The Fighting Hawks, 4-0 against UMD on the season coming in, had the lead through a period and their adversary looked a tad tentative. UMD settled in defensively after the Nick Schmaltz goal, but never really found any footing in the offensive zone. UND blocked seven Bulldog shots and Cam Johnson managed seven saves on as many shots in the first.
But the second period -- statistically unkind to the Bulldogs all season -- was good to UMD on this day. The Bulldogs put up a three-spot in the second and went on to a 4-2 win over North Dakota, advancing to their first NCHC title game. UMD faces second-seeded St. Cloud State, a 4-2 winner over Denver, in the championship Saturday at 7:30.
As has been the case throughout what is now a seven-game winning streak, UMD's big guns were, well, big. Dominic Toninato scored the first and last goals, Alex Iafallo and Adam Johnson each had two points, and Willie Raskob picked up two assists.
Toninato's first goal came on a "How did he do that?" shot, top shelf from basically the extended goal line to the left of UND's goalie Cam Johnson. Raskob forced a turnover to hold the puck in the zone at the left point to set up Toninato's chance. Iafallo gave UMD the lead less than four minutes later off a great sequence of passes, Adam Johnson to Raskob to Iafallo at the goalcrease.
The UMD power play wasn't a big hit on Friday, going scoreless in four chances, including a 1:18 five on three in the second period shortly after the Bulldogs took a 2-1 lead. UMD had four shots in the two-man advantage, then hit a pipe after UND got a guy back on the ice.
Both teams traded quality offensive zone time, but UMD turned a good shift into a third goal at the 12:24 mark, when Austin Farley tipped a Willie Corrin shot and tucked it behind the crossbar. North Dakota grinded out a very good shift of its own a little while later, with Troy Stecher cutting the UMD lead to one with five minutes remaining in the period.
Defensively, UMD played a very strong third period, holding UND to 18 shot attempts (eight blocked) and five shots on goal. Kasimir Kaskisuo was up to the task, stopping all five and 22 of 24 on the afternoon/evening. Toninato got the UMD insurance goal with 5:58 left when he blasted home a shot from the slot after an errant centering pass became available and no one picked him up.
For UMD, it was a form of justice. After losing four times in four meetings and scoring only two goals on 139 shots on Cam Johnson, UMD made its 26 shots count on Friday, netting four goals and finally cracking one of the nation's best goaltenders. UMD played well enough to win probably three of the five meetings, but will settle for this very significant victory.
Some notes from the season-long Excel spreadsheet:
--> For the first time this season, UMD has been outshot at even strength in consecutive games (12-8 by Miami, 22-21 by UND). The Bulldogs are now 4-3 this year when outshot at even strength, including wins in three straight games where it's happened.
--> Tony Cameranesi (1-7-8) has points in a season-high seven straight games.
--> Going back to Jan. 30, Alex Iafallo is 5-8-13 in the last 13 games.
--> Would anyone be surprised if I said Karson Kuhlman was the only UMD player with at least one shot on goal in every game so far (four on Friday)?
--> Defenseman Willie Corrin is 1-3-4 in the last four games.
--> Friday the first two-point game in the career of freshman forward Adam Johnson. Won't be the last.
What does it mean? Well, I waited to file this until all of Friday's game were over. And the results didn't go enough in UMD's favor.
Because of Northeastern's win over Boston College in the Hockey East semifinals Friday night, the Bulldogs should bank on winning the NCHC title to punch their ticket. If Northeastern and Minnesota win their respective conference titles, there will be no at-large bid available for the Bulldogs to grab should they not beat St. Cloud State.
If Michigan beats the Gophers or UMass-Lowell beats Northeastern, UMD is in, I believe, regardless of its result against St. Cloud State. But the Big Ten final starts at 7pm, so unless the Hockey East game (6pm start) goes UMD's way, we'll be deep into the SCSU game before we know anything meaningful.