St. Paul, MN — The Frozen Four returned to the State of Hockey for the first time since 2011. That year, Minnesota-Duluth outlasted Notre Dame and Michigan to claim the program’s first National Championship only two hours away from campus. Seven years later, Duluth returned to the Xcel Energy Center looking for the school’s second National Crown of the decade and redemption following the team’s National Title loss in Chicago last year. First, the Bulldogs had to face an inspired Ohio State Buckeyes team looking to avenge their loss to Duluth last year and win the school’s first National Title.
Duluth met the challenge with a hot start. Only 1:53 into the first period, Matt Anderson found Louie Roehl for a shot from the right circle and a 1-0 lead. The onslaught continued with Duluth forcing Ohio State into critical defensive and neutral zone mistakes. Seniors Karson Kuhlman and Jared Thomas capitalized on one such mistake, turning a turnover into a hash mark to blue line pass from Captain Kuhlman to his centerman. Thomas deked Buckeye goaltender Sean Romeo shot a backhander through to give Duluth a 2-0 lead 3:04 into the game. The onslaught continued in the first period, as Duluth outshot Ohio State 17-4. Romeo played a commendable period, recording 15 of his 26 saves in the period and kept Ohio State in the game at intermission.
Jared Thomas' pressure created the turnover and then he finished the breakaway off the great lead pass from Karson Kuhlman to make it 2-0 Bulldogs!!!#FrozenFourpic.twitter.com/kHhFbjQQgZ
The Buckeyes slowed the pace of play in the second period and upped the physicality of play. They outshot Duluth 7-6 and started to build momentum. Mikey Anderson took an interference minor near the halfway point and the Buckeyes got three shots on Duluth netminder Hunter Shepard. Fortunately for the Bulldogs, their sophomore goalie was sharp, stopping every shot and continuing the shutout into the second intermission.
Ohio State controlled the third period, outshooting Duluth 8-5. An early elbowing penalty taken by Riley Tufte created a window for Ohio State to climb back. The Buckeyes failed to score but got another chance on a Nick Wolff tripping minor. Wyatt Ege wound up a shot at the point and broke his stick on the attempt. Duluth failed to clear the puck. Dakota Joshua found Tanner Laczynski for a curl and a wrister to get Ohio State on the board with 10:33 left in the game. They peppered Shepard, but he again held his ground. The Cohasset, Minnesota, native recorded 7 of his 19 saves in the third period and shut the door on the Buckeye season.
The Ohio State University concludes their season with a 26-10-5 record. The team competed in a tight Big 10 conference well and established themselves as a contender for the foreseeable future. The Buckeyes were crushed after the game, but still proud of their work in 2018, according to Head Coach Steve Rohlik.
“Tough way to start a hockey game against a really good hockey team,”Rohlik said. “We dug ourselves a hole. But I couldn’t be more proud of my team. They never quit, like they have all year, right through the end.”
Five seniors concluded their Buckeye careers. Matthew Weis, Janik Moser, Kevin Miller, Christian Lampasso, and Alternate Captain Luke Stork will graduate in May, but leave Columbus in a strong hockey position after their program’s second Frozen Four bid. Captain Mason Jobst, defensive anchor Sasha Larocque, leading scorer Tanner Laczynski, and goaltender Sean Romeo will headline the returning players for the 2018-2019 Buckeye season.
Duluth was pleased to find a rather surprising win, particularly with this young team. Coach Scott Sandelin was surprised with his team’s performance this year.
“I don’t know how we got back here. We knew we had some great freshmen coming in,” Sandelin said “We had big question marks, there’s no question about it. So, I think even with a lot of people there was doubt. And it’s something we talked about. I talked about it at length with some of our older players that trust us. All I know is I’m elated for our program. I’m super excited for our players to have an opportunity to play on Saturday.”
The Bulldog’s record improves to 24-16-3. The team’s last 10 NCAA Tournament games have now been decided by one goal. Duluth will face Notre Dame at the Xcel Energy Center in the program’s fourth National Championship game. The Bulldogs are skating for their second Title. Puck drops at 6:30 pm CT.