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WELLENS: UMD season was money well spent

Minnesota Duluth center Avery Peterson (11) is squeezed between Blake Hillman (25) and Tanner Jaillet (36), both of Denver, during the Frozen Four national championship game at United Center in Chicago on Saturday, April 8, 2017. Clint Austin / Forum News Service

CHICAGO — Back in the newsroom of the Duluth News Tribune, the sports staff has a jar sitting atop a cubicle divider. I believe in a past life it stored pickles, or maybe spaghetti sauce.

Now it's decorated with stickers and thanks to the 2016-17 national runner-up Minnesota Duluth men's hockey team, that jar is stuffed to the max with cash.

We call it the "OT jar" and if you are a DNT reporter or photographer covering a sporting event that goes to overtime, you owe a dollar to the jar. If the game goes to double overtime, you owe two dollars. Triple overtime ... you get the picture.

I wish I could tell you we're raising money for charity, but we're not. At the end of the season, we use the cash to pay for a few pops at a local watering hole. This year, we'll probably be able to afford pizza, too.

Is "Pizza and Pop for Sports Writers" a charity? No? Ok then, moving on ...

For me, the reporter who follows the Bulldogs men's hockey team wherever it goes — in addition to frequently dropping in on the UMD women's team — it's been an expensive season.

Between the eight 5-minute 5-on-5 periods, four 5-minute 3-on-3 periods, two shootouts and four sudden-death 20-minute periods the UMD men's team has played this season, I've deposited at least $19 into that jar.

The Bulldogs women's team was much kinder to me. It saved its overtime games for the road, which I don't attend. They played two overtime games at home this year and I covered both. One was a shootout win, though, to bring their season total to $4.

As much money as the men's team has cost me, I realize the total could be much worse. Thankfully, the Bulldogs have come through late on a number of occasions.

There was Avery Peterson's game-winning goal on Feb. 23 with less than two minutes to play that gave UMD a 4-3 win over Miami at Amsoil Arena. A few weeks later, in the NCHC Frozen Faceoff semifinals, Joey Anderson scored a 5-on-3 power play goal with 50.3 seconds left on the clock.

Alex Iafallo has been my biggest hero to date, saving me a buck on two occasions. He recorded the game-winning goal with 15 seconds left on the clock in the second game of the regular season to give UMD a 4-3 win over Michigan Tech in Duluth. Then of course, there was the game-winning goal Iafallo redirected in here against Harvard in the NCAA Frozen Four semifinals on Thursday.

Saturday's championship game cost no one any money as the Bulldogs were unable to score the equalizer in a 3-2 loss to Denver.

As I look back on this season, which will likely go down in the books as the most devastating to the News Tribune's deadlines for its Saturday and Sunday newspapers, I can't help but think all those singles I crushed into the jar were money well spent.

Yes, this season has been stressful as night in and night out I raced to make my deadlines — 11 p.m. on Friday nights and 10 p.m. Saturdays (with a few extra minutes granted in the Mountain time zone). It has given me a number of new gray hairs and forced me to grow a third eye so during third periods I can keep one on the ice, one on my computer screen and another on the clock.

Ledes have been written, deleted and written again because of late goals. Many nights, I'd have three ledes sitting on my screen as the clock wound down — one for a win, one for a loss and one in case the game was not done by press time.

But I wouldn't trade the 2016-17 Bulldogs hockey beat for the world. This team has been a blast to cover and it's been a honor to tell their story over the last 190 days.

Now that the 2016-17 season is finally done, it's time to drink up, then save up. The 2017-18 season is only 175 days away.

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