Minnesota Duluth, the last at-large team to earn a berth in the 2018 NCAA Tournament, captured its second national championship with a 2-1 victory against Notre Dame Saturday night at the Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul, Minn.
The Bulldogs became the first team ever to win the NCAA championship on the strength of four one-goal victories. The last three of those wins were all by 2-1 scores, and followed a familiar script, with UMD building a 2-0 first-period lead and holding on for the win.
It marks the second championship for the Bulldogs, seven years later and in the same building where they captured their first in 2011. They are just the 15th Division I program with multiple championships to their credit.
“Obviously it's a special championship for the program,” said head coach Scott Sandelin. “I mean, I was fortunate to be part of the first one but this one is just as special. They never get old. And I'm extremely happy for [the seniors who] get to go out on a really, really good note and it's pretty remarkable what they've done to be up here as national champions. They deserve all the credit, especially our leaders.”
Senior Karson Kuhlman (Esko, Minn./Dubuque-USHL) started the scoring at 9:06 of the first period. The forward assisted on the second tally and was named the Frozen Four’s Most Outstanding Player.
Three of UMD’s four goals in the Frozen Four came from seniors Kuhlman and Jared Thomas (Hermantown, Minn./Sioux City-USHL). The young Bulldogs – who featured five freshmen defensemen and only three seniors in the lineup – were led offensively by those seniors.
“It’s nice to have the young players, they bring a lot of energy and obviously they’re talented,” Sandelin said. “Our youngest position was obviously the back end. And I was pretty comfortable with our forwards. But these guys played last year too. And they've been to the NCAA Tournament and they were in the championship game last year. And I'm not going to lie: I wanted them to share that with our guys, and hopefully it helped a little bit.”
The defensemen and sophomore goaltender Hunter Shepard (Cohasset, Minn./Bismarck-NAHL) held off Notre Dame’s rally, allowing only a power-play goal to Andrew Oglevie (Fullerton, Calif./Cedar Rapids-USHL) in the second period. The Bulldogs blocked 21 shots in the game, including 16 in the final two periods.
This marks the third time in six years that the team to earn the last at-large berth in the tournament has won the championship, joining Yale (2013) and Providence (2015). The win capped an up-and-down season for Minnesota Duluth, which at 25-16-3 finished with the most losses of any NCAA championship team.
The Bulldogs were 7-9-2 in December, and entered the tournament 2-10-0 against other tournament teams. Those struggles came after they lost a large senior class and six players to NHL contracts from a team that lost in the national championship game a year ago.
They were a different team in the second half, however, and finished with the four one-goal wins in the tournament.
“Roller coaster first half took a lot away from it as teaching moments, especially for our younger guys, and we kind of anticipated that,” Kuhlman said. “In the second half, went on a little run. And I think coming down to Xcel for the NCHC Tournament there was a good wake-up call for us. We got a taste of what playoff hockey was like. Got punched in the nose a little there and was fortunate enough to make the tournament. And obviously ran with our opportunity.”
Frozen Four All-Tournament Team
Forward: Karson Kuhlman, Minnesota Duluth (Most Outstanding Player)
Forward: Jared Thomas, Minnesota Duluth
Forward: Andrew Oglevie, Notre Dame
Defense: Scott Perunovich, Minnesota Duluth
Defense: Jordan Gross, Notre Dame
Goaltender: Hunter Shepard, Minnesota Duluth
Frozen Four Championship Photo Gallery