Bulldogs’ best came last: In dominant title game, Sandelin gets his 60-minute performance

Minnesota Duluth players celebrate a Mikey Anderson goal in the second period against Massachusetts Saturday, April 13, during the NCAA Championship at the HarborCenter in Buffalo, N.Y.  Clint Austin / Forum News Service
Minnesota Duluth players celebrate a Mikey Anderson goal in the second period against Massachusetts Saturday, April 13, during the NCAA Championship at the HarborCenter in Buffalo, N.Y. Clint Austin / Forum News Service

BUFFALO, N.Y. — For seven months, through 41 games, week in and week out, Minnesota Duluth coach Scott Sandelin has been harping on his team about putting together a complete 60-minute performance.

Well, was that what you were looking for Saturday, Mr. Sandelin?

“You’re damn right it was,” Sandelin said with a giant smile outside the locker room of the Buffalo Sabres following a 3-0 dismantling of Massachusetts in the NCAA championship game at KeyBank Center.

The Bulldogs outshot the Minutemen 31-18, out-attempted them 69-44 and Grade-A scoring chances were 9-2 in favor of UMD, with UMass failing to get any legitimate scoring chances in the third period.

UMass’ 18 shots on goal tied for the second-fewest by a team in a national championship game.

“I told them before, they hadn’t played their best game, at least in this tournament,” Sandelin said. “Tonight they did; they were good. They were good right from the drop of the puck.”

UMD was especially dominant on the penalty kill, holding UMass 0-for-4 in the championship two days after the Minutemen torched Denver on the power play, finishing 3-for-5 — scoring twice 18 seconds apart on a major penalty in the first — en route to a 4-3 overtime victory.

Even after getting shut out by UMD, UMass’ power play finishes 2018-19 as the best in the nation at 28.5 percent. It looked nothing like that Saturday, however, as the Minutemen were left chasing the puck 200 feet up and down the ice, getting just three power-play shots on UMD junior goaltender Hunter Shepard.

“They pressured us really hard,” said UMass sophomore defenseman Cale Makar, the Hobey Baker Memorial Award winner who on Sunday signed with the Colorado Avalanche. UMD held Makar to three shots on goal. “We bobbled the puck a little bit, but we just didn’t make plays and couldn’t get the puck off the half wall and get it up to the middle part of the ice.”

Bulldogs penalty killers said Saturday they watched minimal film on the UMass power play in the leadup to the national championship. It was just a matter of willpower, they said.

“Just grit, baby, just grit,” said UMD junior defenseman Nick Wolff, a member of a UMD penalty kill that finished the season 10th nationally at 85.7 percent. “We looked at two films, three films before the practice and game. That’s what our penalty kill is. When we were 92, 93 percent, that’s what our penalty kill did. We just got back to that. They had the top power play in the nation and we shut them down.”

Oh captain, my captain

Senior captain and wing Parker Mackay, voted the Frozen Four’s most outstanding player, finishes his final collegiate season as the Bulldogs’ leading goal scorer at 16 and point producer at 33.

Oh, and he’s a two-time NCAA champion.

“He’s meant an awful lot. Couldn’t be happier for him to go out,” Sandelin said of Mackay. “You’re always happy for the seniors, for sure, to win their last game. Hopefully that last game is like it was tonight.”

Like his predecessor, current Boston Bruins forward Karson Kuhlman, Mackay saved his best for last, closing his Bulldog career with a five-game point streak. Mackay finished the NCHC and NCAA championship runs with four goals and five assists. All four goals came in the NCAA tournament and two were game-winners.

“When Coach Sandelin recruits guys that he wants to set an example for our program, he recruits guys like Parker Mackay. Without him, I don’t think we would be where we are this year,” Shepard said.

Saturday was Mackay’s 14th NCAA tournament game (12-2), which is the most of any player since four members of Boston College’s class of 2008. Mackay, senior wing Billy Exell, junior wing Riley Tufte and junior defenseman Nick Wolff are the first Bulldogs to take shifts in three separate Frozen Fours.

“When you have a leader like that in the locker room, to bring the younger guys along, he scores such big goals for us. He’s never afraid to step up and be accountable for himself first before he points a finger at others,” Shepard said. “That’s the reason we’ve been here the last three years. We’ve had leaders in that locker room that know how to manage players and just exude what the program means.”

‘Our brick wall’

While Shepard is happy to dump all the credit on Mackay for UMD winning back-to-back titles, Mackay is even more passionate about passing the buck to Shepard.

“Sheppy has been our brick wall all season long,” Mackay said. “He was our most consistent player. I think he was our most competitive player. Again, I could say the same thing: I don’t think we are even close to where we are without him.”

Shepard, who was once again snubbed for the Mike Richter Award as national goaltender of the year, finished the 2018-19 season with a 1.76 goals-against average, .923 save percentage, seven shutouts (one short of his own single-season record) and 29 wins (a school record) in 42 starts.

For his career, Shepard sports a 1.84 GAA, .924 save percentage with 54 wins and a school-record 15 shutouts. He’s started a school-record 81 straight games.

The NCAA tournament, however, is where Shepard really shines. The Cohasset native is a perfect 8-0 with a .954 save percentage and 0.97 GAA. Only two of the eight NCAA tournament goals Shepard has allowed have come at even strength. The other six were all power-play goals.

Saturday was his first shutout in the NCAA tournament. There have been just six shutouts ever in the national championship game, with the last coming in 2013 by Yale.

“He’s come in these last two seasons and been unbelievable,” Mackay said of Shepard, who had a 0.72 GAA and .970 save percentage this postseason. “He doesn’t talk too loud or say too much when he’s at the rink, but once he’s on the ice, he’s an absolute competitor and warrior. You want to go to war like that each and every day when you know how hard he’s battling.”

Slapshots

  • Shepard joined Mackay on the all-tournament team, along with sophomore defenseman Mikey Anderson, sophomore center Justin Richards, Exell and UMass freshman defenseman Marc Del Gaizo.

  • Saturday’s title game was UMD’s first to not be decided by a single goal. The Bulldogs lost 5-4 in four overtimes to Bowling Green in 1984; won 3-2 in overtime over Michigan in 2011; lost 3-2 in 2017 to Denver; and won last year 2-1 over Notre Dame.

  • The three goals UMD allowed during this year’s NCAA tournament are the second-fewest goals allowed by a national champion since 2003 when the field expanded to 16 teams. Boston College allowed just two during its 2012 title run.

  • The Bulldogs’ second straight title is the fourth consecutive for the NCHC, leaving it one NCAA title short of the WCHA’s run of five between 2002-06.

  • Saturday was the Bulldogs’ 29th win of the season, tying for the program’s second-highest single-season total. The 1983-84 Bulldogs also won 29 games, while the 1984-85 team won 36.