Field Level Media
ST. Paul, Minn. -- Two weeks ago, Minnesota Duluth was the last team to qualify for the NCAA hockey tournament. On Saturday, the Bulldogs were the last team to leave the ice, with a national title in hand.
As was their calling card in these NCAA playoffs, the Bulldogs got early goals from Karson Kuhlman and Jared Thomas, then held off a late charge by Notre Dame to win 2-1 and claim the school's second national hockey title.
Goalie Hunter Shepard had 19 saves for the Bulldogs (25-16-3), who won their first title in 2011, the last time the tournament was played at Xcel Energy Center.
The Irish (28-10-2) got a power-play goal from Andrew Oglevie and 33 saves from goalie Cale Morris but could not overcome an early two-goal deficit.
"I couldn't be more proud of this team for re-grouping and doing what they've done," said Bulldogs coach Scott Sandelin, who had to replace five defensemen and a starting goalie off their 2017 Frozen Four team.
As they had done two days earlier in their 2-1 semifinal win over Ohio State, the Bulldogs emerged from the opening period up 2-0. Kuhlman opened the scoring with his second goal of the NCAA playoffs. Streaking down the right side of the ice, Kuhlman faked a slap shot that seemed to freeze Morris just slightly. He then zipped a wrist shot past the goalie's glove for the early lead.
Late in the first, Thomas made it 2-0 with a shot from the goal line to Morris' left. The goalie hugged the post, but Thomas was able to bank a shot off Morris' left hip and into the net. It was the second goal in as many games for Thomas. The Bulldogs had a 10-7 advantage in shots in the first 20 minutes.
"We just couldn't find that third goal the last few games, but our team did a great job," said Kuhlman, who was named the tournament's Most Outstanding Player. "There was never a panic, never any doubt in our room. If we needed to win the game 2-1, we were going to win the game 2-1."
The Irish killed a pair of Bulldog power plays early in the second, then got on the board on a power-play goal when Oglevie's rush to the net ended with Shepard sprawled across the goalmouth and the puck trickling between the goalie's knees. It was the third goal in as many games for Oglevie. Duluth outshot the Irish 18-8 in the second period.
The Bulldogs played mostly defense in the scoreless third period, outshooting the Irish 7-5 and keeping the puck away from Shepard in a crazy final 90 seconds with Morris on the bench. The Bulldogs were the final at-large entrant to qualify for the 16-team NCAA tournament field and needed a win by Notre Dame in the Big Ten title game to get in by .0001 ahead of in-state rival Minnesota.
"Obviously when they made the tournament, they became that team of destiny that you're always hoping to be at the end of the year," Irish coach Jeff Jackson said. "So hats off to them. Extremely proud of our guys, especially our senior class that led us to a great season."
It was just the second trip to the title game for Notre Dame, which won the Big Ten regular-season and playoff titles. The Bulldogs fell to NCHC rival Denver 3-2 in the 2017 title game in Chicago.