By Budd Bailey, Buffalo Sports Page Columnist
Sometimes it’s not the first goal or the last goal of a hockey game that’s decisive.
Sometimes it’s the second goal.
That was the case on Saturday night at the KeyBank Center. Minnesota Duluth scored that second goal, as well as the one that came before it and the one that came after it, in a 3-0 victory over Massachusetts. It added up to another NCAA championship.
The goal in question came in the second period. The Bulldogs came out hard in the early going, piling up the first six shots. Parker Mackay got UMD on the board less than four minutes into the contest. Maybe UMass was a little nervous, and maybe it took a little time to get its skating legs after playing most of a full overtime period in the win over Denver on Thursday night.
In any event, Duluth continued to apply pressure through the first period and didn’t score. It was the same story for the most of the second period. The Bulldogs had plenty of shots but no goals, as Filip Lindberg of UMass did his best to keep the team win. You just knew that the next goal would be deflating for the other side. At one point in the second period, the teams even traded breakaways but couldn’t score.
Finally, and almost mercifully, the goal came. Mackay carried the puck from behind the goal line out about halfway up the boards. Then he spotted Mikey Anderson coming in from the right point like a man with offense on his mind.
Mackay made a fabulous pass through traffic to Anderson, who was right in stride. Anderson snapped one past Lindberg for the second goal at 15:48.
“Parker was coming up the boards, and he made the play through the middle,” Anderson said. “I just tried to find a hole. Parker connected and I just had to put it upstairs.”
A defensive clinic
Considering the way Duluth had played defense in the previous 35 minutes, a two-goal lead seemed awfully safe. And that was the case.
“I thought our guys from start to finish were on it,” Bulldogs coach Scott Sandelin said. “I couldn’t be more proud of this group.”
Just for the record, Jackson Cates finished off the scoring in the final three minutes for UMD. Hunter Shepard did the rest, earning the shutout with 18 saves. About the only nervous part of the last period came when the Bulldogs picked up a couple of penalties. But Duluth seemed to gain control of the puck quickly whenever Massachusetts entered the zone, and sent the puck back down the ice in the other direction. Even when UMass had the puck in the UMD zone, it was forced to the perimeter along the boards.
The win means that the Bulldogs are in some very good company. Minnesota Duluth became the first team since the 2005-2006 Denver squad to repeat as national champions. What’s more, the Bulldogs have been in the finals for three straight years. Dynasties are difficult to maintain, but it sure looks as if Minnesota Duluth is in the midst of one.
Mackay, the UMD captain, finishes his career with the game-winning goal and game-clinching assist in the final. He played a key role in leading his team to another title.
“It’s incredible, obviously,” he said. “You can’t write it any better than that.”
Bulldogs never trail
This wasn’t a particularly dramatic game, which would have been nice to see in a championship matchup. However, it was an impressive game. The Bulldogs put on something of a clinic defensively, shutting down their opponents for 60 minutes.
“I don’t know that much about their team, but their six are good physically and their puck management is very good,” UMass coach Greg Carvel said. “That’s as good a defensive back end as I’ve seen.
“They are a big, strong hockey team. We were not our normal selves. We have guys that play big and heavy, but they weren’t there tonight. It’s a big stage, and we looked like a team that hadn’t been there before.”
The announced attendance was 13,624, a slight improvement over Thursday’s figure. Still, the number was the smallest crowd for a final since 13,252 turned out in 2001 in Albany – and that number represented a sellout.
The NCAA says it will examine what happened to decrease demand for tickets. Buffalo’s chances of getting a third try at hosting this event seem small at this moment. Those that did turn out, though, have the satisfaction of knowing that the best team won. And that, at the least, should be the goal of every championship event.
(Follow Budd on Twitter @WDX2BB)