The heroics of Minnesota-Duluth weren’t enough to save the Bulldogs from a harsh lesson.
Clutch goals by Mike Seidel and Jack Connolly erased a three-goal deficit en route to forcing overtime in Friday afternoon’s WCHA Final Five semifinal against Denver, but ultimately a Zac Larraza goal 8:14 into the second overtime sent the Bulldogs home with an exhausting loss as well as a lesson learned for a squad looking to defend its NCAA championship of a year ago.
“Obviously, we can’t come out and start like that,” Connolly said.
The Bulldogs came out sluggish, allowing Denver to take command early. Shawn Ostrow put the Pioneers on the board at 8:01, then goals from Jason Zucker and Dustin Jackson made it a 3-0 game midway through the second.
That midway point marked a turning point, as Seidel’s power-play goal at 10:57 completely changed the game. Seidel added a goal three minutes later at 13:45, then Connolly solved Sam Brittain once more for the game’s tying goal at 12:38 of the third.
“We were trying to stay positive on the bench,” Seidel said. “We know we have a great character team, and we’re willing to do whatever it takes to get back into the game. We just try to stress to get that first one and go from there.”
But, ultimately, that comeback — along with a 70-shot barrage on Brittain — wasn’t enough to overcome the Pioneers, who guaranteed themselves their sixth game in eight days when Larraza found twine in the second overtime.
“We’ve been a pretty fortunate team in overtime the last couple years, but tonight just wasn’t our night,” Connolly said.
Minnesota-Duluth coach Scott Sandelin didn’t see his team’s extra rest as an advantage. “I thought today we looked like a team that hadn’t played and they looked like a team that played coming out of the gate,” he said. “Sometimes that happens.”
There were no major NCAA tournament implications at stake, with both teams safely in the field of 16. But Sandelin saw the game as an important preparatory game for the No. 2 Bulldogs, who could return to this venue for regionals next weekend.
“Someone was going to win and someone was going to lose,” Sandelin said. “You got to have a short-term memory at this time of the year and get ready to play. You can’t dwell on losses, you’ve got to play. Some teams don’t get a second chance, but fortunately we’re going to get that second chance to keep playing. We gotta regroup, have a good week and prepare because there is no second chance now.”