ST. PAUL, Minn. — The game wasn't even 20 seconds old and Minnesota Duluth was already down 1-0 to Notre Dame.
It's been that way for the Bulldogs all season long, so why change in the semifinals of the Frozen Four?
J.T. Brown had a goal and an assist and Minnesota Duluth hung on through a tense third period to beat Notre Dame 4-3 on Thursday and advance to its second national title game in school history.
"Sometimes they're better when their backs are against the wall," coach Scott Sandelin said. "They've been that way all year long."
Mike Connolly, Jack Connolly and Kyle Schmidt also scored and the Bulldogs (25-10-6) survived being outshot 15-2 in the third period to get past Notre Dame (25-14-5). Ken Reiter overcame a shaky start to make 31 saves.
UMD will face Michigan in the championship game Saturday night. The Wolverines beat North Dakota 2-0.
"It's an unbelievable feeling," Jack Connolly said. "We're looking to make history in our program. This is something that's never been done, and I couldn't be more proud of the guys and our coaching staff. We've worked hard all year, and this is our ultimate goal is to get to this game on Saturday."
Jeff Costello, T.J. Tynan and Calle Ridderwall scored for the Fighting Irish, with Ridderwall connecting short-handed early in the third period to cut Duluth's lead to 4-3. But the Irish couldn't come up with the tying goal in a furious final 2 minutes and went 0 for 5 on the power play.
"That game was dictated by one thing," Notre Dame coach Jeff Jackson said. "Special teams."
Duluth went 3 for 6 on the power play and held the Irish without a shot on goal for their final three power plays of the night.
Justin Faulk and Justin Fontaine each had three assists for slick-passing UMD, which lost a four-overtime thriller to Bowling Green in the 1984 final. Now the Bulldogs will look to join the UMD football team as national champions. The Bulldogs took their second Division II football title in three years last fall.
"You couldn't ask for a better location for it," Faulk said of Xcel Energy Center, located about 2 1/2hours south of Duluth's campus and in the backyard of several Bulldogs players who grew up in the Twin Cities.
The two semifinals were a stark contrast in tradition, with the Irish and Bulldogs both in search of their first national titles while Michigan and North Dakota have combined for 16. Neither Notre Dame nor UMD won conference championships or tournaments, but got into the 16-team field with at-large bids.
Perhaps the gravity of the occasion was a little too much for the two goalies in the early going.
The game got off to a blistering start, with both goaltenders giving up fairly soft goals. Notre Dame was on the board in less than 20 seconds when Costello easily beat Reiter on the short side.
The Bulldogs got back in the game with superior puck movement on the power play, with Brown sweeping a pass from Faulk past Mike Johnson, who made 17 saves.
Tynan scored when the puck took a wicked bounce off the boards behind Reiter, but UMD scored the final two goals of the period – one by Schmidt and another by Mike Connolly on the power play – to take a 3-2 lead into the first break.
Reiter appeared to settle down a bit as the game went on, stopping Tynan on a breakaway at the end of the first period and then benefiting from smothering defense in the second.
The Bulldogs held Notre Dame to just four shots in the second period, including none on two power plays to keep the heat off their streaky goalie.
The bigger, younger Irish were having difficulty keeping the smaller, quicker Bulldogs in front of them, and they took six penalties while chasing them around the ice. Jack Connolly scored UMD's third power-play goal of the game on a beautiful cross-ice feed from Brown to make it 4-2.
"The second period killed us," Tynan said.
Ridderwall's short-handed goal just over 2 minutes into the final period gave Notre Dame new life, and the Irish peppered Reiter for the rest of the game, but only at even strength. They had another power play with under 9 minutes to play, but once again failed to register a shot.
They used six skaters for the final minute, but Reiter came up with just enough to keep the puck out of the net.
"We had the momentum the whole period," Cadderwall said. "We just couldn't get the puck through."