ST. PAUL, Minn. – In reality, there was no other way for the 2011 NCAA Frozen Four to end.
After Michigan’s Ben Winnett scored in back-to-back games for the first time in his career, Minnesota Duluth’s Max Tardy scored his first career goal to give the Bulldogs their first lead of the night, and fourth-line center Jeff Rohrkemper scored to tie the game for the Wolverines. It was only fitting that the winning goal in the 2011 NCAA Championship game would be scored by a player recognized as an “Unsung Hero.”
Kyle Schmidt, who scored at 3:22 of overtime on Saturday night to give Minnesota Duluth its first-ever NCAA Men’s Ice Hockey Championship, was recognized a day earlier as the winner of the fifth annual Derek Hines Unsung Hero Award.
Of course, as one member of the media put it during the postgame press conference, the senior forward from Hermantown, Minn. is “very sung right now,” so one could argue that he should give the award back.
If it matters, Schmidt is more than happy to trade.
“I’ll take a national championship any day of the week,” Schmidt said with a smile.
In all seriousness, though, Schmidt is proud to be honored with an award named for Hines, a former co-captain at Army who distinguished himself as a “consummate team player and team builder” before he was killed in the line of duty in Afghanistan in September 2006.
“It’s an honor for me to even be mentioned with the Derek Hines Award,” Schmidt said, “with what he did for our country, what he did for the team when he played at Army. To be mentioned in the same sentence as a guy like that, I’ll cherish it for the rest of my life.”
As Schmidt noted, though, it’s pretty easy to qualify as “unsung” when you play on a team with the most potent scoring line in the country, Duluth’s “FCC Line” of Justin Fontaine, Jack Connolly and Mike Connolly.
“We have, probably, the best line in the nation,” Schmidt said. “Anyone else is probably going to be covered up in them, but we’re totally fine with that. We see them play every day in practice, and then on the weekends, and they’re a special line. We won’t ask for the credit, because they’re the ones making things happen, game in and game out.”
In this game, however, neither the “FCC Line” nor Michigan’s top line of Carl Hagelin, Chris Brown and former Hobey Baker finalist Louie Caporusso was able to put the puck in the net, which Michigan head coach Red Berenson wasn’t especially surprised by, having coached in 11 Frozen Fours during his 27 seasons as head coach.
“I think the top players just about neutralize each other throughout the game,” Berenson said, “and it’s an unsuspected or unsung hero that ends up scoring a goal.”
With the top scorers out of the equation, it was Winnett who scored his fourth goal of the season to give Michigan the lead in the first period, and he was answered by UMD’s Travis Oleksuk 1:39 into the second period.
Including Tardy on the power play after he’d gone scoreless in the first 25 games of his NCAA career was an unexpected move, but it certainly paid off for Bulldogs head coach Scott Sandelin.
“Actually,” Sandelin said, “the last few weeks we practiced him there. He’s got certainly very good skill level. He sees the ice. It’s funny how things work out.”
In the excitement of taking a lead in the NCAA Championship game, it would have been understandable if the Bulldogs had failed to retrieve the puck for Tardy to commemorate his first collegiate goal. However, the Duluth native did indeed get his memento.
“I was a little curious,” Tardy said, “but our equipment manager did a great job, and I was really happy about that.”
Still, the big souvenir from this trip to the Twin Cities is the NCAA Championship, and for that, the Bulldogs and their fans can thank Schmidt. True to form, though, Schmidt is quick to credit the “unsung heroes” of the overtime goal.
“I’ll take it,” Schmidt said of the recognition, “but it wasn’t even, more or less, my effort. It was my linemates down low. I’m pretty vocal during game. T.O. knew where I was, and he was able to get me the puck, and I had more or less an entire net to shoot for, and I’m just glad I cashed in on it.”
Throughout UMD’s tournament run, Schmidt has fielded questions about his hair, having opted out of the Bulldogs’ team bonding experience of dyeing their hair blond because of his upcoming wedding. While he reminded the media on Saturday night that he had, in fact, frosted the tips of his hair, Schmidt certainly stands out for a much better reason now.
“I was just in the right spot at the right time,” Schmidt said. “Blond hair, just the tips, either way, I think I would have buried that one, and luckily I did.”