Saturday, March 25, 2017

Sunday Hockey Notes and Thoughts: Bulldogs Turn Tables on Boston University, Advance to Frozen Four

FARGO, N.D. -- There was no secret regarding the bitterness UMD felt in 2015, after an Evan Rodrigues goal with one second left in a power play off a very controversial call against Andy Welinski lifted Boston University to the Frozen Four.

A few days after that season ended, perhaps too soon, UMD coach Scott Sandelin was still fuming about the call against Welinski, who would captain the Bulldogs to another NCAA appearance last season.

"I've had a lot of great teams," Sandelin said at the time. "It's not even about winning. We've had some great kids. This group was pretty special. Unfortunately, they almost got to where they wanted to go. That's the part that's hard for a coach, when you see that. It was a fun group to work with. They worked hard. They cared about each other.

"Like I've said, some things you can't control. I kind of feel like that last game kind of got taken out of our hands. I don't like that, because I think it cheats the kids a little bit. They're the ones that people come to watch. You just want them to play and decide a game. That's the unfortunate thing, that's the thing that probably stings the most. Whether that sounds like whining, I really don't care. Because the bottom line is that for four of those guys, they can't play again.

"Sorry, I went off the deep end a little."

So to say this is a sweet victory for UMD is probably an understatement.

Adam Johnson's wrist shot at 1:57 of overtime got by Boston University goalie Jake Oettinger, and UMD beat BU 3-2 to advance to the NCAA Frozen Four, April 6 and 8 in Chicago.

Johnson picked up the rebound after his initial one-time attempt at the right point was blocked off the boards by BU captain Doyle Somerby.

Watch the video. Johnson smacks Somerby with a hard one-timer, then calmly picks the puck up off the boards and goes right on the attack. He makes a little juke move, enough to get Somerby out of the way to create the shooting lane, and there was no mistake on that shot. The whole thing started when Alex Iafallo pinched to keep a hard-around from Somerby in the zone.

“I took a one-timer and the shot got blocked," Johnson said. "I was fortunate enough to get it back on the wall and I saw an opening. I just tried to fake a shot and get that guy to bite and shoot it by him. I found the corner and it was a good feeling.”

"What a great play by them," Boston University coach David Quinn said. "They make an unbelievable play to keep the puck in, we win the draw and Doyle does a great job firing around, and [Iafallo] made an unbelievable play to keep the puck in and Doyle makes a great block and was a little bit staggered and they smelled blood and they took advantage of it.

"That's what great teams do and that's why they're going to the Frozen Four, they've been doing that all year long and you have to give them a lot of credit."

It's the kind of play Johnson has increasingly shown the ability to make, and it's what has helped make this power play so dangerous in the second half of the season.

Certainly this has the potential to be an X-factor for UMD in Chicago, that and the again-emerging penalty kill. Against a highly-skilled BU power play, UMD did the job on two chances, pulling off a perfect weekend in Fargo against two potent man-advantage teams.

Discipline played a role, with only six power plays condeded in two games, but the Bulldogs' special teams are dialed in at the right time of the season.


For UMD's seven-man senior class, this has to be awfully sweet. After two years of agonizing regional final losses to Boston teams, the Bulldogs are headed back to the premier event in college hockey.

“Absolutely incredible," Iafallo said. "It’s the reason why we came back. Just proud of the guys for sacrificing their bodies. The last two years we came short and this year we didn’t, so it feels absolutely phenomenal.”

There's little doubt Iafallo and captain Dominic Toninato, among others, have saved their best for last.

Iafallo had two more points Saturday to run his point streak to 13, a career high (7-15-22). He has exactly two points in each of the last seven games (5-9-14).

"I’m more excited for our team, our program and our seven seniors that have kind of gone through tough defeats in this regional final," Sandelin said. "To have the opportunity to get to Chicago, to get to the Frozen Four and keep playing is pretty exciting for all of us."

And as Sandelin himself noted Saturday night, he isn't easily excited. Can tell he's pumped about this. As he should be, and surely he isn't alone.


Talking to Sandelin before the game, one of his goals was to not have freshman goalie Hunter Miska end up making a half-dozen highlight reel saves again. Goal: Realized.

Miska made a great stop on BU's Jakob Forsbacka Karlsson, lifting his pad to rob the Terriers star center blind on a BU power play. Other than that, he didn't have to do much more than his job. Defensively, it was a much more composed and structured performance from UMD, which did a great job limiting a dangerous team in transition and keeping star freshman Clayton Keller in check. Keller scored in the first period. That came after a pinch by freshman Jarod Hilderman at the offensive blue line, and Keller was able to get around Joey Anderson before scoring on a nice backhand.

Once that happened, UMD did a great job defensively. It might have been a bit boring to watch at times, but with the Bulldogs still missing senior Carson Soucy, they made sure the area in front of Miska was taken care of, first and foremost. It was probably UMD's strongest defensive game in a while, especially considering the quality of the adversary.


Miska headed up the All-Tournament Team, and was named the MVP of the regional. Joining him on the team were senior defenseman Willie Raskob, along with Iafallo and Anderson up front. Rounding out the All-Tournament team were Keller and BU sophomore defenseman Charlie McAvoy.


UMD will face Harvard in the national semifinals April 6 in Chicago. The Crimson, seeded third overall, beat Air Force 3-2 Saturday in Providence to claim the East Regional. Two more spots will be filled Sunday, as Penn State battles Denver in Cincinnati, and Notre Dame faces UMass-Lowell in Manchester.


Thanks to KBJR sports guy Zach Schneider for driving on this trip. Was a good time with him and News Tribune scribe Matt Wellens. It's never easy to drive through the middle of nowhere.

Might scuttle the regular Monday blog, but will be back later in the week. Follow the Twitter @BruceCiskie for whatever I post there.

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