March 28, 2004
NCAA Tournament | Midwest Regional
Something Special
Minnesota Duluth upends its rival to earn a spot in the Frozen Four

By James Jahnke

Minnesota Duluth 3,
Minnesota 1
Team Goal Str
Time Assists
First Period
1-MD Evan Schwabe (19) EV
18:10 Unassisted

Second Period

No Scoring

Third Period

2-MD Luke Stauffacher (17) EV
1:37 T.J. Caig, M. Peluso
1-MN Grant Potulny (16) PP
5:25 G. Guyer, B. Tallackson
3-MD Jesse Unklesbay (6) EV
10:19 Unassisted
Goaltending
MD: Isaac Reichmuth, 60:00, 22 saves, 1 GA
MN: Kellen Briggs, 58:55, 17 saves, 3 GA
Penalties: MD 4/8; MN 4/8
Power Plays: MD 0-3; MN 1-3
Attendance: 3,206
All-Midwest Regional Team
F: Junior Lessard, Minnesota Duluth
F: Evan Schwabe, Minnesota Duluth
F: Aaron Gill, Notre Dame
D: Chris Harrington, Minnesota
D: Keith Ballard, Minnesota
G: Isaac Reichmuth, Minnesota Duluth (MVP)

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. – Minnesota-Duluth advanced to the Frozen Four by beating Minnesota for the fifth time this season.

How many times will Bulldog fans get to read a sentence like that?

Whether it becomes commonplace for UMD to rank among college hockey’s elite remains to be seen, but the players and coaches at the school making its first national semifinal appearance since the mid-80s certainly understand that this 2003-04 season is special.

“Last week, when I wasn’t skating, it gave me a chance to sit back and think about it a little bit,” senior Junior Lessard said after the Bulldogs beat Minnesota 3-1 in the Midwest Regional final to set up a date with Denver on April 8 in Boston. “We’ve done some great things, but we haven’t really accomplished anything yet. I just try to look forward to what we’re going to do, not what we have done. I think that’s what great players do. They look ahead. It’s never enough, they always want more.”

Most Bulldogs, while realizing that what they’re experiencing right now will be a special memory in 10, 20, 50 years, are trying to keep their focus on the future. Same goes for UMD bench boss Scott Sandelin, making his first Frozen Four trip as a head coach. He wants to avoid counting accomplishments at this point because, until the Bulldogs lose, their experience hasn’t climaxed yet.

“Once we get settled down for a few hours tonight, I’ll think about what we’ve done a bit,” Sandelin said. “But I know and these guys know that this isn’t the end of it. We want to keep going. We’re only half done.

“We’ve made some memories, but we want to make a lot more.”

Related Coverage
ESPN.com: Reichmuth Keys UMD
Saturday's Midwest games

IT'S NOT THE CHARM

Minnesota’s seniors were three wins away from being the first class in a half-century to win back-to-back-to-back national titles. But then they ran into the buzzsaw that is UMD, and their season is over sooner than most people expected.

Their glorious moments certainly out-weighed their disappointments during their four-year tenure in Minneapolis, but they seemed to be the most despondent of the three losing teams at the Midwest Regional.

Grand Potulny choked back tears during his postgame press conference. Troy Riddle was quiet and introspective.

Perhaps losses are even tougher to take when you’re on top.

“Just the fact that we’ve been on top the last couple years, and this is my last year, you naturally want to go out on top,” Riddle said. “But that’s just the way it goes sometimes.”

Coach Don Lucia, perhaps because his term at Minnesota hasn’t expired, wasn’t as broken up as his seniors. He was able to reflect on happier moments, such as the team’s amazing 16-game postseason winning streak, which ended Sunday.

“It’s a tremendous accomplishment,” Lucia said. “They had that weight on their shoulders all year, and I couldn’t be more proud of our guys and what they accomplished. The locker room here is devastated. It’s tough for the seniors to lose their last game, and to come so close. It’s a tough game to lose when you’re one game away from the Frozen Four. That’s the one that hurts more than any other. They’ll feel better in a couple of days.”

INCH's Three Stars of the Weekend

3. Thomas Vanek, Minnesota
Although he didn’t dent the score sheet Sunday, Vanek was such a force in Saturday’s game against Notre Dame that he still gets the nod here. Amazingly, he was left off the All-Regional team in favor of the Irish’s Aaron Gill.

