Every youth hockey player dreams of playing high school hockey. Every high school hockey player dreams of playing college hockey. Every college hockey player dreams of playing for a national title. For three Wisconsin born players, their dream became a reality in this year’s NCAA Division I Frozen Four.
Sam McCormick (De Pere (Notre Dame Academy | The Ohio State University), Luke Novak (Waukesha | University of Notre Dame), and Nick Deery (La Crosse (Sparta) | University of Minnesota-Duluth) took to the ice at the Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul, Minnesota in hopes of calling themselves National Champions. Deery, a goaltender for the Minnesota-Duluth Bulldogs, can now add this prestigious title to his name.
The Bulldogs had an interesting season, struggling to find consistency early in the year. Despite placing third in the ultra-competitive National Collegiate Hockey Conference and fourth in the NCHC Conference Tournament, Minnesota-Duluth peaked at the right time and made the NCAA playoffs (despite by only 0.0001 of a RPI point). They defeated in-state rival Minnesota State-Mankato and Air Force in Regionals to return to the Frozen Four for the second straight year.
After earning a berth to the 2017 Championship game, Minnesota-Duluth suffered a heartbreaking 3-2 loss to eventual champion University of Denver. During the off-season, Minnesota-Duluth lost 10 players to graduation and early departure. Sheer determination and resiliency proved to be the grit that carried the team throughout the season as they continued to rebuild and position themselves to be a contender for the 2018 title.
The Big 10 Conference was well represented this year, sending three teams to the Frozen Four: Notre Dame, Michigan, and Ohio State.
In semifinal game number one, Minnesota-Duluth raced out to a 2-0 lead before four minutes had elapsed in the game. Ohio State cut the lead in half during the third period, but it wasn’t enough to overcome the eventual champions.
The second semifinal game came down to the wire, literally. Tied 3-3, Notre Dame, Big 10 Champions and returning to the Frozen Four for a second straight year, scored the go-ahead-goal with 5.2 seconds on the clock to top conference rival Michigan and advance to the championship game. It was Notre Dame’s fifth straight one-goal win and fifth straight game won in either the last 30 seconds of regulation or overtime.
In the championship game, Minnesota Duluth and Notre Dame came to win, fighting to the final whistle to determine who would become the next National Champions. A battle from the initial puck drop, the Bulldogs entered the second period with a 2-0 lead over the Irish by capitalizing on two turnovers and utilizing an aggressive forecheck. Notre Dame got on the board in the second period but were unable to tie the game despite several opportunities.
Minnesota Duluth won their second national title (their first coming in 2011, also at the Xcel Energy Center) and the third straight for the National Collegiate Hockey Conference. Wisconsin natives Will Butcher (Sun Prairie), Kevin Conley (Wausau), Evan Janssen (Green Bay) played on the 2017 squad from Denver and Nick Schmaltz (Verona) won the title in 2016 as a member of the University of North Dakota team.
Two Wisconsin natives also were represented on the staff side of the Frozen Four: Ohio State Assistant Coach Steve Miller (Sun Prairie) and Notre Dame’s Coordinator of Video Operations Nick Siergiej (Eagle River).
At the Division III level, 2018 National Champions St. Norbert College had seven Wisconsin born players on their roster. Nick LeSage (Green Bay), Timmy Nicksic (Tomah), Luke Karakas (Green Bay), Steven Phillips (Green Bay), Logan Froberg (Green Bay), Riley Christensen (De Pere), Luke Davison (De Pere) will go down in history as members of the fifth team to bring home a national title to St. Norbert. Wausau native Andy Brandt was an associate head coach for the Green Knights.
Congrats to the University of Minnesota-Duluth Bulldogs, 2018 Division I National Champions!