and the way we’re playing, I think it’s all come together. We’re starting faster and when we’ve needed a big goal, somebody has gotten it. Parker got a couple of them in the regional, and that’s what captains do — we build off that.”
Mackay, who has been a quiet leader all season and has hiked is level of performance recently, said, “Anytime you’re down in a game like that, you adopt a Gam e7 mentality. When we were down, I’ve got to admit that I was completely focused, but everything goes through your head — all four years flashed by for me.
“Obviously it’s an exciting time, and any time you can contribute to the team’s success it makes you feel good. Some people don’t even get the opportunity to get to a regional, and we’ve had four great years. We’ve been very fortunate to get to our third Frozen Four in a row.
“A lot of credit has to go to Scott. He put Duluth on the map over the last decade as a team that will outwork anyone in the country. Our entire team is confident: Our goaltender is phenomenal, our D-corps is experienced and really talented, and every guy in the room has bought into the team concept. It starts from the top down, and we’re never satisfied. Even getting back to the Frozen Four, we’re realizing what’s at the end of the rainbow.”
The rainbow ends Saturday night, if the Bulldogs get past Providence and play in the final, but it only ends for the three seniors — Mackay, Krieger, and Excell. The rest will be back, reinforced by a sprinkling of freshmen, to start all over again in the fall to make a run at a fourth straight Frozen Four.
Saints Sweep UWS in ‘ Forward Postponement’
Maybe this can only happen in Duluth. Wednesday’s scheduled doubleheader between arch-rivals Wisconsin-Superior and St. Scholastica was postponed on Tuesday because of the threatening forecast for Wednesday — so the teams played the doubleheader in frigid Wade Stadium on Tuesday afternoon instead, Where else does a team postpone a game for weather and play it a day before it was scheduled?
Saints coach Corey Kemp obviously knows what he’s doing, because his Saints battled through a topsy-turvy first game before beating UWS 7-5 on a 10th inning, 2-run home run by James Fuerniss. UWS led 1-0, then the Saints went up 3-1 in the second, but Wisconsin-Superior got one in the third and took a 5-3 lead in the fifth when Cory Albertson hit a 3-run home run. The Saints got one back in the fifth, and Eric Pearson homered in the seventh to tie it 5-5.
In the second game, the Saints beat the Yellowjackets 4-2 for Kemp’s 300th coaching victory, as Jake Sande pitched eight scoreless innings. Eric Pearson, who went 4-for-5 with his home run in the first game, hit another home run in the second game, while Brad Fossum went 3-for-3 with a double for St. Scholastica.
The Saints sweep gave them six straight victories and a 4-0 record atop the UMAC, with an 11-8 overall record. UWS broke through Sande and scored twice in the eighth, before Grant Mergen came in to finish the 4-2 victory,