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UPDATE: Iafallo nets one late to send UMD over Harvard, and berth in NCAA title game

Minnesota Duluth left wing Riley Tufte (27) is tripped up by Nathan Krusko (13) of Harvard during the Frozen Four semifinal at the United Center in Chicago on Thursday, April 6, 2017. Clint Austin / Forum News Service1 / 3
Minnesota Duluth left wing Alex Iafallo shoots the puck past Harvard goaltender Merrick Madsen at 19:34 in the third period to give the Bulldogs a 2-1 lead. Minnesota Duluth hung on to defeat Harvard and advance to the national championship game Saturday at the United Center in Chicago. Clint Austin / Forum News Service2 / 3
Minnesota Duluth head coach Scott Sandelin and his team react as time runs out in regulation during the Frozen Four semifinal game against Harvard at the United Center in Chicago Thursday. Minnesota Duluth scored a goal late in the third period with 16.6 seconds left to defeat Harvard 2-1. (Clint Austin / Forum News Service3 / 3

CHICAGO — Minnesota Duluth senior wing Alex Iafallo couldn’t help but let his dirty little secret slip Thursday inside United Center after securing a berth in the NCAA championship game.

As much it might pain the masses, Iafallo enjoys a good one-goal game.

“Definitely nerve-wracking, but a good nerve-wracking,” Iafallo said with a smirk.

Nail-biters might be a guilty pleasure for Iafallo and the Bulldogs, but they’ve had enough of those nail-biters that last longer than 60 minutes, which is why UMD’s leading scorer redirected a pass from senior defenseman Willie Raskob through the legs of Harvard junior goaltender Merrick Madsen for a 2-1 Frozen Four semifinal victory.

Iafallo posted his team-leading 20th goal of the season with just 26.6 seconds left on the United Center clock to break a 1-1 tie that was forged late in the first period.

The Bulldogs will now play for a national championship at 7 p.m. Saturday at United Center against either Notre Dame or NCHC rival Denver. The Pioneers led 2-0 when this edition of the News Tribune went to press.

Whose heart is ready for another tight night of hockey?

“It was an emotional game. At the same time, I had a gut feeling that we were going to pull it off at the end,” Iafallo said. “We’ve been resilient all year. I feel like we’re always going to prevail. Everybody is going to give it their all to win it.”

Thursday was the Bulldogs’ 14th win in 18-one goal wins this season. It was also their eighth consecutive win dating to the final day of the regular season.

Of those eight victories, five have come by a single goal and three came in overtime.

“It's kind of been our MO all year. Another tight game. Another one-goal hockey game,” UMD coach Scott Sandelin said. “It’s just real exciting to be moving on.”

UMD has played a total of 12 overtime games this season — it’s 5-0-7 in OT this year — and seemed destined for a 13th until freshman defenseman Joey Anderson fed a pass to Raskob, the Bulldogs’ NCAA tournament closer.

Raskob said he didn’t know if the pass was meant for him or Iafallo — Anderson said it was for Raskob — but the senior defenseman took the puck anyway. He saw Iafallo wide open in the slot, so he dished the puck in that direction.

Seeing Iafallo get the puck through “was something else” Raskob said, especially after the way the previous two seasons ended via one-goal losses to Harvard’s Beanpot rivals — Boston University and Boston College — in regional finals.

“You’ve been here for four years and we had those two heartbreaks. To finally see a bounce go our way in a moment like this was one of the most incredible feelings,” Raskob said. “To be able to share it with these guys is something I’ll remember for the rest of my life.

“I’m just glad this didn’t go to overtime, because wow, I don’t know if I could handle another one of those.”

Raskob, who has a modest 10 goals and 49 assists in 147 collegiate games, has recorded three game-winning points the last two seasons in NCAA tournament games. He assisted Karson Kuhlman in a double-overtime win over Providence a year ago in the Northeast Regional semifinals. Two weeks ago, he recorded the game-winning overtime goal in a West Regional semifinal win over Ohio State.

Now playing in his first Frozen Four, Raskob was there once again to keep the Bulldogs season alive for a couple more days.

“I don’t know what it is,” Raskob said. “The puck finds my stick and I’m able to make a play. It’s an amazing feeling to do it for these guys — my best friends, my brothers. To not be able to do it all season, I think I’d give it up to do it in moments like this. I’ll take what I can get.”

Harvard tallied the first goal 15 minutes into the opening period on a power-play goal by senior wing Tyler Moy. He took a cross-zone pass that caused Bulldogs freshman goaltender Hunter Miska to hesitate just enough to leave Moy an open net.

The lead was short-lived as Anderson tied the game at 1-1 with 1:36 to go in the first period. He took a draw that senior center Dominic Toninato won and sent a change-up down the middle through Madsen.

From there, both teams settled in, waiting for the other to make a mistake. Harvard — who was in just its sixth one-goal game of the year — flinched first with 26.6 seconds left in regulation, letting Iafallo charge up the middle for the game-winner.

Then the Bulldogs flinched with the Crimson net empty. Miska may have stopped 39 shots, but he got beat twice in the closing seconds. A post bailed him out on one shot, while the knee of freshman defenseman Nick Wolff teamed up with the crossbar to save another.

“Pretty crazy,” Miska said of the closing seconds. “Hat’s off to my defense for getting in front of it a couple times there. I didn’t really see what was going on, there were so many bodies in there. It was just scramble play. I just tried to get big in front of the net there. If the puck hits me, it hits me.”

Harvard.................................. 1-0-0—1

Minnesota Duluth.................. 1-0-1—2

First period — 1. HAR, Tyler Moy 22 (Alexander Kerfoot, Adam Fox), 15:00 (pp); 2. UMD, Joey Anderson 12 (Dominic Toninato), 18:24. Penalties — Luke Esposito, HAR (boarding), 1:08; Neal Pionk, UMD (hooking), 4:05; Nick Wolff, UMD (charging), 8:00; Kyle Osterberg, UMD (boarding), 14:25.

Second period — No scoring. Penalties — John Marino, HAR (tripping), 2:40; Brenden Kotyk, UMD (roughing), 16:11.

Third period — 3. UMD, Alex Iafallo 20 (Willie Raskob, Joey Anderson). Penalties — None.

Shots on goal — HAR 14-10-16—40; UMD 13-13-38—39. Goalies — Merrick Madsen, HAR (38 shots-36 saves); Hunter Miska, UMD (40-39). Power plays — HAR 1-of-4; UMD 0-of-2. Referees — Jamie Koharski, Geoff Miller. Linesmen — Kevin Briganti, Tommy George.

Matt Wellens

College hockey reporter for the Duluth News Tribune covering the Minnesota Duluth Bulldogs men's and women's teams, as well as the NCAA Division III programs at St. Scholastica and Wisconsin-Superior.

(218) 723-5317
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