2. Evan Schwabe, Minnesota Duluth
Scoring the first goal in both games, Schwabe was the guy who got things rolling for the Bulldogs this weekend. He might have been the No. 1 star if not for a dumb slashing penalty that allowed the Gophers to cut their deficit to 2-1 in the third period Sunday.

1. Isaac Reichmuth, Minnesota Duluth
Rarely tested by Michigan State, Reichmuth was a stud against the Gophers and allowed just one goal all weekend. Point-black saves on one-timers by Vanek and Jon Waibel in the first period set the tone for Sunday’s game.

SEEN AND HEARD AT VAN ANDEL

• Overheard in the Van Andel pressbox during the first intermission, with UMD leading 1-0: “The Gophers just need to give up one more goal and they’ll be all set.” After all, Notre Dame led Minnesota 2-0 after 20 minutes Saturday, but the Gophers came back with the next five goals. Obviously, the strategy didn’t work Sunday.

• With the two most proximate teams eliminated on the first day of the regional, there were understandable concerns about the crowd (or lack of) that would show up Sunday. The unofficial over/under was set at 3,000. But, while the audience was far from enormous (3,206), the atmosphere in Van Andel was better than it was Saturday.

• Early in Sunday’s second period, no one was within 20 feet of Gopher freshman Ryan Potulny when he wiped out in front of the UMD crease and knocked the net loose. The gaffe prompted a simple, but well-timed, “Learn to skate” chant from the UMD students.

• In my haste yesterday, I forgot to mention that Michigan State’s NCAA Tournament scoreless streak reached 194:18 with Saturday’s 5-0 loss to UMD. The Spartans have been blanked in their last three games (2-0 vs. North Dakota in the 2001 Frozen Four, 2-0 vs. Colorado College in the 2002 West Regional and Saturday) and haven’t scored since Rustyn Dolyny finished a 5-1 win over Wisconsin in the third period of the 2001 West Regional. Coincidentally, that game was at Van Andel Arena.

• In the postgame press conference, Reichmuth was asked about playing Denver again, this time on a little bigger stage. Understanding the humor built into the question, Reichmuth softly repeated, “little bigger stage,” and laughed.

• Minnesota-Duluth was the only one of the four teams in Grand Rapids without a band. Asked about it, Sandelin deadpanned, “I bet our band will be in Boston.”

PLUSSES AND MINUSES

During intermissions, replays of classic overtime NCAA Tournament games were shown on Van Andel’s video boards. From Northern Michigan’s 8-7 triumph over Boston University in 1991 to Colorado College’s 4-3 win over Vermont in 1996, the replays were certainly better intermission entertainment than Score-O.

Reichmuth had a restaurant-quality glove save on Barry Tallackson with about five minutes to play Sunday. Tallackson had a one-timer in front of the crease, but Reichmuth nabbed it as he whipped his glove up and then forward. The theatrical-looking save was reminiscent of Patrick Roy and brought the UMD crowd to its feet.

Thomas Vanek, who has the tools to be an unstoppable force, oftentimes stops himself. Several times during Sunday’s game, he could have made a play with a little bit of hustle. But he seemed disinterested in the defensive end and lackadaisical without the puck in the offensive zone. Too many Randy Moss moments.

Schwabe’s aforementioned brain spasm happened when he took exception to Minnesota’s Keith Ballard hooking him after the whistle. Instead of skating away and taking solace in the team’s 2-0 lead, Schwabe retaliated with a vicious two-handed slash that could be heard in Kalamazoo. Less than two minutes later, the lead was just 2-1 and the Gophers temporarily had momentum. Fortunately, for Schwabe’s sake, he and his teammates buckled down and got the win nonetheless.

WHAT'S NEXT

UMD advances to the Frozen Four, where it will meet league rival Denver on April 8 in Boston. The Bulldogs swept the season series 2-0-0 with 1-0 and 6-3 wins right after New Year’s in Denver.

Minnesota loses plenty of talent up front to graduation. Troy Riddle, Matt Koalska, Grant Potulny, Jon Waibel and Joey Martin have all exhausted their eligibility. The Gophers’ defensemen have seasons remaining, but when you recruit players of the Gophers’ caliber, there’s always the chance they will bolt early for a professional contract. Among those thought to be candidates for an early departure are defenseman Keith Ballard and forward Thomas Vanek. Kellen Briggs and Justin Johnson are expected to return between the pipes.


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