Defending wears out Minnesota Duluth’s chance at history in Frozen Four

Minnesota Duluth players leave the ice after an overtime loss to UMass early Friday (photo: Jim Rosvold).

PITTSBURGH — The run at history ran out of steam in overtime.

Minnesota Duluth was poised to be the first ever team to appear in four straight NCAA championship games, with a chance at being only the second to win three titles in a row.

The Bulldogs were blocking shots at a higher rate than UMass was recording shots on goal but they couldn’t hold off an oncoming charge by the Minutemen as the game wore on.

Playing defense for long stretches took a toll, coach Scott Sandelin said after UMass won 3-2 in overtime at PPG Paints Arena in a game that stretched into early Friday morning.

“I think the difference was we couldn’t get out of our zone,” he said. “And when you’re playing defense you run out of gas quick. …

“We made a lot of soft plays and couldn’t get pucks out. Some of it was just decisions. We needed to make better decisions, harder plays. …

“We blocked a lot of shots but nobody likes to defend. It’s tiring. They made us defend, and conversely we didn’t have a lot of energy going the other way.”

The disparity was obvious in overtime with the Minutemen coming at the Bulldogs in waves. It finally led to Bobby Trivigno feeding Garrett Wait for a back-door tip-in 14:30 into the extra session.

It was the Minutemen’s 13th shot on goal of overtime compared to just two for the Bulldogs. Shot attempts were 30-6.

“I think Duluth ran out of gas because they didn’t roll four lines,” UMass coach Greg Carvel said. “But I think we took it up a notch.”

While there were questions to the UMass players and Carvel about their fitness levels afterward, the Bulldogs were left to answer queries about how things fell apart.

They led 2-1 after two periods on goals by Tanner Laderoute and Cole Koepke. UMass had only 11 shots on goal through two periods and registered just four more in the third but got one from Anthony Del Gaizo to go in on a rebound to equalize.

Did the tank reach empty for the Bulldogs?

“Maybe a little bit,” Laderoute said. “We’ve played a lot of hockey. We’ve faced a lot of adversity. Our practices aren’t always the same with COVID and everything. Maybe a little bit. They had us on the ropes there at the end. You’ve got to give it to them — they’re an awesome team.”

Minnesota Duluth had won nine straight NCAA tournament overtime games dating to 1985. Zac Jones’ power-play goal for UMass in the first period put the Bulldogs into a deficit in an NCAA game for the first time in 352:32 of playing time.

They won the 2018 and 2019 championships after falling to Denver in the 2017 final. The 2020 tournament was canceled because of the pandemic.

“A lot of those guys, they don’t know this feeling,” Sandelin said. “Sometimes the highs are unbelievable and the lows are really low. But you can learn from everything. So hopefully we learn from this and use it as motivation to get back here next year.”