Minnesota Duluth captured its first postseason conference championship since 2009 on Saturday via a 4-3 victory over North Dakota in the championship of the NCHC Frozen Faceoff at Target Center in Minneapolis.
Holy Wah there’s a lot to talk about from this game, but I have a drive back to Duluth to make, and an NCAA tournament selection show to report on starting at 10 a.m., so I’m going to keep this short.
Below are my thumbs up and thumbs down from Saturday’s championship, plus my three stars of the night.
Thumbs up to the Bulldogs penalty kill
The power play won it for UMD on Saturday with freshman wing Joey Anderson bouncing the game-winner in off the skate of a Fighting Hawks player during a 5-on-3 advantage.
But UMD never would have gotten that far had it not been for the penalty kill in the first period.
The Bulldogs, who already had taken three minor penalties in the opening 13:33, finished the first period with six penalties for 15 minutes, but held North Dakota to 1-for-4 on power plays that spanned 8:57. Five minutes went to sophomore defenseman Neal Pionk, who received a major for charging after lighting up North Dakota goalie Cam Johnson on a shorthanded breakaway. That sparked a pretty nasty scrum that loaded both penalty boxes.
Willie Raskob was already in the penalty box for tripping when the scuffle broke out, so the Hawks had a minute-plus 5-on-3. They couldn’t convert on the two-man advantage or the one-man advantage, leaving the score 1-0 at first intermission.
Shots on goal in the first period were 16-4 in favor of North Dakota — with 11 coming on power plays — while shot attempts were 42- 6 in favor of the Hawks. I’m still amazed the Bulldogs were able to survive all that. Those first-period kills were huge, paving the way for the three goals in 58 seconds to start the second.
Thumbs down to the referees Todd Anderson and Geno Binda
There were a lot of heroes Saturday in the NCHC Frozen Faceoff Championship.
There was Anderson, of course, who scored the game winner with 50 seconds left in regulation. Bulldogs freshman goalie Hunter Miska made 32 saves as the backbone of a penalty kill that held North Dakota’s power play to 3-for-10. Sophomore forward Adam Johnson made some big plays, senior center Dominic Toninato had a huge goal to start the second period, and senior wing Alex Iafallo was everywhere on the ice making big plays on special teams and at even strength, on offense and defense, to garner MVP honors.
Even on the North Dakota side, future NHL stars Tyson Jost and Brock Boeser were phenomenal and Duluth native Trevor Olson once again pulled out some late-game heroics.
Instead, all everyone could talk about after the game was how NCHC referees Todd Anderson and Geno Binda stole the league’s biggest game of the year. The stripes dished out a combined 27 penalties for 57 minutes. The game was chippy, but there was also a lot of soft, petty calls.
The end resembled college football overtime. First North Dakota was handed a 5-on-3 power play via a couple weak calls in a one-goal game. Then to make up for that, UMD was given a 5-on-3 advantage via some questionable calls.
Like I said, there were a lot of exceptional performances on Saturday, but all everyone is talking about are the two guys in orange arm bands who refused to put their dang hands down all night long.
Matt’s Three Stars
3. UMD senior captain Dominic Toninato: Credit the captain for keeping his team cool, calm and collected on a night they all easily could have lost their minds. No one would have blamed UMD for losing its minds either. Dom led by example and his goal 90 seconds into the second to tie the game being a biggie.
2. UMD freshman goaltender Hunter Miska: The backbone of the Bulldogs penalty kill made 32 saves, with 22 of those coming from North Dakota power plays.
1. UMD freshman wing Joey Anderson: The freshman wing scored the game winner with 50 seconds to play. He not only quieted the hoards of North Dakota fans who were ready to celebrate a come-from-behind win, he silenced the Bulldogs fans who were losing their minds over the stripes.