A prototypical Minnesota Duluth effort delivers another NCAA title

Minnesota Duluth guards the net as Massachusetts’ Anthony Del Gaizo gets a shot on goaltender Hunter Shepard (photo: Jim Rosvold).

BUFFALO, N.Y. — It was not a thrilling hockey game to watch, which is just how Minnesota Duluth likes it. All Saturday night, the Bulldogs stymied Massachusetts with almost surgical precision, winning 3-0 to repeat as national champions.

UMD made sure three goals were more than enough, limiting UMass to just 18 shots on goal, including only six in the third period despite two power plays by Minutemen in the final frame.

“Honestly, tonight they just out-competed us,” said Massachusetts sophomore defenseman and 2019 Hobey Baker Award winner Cale Makar. “I give them a lot of credit. They just closed down on our wingers very well. We just didn’t have an attack for that.”

“I thought we played a real good hockey game tonight,” said Minnesota Duluth coach Scott Sandelin, who now has three national titles under his belt (2011, 2018, 2019). “We set a little game plan. They followed it. It carried over through the whole game.”

It was a typical game plan for the Bulldogs — take away the middle of the ice and take away time and space, especially on the penalty kill. The third-ranked offense in the nation didn’t have an answer for UMD’s defense and the goaltending of Hunter Shepard, who recorded his seventh shutout of the season.

“We call it our ground game,” said Sandelin. “When we do that, we’re a more effective team. Sometimes I think when we don’t do that, we turn more pucks over or we look to make plays instead of just kind of knowing. We just wanted to play hard on the walls. We wanted to make it harder on their team.

“You get that feeling, we’ve been in that situation where we’ve been a pretty good shutdown team in the third period.”

It starts with the UMD defense.

“I was very impressed with their back end,” said UMass coach Greg Carvel. “They’ve got some big guys that are physical. Their puck poise, puck management was extremely, extremely good.”

The third period was typical UMD. The Bulldogs gave up only 22 goals in the third period in 42 games this season, and allowed an average of seven shots against in the final frame. Duluth ended the season 20-1 when leading after two.

“I thought our guys from start to finish were on it,” Sandelin said. “It still was hard, but we got the first goal and got better. I thought our penalty kill was outstanding. ‘Shep’ was great when he needed to be. Just a real team effort.”

And one of the best efforts from the Bulldogs this season.

“Tonight was probably one of our best games we played for sure in the NCAA tournament,” said Sandelin. “It couldn’t have come at a better time.

“Even at our best, I don’t know if we beat Duluth,” said Carvel. “We’ll go home knowing that we lost to a better team tonight, for sure.”