Saint Paul, Minnesota —Minnesota Duluth and Notre Dame will play for the national championship on Saturday at the Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul, Minnesota. Puck drop is set for 7:30 p.m. ET.
The Bulldogs secured its spot in the championship game after defeating Ohio State 2-1. The Bulldogs scored two goals in the first four minutes of the game to top the Buckeyes. Ohio State tallied a goal thanks to Tanner Laczynski in the third period to make things interesting, but it wasn't enough to beat a UMD team that was solid throughout.
In the second semifinals game, captain Jake Evans scored with 3.7 seconds left in the third period to give Notre Dame a 4-3 victory over Michigan. The Wolverines scored the first two goals of the game, but the Irish bounced back. Notre Dame took a 3-2 lead but Michigan’s Nick Pastujov knotted the game at 3-3. It certainly looked like the game was heading to overtime until Evans was the hero for the Irish.
Before the national title game on Saturday, here are seven things you should know about Minnesota Duluth vs. Notre Dame.
Both teams playing on Saturday competed in last year’s Frozen Four in Chicago. The two teams fell to Denver; Notre Dame in the semifinals and UMD in the title game. It’s certain that the prior experience was an advantage this time around at the big stage.
"I don't think there were any thoughts about redemption from last season," Notre Dame head coach Jeff Jackson said. "I think it was more about this team came together. They had a real good run. They ran into some bumps in the second half of the year, but found a way to get it back going into the playoffs. And I think it says a lot about their character and their resiliency."
The guys between the pipes looked solid for each team during tense moments of Thursday’s games. Cale Morris, this year's Mike Richter Award winner, recorded 25 saves and allowed three goals. Heading into the Frozen Four Morris’ .945 save percentage lead the nation. In addition, he has posted that save percentage in 21 games against the top-15 offensive teams.
“I think the best attribute about Cale is he's in control. He's emotionally, mentally and physically in control," Jackson said. “He's very calm, doesn't get rattled, gives up a goal, like Jake [Evans] said, they have the confidence to know that there's not another one right away, that he's going to be able to stand in there and play the same way even if he gives up a goal off a fluky bounce or whatever it may be.”
“He's been our rock all year, and this team and this staff know him so well that even if he lets in one goal, that just builds our confidence, because we know he's not going to let in anymore or one more,” Evans said. “And it definitely helps our confidence and we know we're one goal back and they're probably not going to get many more. He's been our rock all year. He's definitely is leading this team to success.”
For Minnesota Duluth, goaltender Hunter Shepard had 19 saves and only allowed one goal. Heading into the Frozen Four, Shepard was 23-16-1 with a .924 save percentage and posting eight shutouts.
Head coach Scott Sandelin credited his goaltender after the win against Ohio State for staying composed after the Buckeyes cut the lead in half.
Karson Kuhlman, Minnesota Duluth’s team captain, leads the team in career goals (38), assists (40), points (77) and game winners (7). He tallied an assist against Ohio State on the Bulldogs’ second goal, and played a great overall game for UMD.
“He does things that get the boys going. He's always that spark that we need when we need it. Made a great pass to me on that goal. It's really nice playing with a guy like that,” said forward Jared Thomas said. “Obviously, he does all the right things and you can't really put into words what he brings to our team inside the locker room and even off the rink. I think you can tell what he does on the rink, and you can see the type of guy he is.”
For the Irish, Jake Evans, the hero in the semifinals game, has 13 goals and 32 assists so far this season.
“He's our leader, and he stepped up big for us last night. And it just goes to show that he has that in him,” forward Dylan Malmquist said. “And on the ice, when you watch him play, you can tell he's a very smooth skater and makes good puck decisions. And so we just watch him, to be able to do that under pressure and it helps us out a lot on the bench.”
Notre Dame in the clutch
Jackson joked after Thursday’s win that his team is literally giving him heart problems from these last second goals. However, he confirmed during Friday's press conference that he sees the doctor regulary and is healthy.
In their last four games, the Irish have scored goals in the last minute of the third period or game-winners in overtime. Yeah, that sounds stressful.
"We can't go into the game thinking we're going to score the goal at the last minute. I’d rather have won that game with a one-goal lead in the third and not have to go through that," Jackson said. "But these kids have found a way to get it done. And I'm not going to argue with that. They find a way. They're very calm."
Heading into the tournament, Notre Dame’s Andrew Oglevie had nine game-winning goals in his career, while Dylan Malmquist and Jordan Gross both had eight.
Fresh faces for UMD
Minnesota Duluth and Notre Dame came into this season losing some key players to last year’s team due to graduation or the NHL. Despite that, both teams are the final two left standing.
The Bulldogs lost about half of their lineup for their runner-up team. When asked how his team got here while facing adversity, Sandelin simply said “I don’t know.”
“We had big question marks, there's no question about that. So, I think even with a lot of people, there was doubt. And it's something we talked about. I talked about it at length with some of our older players that trust us,” Sandelin said. “But, it takes time for those kids to get used to college hockey. Every weekend was a new experience for our freshmen. But we had a good forward group. We had a lot of depth coming back. Obviously, last year we had a much older group. Expectations were super high. And this year complete opposite, I guess. In the age standpoint, we had a young group. Had to figure out our identity and how we wanted to play and how we wanted to win hockey games.”
Out of the two teams Kuhlman has played in the most games and holds the longest consecutive game streak at 165.
Behind him for most games is teammate Thomas at 162.
Notre Dame’s Jordan Gross has the longest active streak for the Irish at 157 games. Jake Evans is right behind him, playing in 156 collegiate games.
Home ice advantage?
Back in 2011 the Frozen Four took place at the Xcel Energy Center, and Minnesota Duluth was victorious, defeating Michigan 3-2 in overtime to take the national title.
After the semifinal game on Thursday, Sandelin recalled the noisy crowd back in 2011, and would expect nothing to be different come Saturday.
“I hope it gives us a big advantage. Because I remember in 2011 when we came out the building was electric. You could feel it in warm-up, and I hope it's the same way because I thought that game was an outstanding hockey game and I expect the same thing Saturday. It's great that it's close,” Sandelin said. “It's great that we have a lot of our Bulldog fans here and maybe some people have jumped on board, but I want more and hopefully we can get this building really loud and pulling for us. It was a lot of fun in 2011. I expect it to be the same thing because we've got tremendous fans.”