Irish fall to Minnesota Duluth in national championship
Connor Mulvena | Monday, April 9, 2018
ST. PAUL, Minn. — A run that seemed destined for a championship met its end in St. Paul on Saturday night, as Notre Dame came up one goal short of its first national title, falling to Minnesota Duluth, 2-1.
Minnesota Duluth (25-16-3, 14-11-0 NCHC) managed to get to Irish (28-10-2, 17-6-1 Big Ten) sophomore goaltender Cale Morris early on in Saturday night’s game. A little over nine minutes into the first period, Bulldogs senior captain Karson Kuhlman found himself with a breakaway opportunity. He hesitated and then challenged Morris’ gloveside with a bullet slapshot that found the back of the net to give Duluth an early 1-0 lead. Then, with under two minutes to play in the period, senior forward Jared Thomas snuck one past Morris’ stick side from the right of the net to give the Bulldogs a 2-0 lead heading into the second period.
Morris has proven himself to be one of the top goaltenders in college hockey this year, as he led the nation in save percentage, wins and saves heading into the Frozen Four and won the Mike Richter award, given to the most outstanding goaltender in college hockey. Despite all of this, Minnesota Duluth managed to score on Morris early on. After the game, Minnesota Duluth head coach Scott Sandelin emphasized getting pucks on net and getting traffic as the team’s offensive mindset heading into Saturday’s game.
“ … [Morris] doesn’t give out a lot of rebounds. I don’t know if Karson’s first goal was off their defenseman’s stick, good shot, I couldn’t tell but — getting pucks and getting traffic and trying to get them inside the dots, trying to make it a little bit harder because he’s not going to give up much if he sees pucks and certainly not going to give up rebounds,” Sandelin said. “I think Jared kind of caught him by surprise. … But we knew it was going to be tough. That’s why it’s great to see the first one go in because, you know what, that might be all you need. And he’s certainly capable with the type of goalie he is and the year he’s had to not give up any more. But we found a way to get an extra one, and that ended up being the game-winner.”
The Irish have played from behind much of the year, and in characteristic fashion, their offense began to show life in the second period facing a two-goal deficit. After Duluth freshman defenseman Scott Perunovich was called for a two minute hooking minor, Notre Dame’s power play unit capitalized as junior forward Andrew Oglevie scored his 15th goal of the season. The goal was assisted by sophomore left wing Cam Morrison and senior captain Jake Evans. The Irish continued their attack for the rest of the period and even managed to create a few scoring chances, but sophomore goaltender Hunter Shepard thwarted all of Notre Dame’s efforts, looking solid in net all game.
Notre Dame looked to tie the game in the final period, but Duluth’s strong defensive unit, solid goaltending and sterling forecheck prevented the Irish from doing so. The Irish only managed to get five shots on goal in the period and Shepard saved each of the five shots. With 1:28 remaining in the period, the Irish pulled Cale Morris to gain an extra man, but the Bulldogs’ defense remained solid, making it nearly impossible for the Irish to enter the zone.
After the game, Irish head coach Jeff Jackson commended Duluth’s defense and said turnovers prevented the Irish from obtaining the scoring chances they needed.
“My biggest thing was I thought we had too much separation between our defensemen and our forwards,” Jackson said. “They did a really good job with their gaps. We needed to put more pucks in behind their defense, but we didn’t get that done. We had too many plays where the puck wouldn’t even get below the tops of the circles. You’re not going to generate anything if you’re chasing. Unfortunately, we were forced to chase too much because of turnovers.”
Jackson went on to say that the second period was crucial for the Irish since Minnesota Duluth has been dominant late in the game.
“I thought in the second we played a much better period,” Jackson said. “We needed to try and tie the game in the second, because once you get to the third period, they’re a shut-down team. They shut you down and don’t allow much through the neutral zone.
“And we had at least some juice in the second period, especially after we scored that goal. I think that we needed to try and tie it in the second. Third period was just a shut-down period. They didn’t give us much.”
Despite a heartbreaking loss, the Notre Dame squad and its leaders are proud of what they accomplished this season. After the game, senior defenseman Justin Wade expressed his appreciation for his time as a member of the team.
“It’s been one of the most amazing seasons, one of the most amazing hockey teams I’ve ever been a part of,” Wade said. “I couldn’t be more proud of these guys in this locker room on the team right now. We battled through adversity after adversity all season. I just couldn’t be more proud of the guys. We came up short this year, but we took a step as a program and it’s just an honor to be here.”
Jackson echoed these sentiments, especially with respect to his senior leaders. But, in the end, Jackson said Duluth was the better team Saturday.
“This group was unbelievable. I mean, they were relentless. They were resilient,” Jackson said. “We had great leadership. I feel awful for our seniors. They did a heck of a job all season long.
“We still walked away with two trophies and played in the national championship game. So there’s a lot to be said for what they accomplished this year. They had a 16-game winning streak. We had a great year in the Big Ten. We ran into a better team tonight, and we have to respect that.”
Heading forward, Jackson said he wants to take the time to appreciate the members leaving the team, but he and his staff will be back to work soon enough.
“We’ll get back at it and take some time to reflect. We’ve got a big senior class to replace and a big freshman class coming in. It’ll certainly be a different look in our team, but we’ve got a lot of good players and fairly good group of leadership coming back,” Jackson said. “We’ll get started all over again. It’s a continuous cycle for us as coaches. Sometimes it’s different people. But I’m not going to look that far in the future right now. I want to embrace these kids that we have here and what they accomplished.”