For the third time in as many years, the University of Minnesota Duluth will play for college hockey’s top prize after a 4-1 NCAA Frozen Four semifinal round triumph over Providence College Thursday night at the KeyBank Center in Buffalo, N.Y. The defending national champion Bulldogs will now take on the University of Massachusetts on Saturday night in the Frozen Four championship.
UMD (28-11-2 overall) struck for three goals, including a pair of empty-netters, in the final 9:53 of regulation against the Friars (28-11-2) en route to hiking its winning streak to seven games and its all-time NCAA Tournament winning percentage to a nation-leading .684 (off a 26-12 record). Senior left winger Billy Exell’s goal at the 10:07 mark of the third period broke a 1-1 tie and sent the Bulldogs to their fifth title game in seven lifetime NCAA Frozen Four appearances.
After a scoreless first period, sophomore center Justin Richards broke the ice by firing a wrister from the right side board past Friar goaltender Hayden Hawkey. That goal, which came 6:39 into the second period, was Richards’ 11th of the season — and his career. A little less than five minutes later, Providence answered by striking just 11 seconds into its first power play opportunity of the evening. The Friars, who were 5-for-9 with the man advantage in the NCAA Tournament coming into the night, had a golden opportunity to take their first lead of the game early in the third period when freshman right winger Tanner Laderoute and Exell took penalties 42 seconds apart. That gave Providence a 5-on-3 power play for 1:18, but the Bulldogs, thanks in part to a couple of huge saves from junior netminder Hunter Shepard, successfully kept the Friars off the scoreboard.
“We did a lot of video work this week on their power play — we knew how dangerous they were,” said Richards, a minutes-muncher on UMD’s penalty kill unit. “So when they got that five-on-three, we knew that could be the turning point of the game. We ended up killing it off and I think we got a ton of momentum off that.”
Exell collected just his third goal of the year — but second of the 2018-19 postseason — by swatting in a rebound off a shot by sophomore left winger Kobe Roth. Sophomore defenseman Dylan Samberg, who also assisted on Exell’s game-winner, and Richards each added an empty net goal in the last minute of play to cap off the victory and make UMD the first team since Boston College (2006-08) to advance to three consecutive Frozen Four championship games.
“That was a very, very hard hockey game,” said UMD head coach Scott Sandelin, who is now a sizzling 20-6 lifetime in the NCAA Tournament. “I can’t say enough about our players. I’m so excited for them to have the opportunity again to play for a national title. And, you’re always extra excited for your seniors to play in the last college hockey game of the year.”
(info and photo courtesy of UMD Sports)