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UMD gets 30 saves from Fanti, goal by Biondi to advance to NCHC championship game

Kobe Roth adds an empty-net goal with 20.5 seconds left to help Bulldogs beat Denver, 2-0

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Minnesota Duluth forward Blake Biondi (7) scores on Denver goaltender Magnus Chrona (30) during the first period Friday, March 18, 2022, in the NCHC Frozen Faceoff at Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul. The team-leading 17th goal of the season by Biondi gave the Bulldogs a 1-0 lead at 14:47.
Jason Wachter / The Rink Live

ST. PAUL — The University of Denver men's hockey team has lost nine games all season, but three of them have been to Minnesota Duluth.

The third one came on Friday when the Bulldogs got 30 saves from Ryan Fanti, a first period goal by Blake Biondi and an empty-net goal by Kobe Roth to beat the Pioneers 2-0 Friday in the NCHC Frozen Faceoff semifinals at Xcel Energy Center.

With the win the Bulldogs (20-15-4) advance to the championship game of the tournament. Fifth-seeded UMD, which moved up to No. 8 in the PairWise Rankings after the game, will play either second-seeded North Dakota (24-12-1) or third-seeded Western Michigan (24-10-1) in the championship game at 7:37 p.m. Saturday (CBS SPorts Network).


The championship brings with it an automatic bid to the 16-team NCAA Division I tournament, but all four of the teams at the Frozen Faceoff are already guaranteed spots in the field.

The Pioneers (27-9-1) dropped to fourth in the PairWise with the loss. While Denver has defeated UMD twice this season, what was the game plan going into Friday?

"Top secret," Bulldogs head coach Scott Sandelin said with a smile in the postgame press conference. Sandelin answered the question that was asked of Blake Biondi, but after his coach's answer, Biondi didn't have much to say.

"I'll leave it at that," Biondi said.

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Minnesota Duluth goaltender Ryan Fanti (39) gets in position to block a shot by Denver forward Brett Stapley (7) during the first period Friday, March 18, 2022, in the NCHC Frozen Faceoff at Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul.
Jason Wachter / The Rink Live


Shutting down the Pioneers

Clearly, one of the keys was Fanti, who was named the NCHC Goaltender of the Year on Thursday. The junior from Thunder Bay, Ontario, did something no other team on Denver's schedule had done this season — shut them out.

The Pioneers went into the game with the top-ranked offense (4.5 goals-per-game), second in the nation in shots-on-goal-per-game (37.8) and had the fifth-best power play (25.7%). Among Fanti's saves were stopping all eight that Denver had on three power plays.

"I got my eyes on a couple (shots) early, which was really nice," Fanti said. "From there on out, I had to make some saves, but I was really happy with the way we defended and the way we played. We went out and played a Bulldog third and really didn't give up too (many) Grade 'A' chances. We played in their end for a good portion of it and didn't back off and let them attack.

"I thought that was more of a team shutout than anything. I was really happy and I'm excited for tomorrow."


Denver also hit two posts and the Bulldogs blocked 16 of Denver's 52 shot attempts.

"It was a tight checking game, like we expected," Denver coach David Carle said. ."Give them credit. I thought they did a great job. I didn't think we played our best game.

"I thought it took us a little while to start doing some of the things we wanted to and make them uncomfortable. We did have some chances there. Fanti was excellent. I thought the two goaltenders were the two best players on the ice tonight."

A 1-0 lead going into second, third periods

UMD took a 1-0 lead into the second period. The lone goal of the first period came when senior center Jesse Jacques stole the puck in the UMD zone, raced up the left wing and made a pass to the slot to wing Blake Biondi, who redirected it in on the rush at 14:47. It was the team-leading 17th goal of the season for Biondi, a sophomore from Hermantown.


"Jesse made a great play in the 'D' zone and heading up, we both just beat our guys to the net," Biondi said. "He made a great pass and I just had a tap-in."

Going into the game, the line of James at center with Biondi and junior Quinn Olson was listed as the third line on the UMD depth chart. But their 69 points were the most of the three lines going into the game.

"I think we are all good friends, which helps that chemistry," Biondi said. "We just like to play fast-paced and hound pucks. I think we all gell with each other."

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Minnesota Duluth defenseman Darian Gotz (2) and Denver defenseman Sean Behrens (2) get tangled chasing the puck during the second period Friday, March 18, 2022, in the NCHC Frozen Faceoff at Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul.
Jason Wachter / The Rink Live

Sandelin, who has been the team's head coach for 22 seasons, has been surprised by a couple things by the line.

"I think there's a ton of communication," Sandelin said of the line. "One of the coolest things that we saw when we put them together was Dom, as a freshman, always talking. I've been around a long time and some the best lines, there's always communication. It's in practice trying things, talking about things and it's on the bench. Those guys have become really close ... it's just unique and they've just kind of clicked.


"You don't expect that. I didn't expect that from a freshman, to be maybe as vocal," Sandelin said of James, a 19-year-old from Plymouth, Mich. "Not that the other guys aren't leaders, but that line has come together and they've been consistent and given us great minutes through the year."

UMD was able to get an empty-net goal when Roth shot a puck in from about the red line with 20.5 seconds left to make it 2-0.


Minnesota Duluth 2, Denver 0

UMD 1-0-1—2

Denver 0-0-0—0


First period scoring — 1. UMD, Blake Biondi 17 (Jesse Jacques 4) 14:47. Penalties — UMD, Wyatt Kaiser (interference) 4:26; UMD, Louie Roehl (tripping) 16:08; DU, Carter Savoie (slashing) 16:08.

Second period scoring — None. Penalties — UMD, Luke Mylmok (tripping) 9:45; DU, Carter Mazur (elbowing) 10:20.

Third period scoring — 2. UMD, Kobe Roth 14 (unassisted) 19:39 (en). Penalties — UMD, Darian Gotz (slashing) 3:49; DU, Bobby Brink (slashing) 10:28.

Goalie saves — UMD, Ryan Fanti 9-9-12—30 (0 GA). UMD, Magnus Chrona 12-8-9—29 (1 GA).

Penalties-minutes — UMD 4-8; D 3-6.

Power-play goals/opportunities (shots) — UMD 0-2 (3 shots); D 0-3 (8 shots).

Faceoffs — DU 36-23.

Referees — Nathan Wieler and Joe Sullivan.

Linesemen — Justin Hills and Erik Contino.

Three stars of the game — 1. Fanti (UMD), 2. Biondi (UMD), 3. Chrona (DU).

Mick Hatten is a reporter and editor for Forum News Service and helps manage TheRinkLive.com, a website dedicated to hockey. He began working for Forum Communications in November 2018 and has covered St. Cloud State University hockey since 2010. A graduate of St. Cloud State, he has more than 30 years of experience as a journalist and has been a youth hockey coach since 2014. mhatten@forumcomm.com

For more coverage of St. Cloud and the surrounding communities, check out St. Cloud Live.
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