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Bulldogs unfurl NCAA championship banner, then skate to tie with Gophers

October 7, 2018

DULUTH The lights were turned down in Amsoil Arena and the Minnesota Duluth Bulldogs gathered at the north end of the ice sheet. The Minnesota Gophers were crowded onto the visitors bench and waiting for the ceremony to unfold.

The Bulldogs would be hanging a national championship banner for mens hockey, and this one for 2018 would be paired with another from 2011. The Gophers have five back in Mariucci Arena, but the most recent came in 2003.

The Gophers standing as the power of Minnesota collegiate hockey had declined substantially over those 15 years, and now they were watching as the representatives of the sister school up north accepted final accolades for the upset run that ended with a 2-1 victory over Notre Dame in St. Paul last April.

The video board showed a series of familiar Bulldogs from the past, offering congratulations, and then the banner was revealed.

Bob Motzko could have had the Gophers stay in the locker room. He chose the bench, either in the name of sportsmanship, or to get his team a look at what its like to win the big one, or maybe to remind his squad what it can mean come March when you let an opportunity get away in October.

Minnesota Duluth claimed the last spot in the 16-team by the margin of 1/1,000th of a percentage point in the Pairwise ratings, and then won four straight to win another title. The Gophers, the odd team out, got rid of their coach, Don Lucia.

The holdover Gophers sitting in silence on the visitors bench could point to bad luck with results in other conference tournaments, or they could look at an overtime loss at UMD on Oct. 6 as the reason for being NCAA spectators.

Saturday night was another opener in Duluth, and also the start of Motzkos shot as the Gophers coach after being a Lucia assistant for those championships in 2002 and 2003.

UMD and its blue-line flyer, sophomore Scott Perunovich, came out with an extra step, and then the Gophers caught up in a hurry. They wound up in a 1-1 tie after a 5-minute ovdertime.

The Gophers had taken a 1-0 lead when the late-late-arriving freshman, Finlands Sampo Ranta, blasted a rocket past UMDs NCAA hero, Hunter Shepard, at 122:07 of the first.

Ranta was released from a letter of intent at Wisconsin and signed with the Gophers in late August. It was reported in the Madison, Wis., media that there issues with Ranta being admitted.

It took until 3:38 of the third period for Peter Krieger to tie it. He got a rebound past Gophers goalie Mat Robson during a UMD power play.

The teams play again Sunday night in the Twin Cities and a home victory to go with a tie on the road against the defending national champs and No. 1 Bulldogs would be quite a start to Motzkos tenure at Mariucci.

Motzko was hired on March 27, his 57th birthday. He is getting started late on trying to bring the Gophers to preeminence. Herb Brooks was 35 when be coached his first game at the U, and Doug Woog (1985) and Lucia (1999) were both 41.

Theres no such thing as rebuilding with Gophers hockey, of course just various degrees of talent from competitive to outstanding. Motzko was quick to turn some verbal commits to St. Cloud State to the Gophers for future years.

Motzkos replacement at St. Cloud State is Brett Larson, a Sandelin assistant twice in the past, including from 2015 to 18. A couple of UMD commits apparently will wind up at St. Cloud State.

We didnt have as much of that in hockey going after recruits when they have committed but I guess thats the way it is in all college sports now, Sandelin said. I realize that in some cases, some, its the kid or his parents making the phone call to a coach.

The upset charge to the NCAA title led to the Bulldogs being voted as preseason favorites in the extra-tough NCHC, and a No. 1 in the two preseason rankings. Thats not surprise, with 18 players back from last season.

I much as wed like to have him for third year, were fortunate that Joey Anderson was the only player we had to sign early, Sandelin said. [Forward] Riley Tufte stayed that was huge.

The No. 1 rating, though thats because somebody has to be put there. College hockey has so much balance now, there isnt such a thing as a No. 1, not in October.

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