FARGO, N.D. — Back in the NCAA tournament for the sixth consecutive season after the COVID-19 pandemic wiped out last year’s edition, Minnesota Duluth will go after its fourth straight NCAA Frozen Four berth at 6:30 p.m. Saturday at Scheels Arena in Fargo.

But the opportunity didn’t come in the fashion the third-seeded Bulldogs expected. UMD advanced to its sixth-straight regional final after Friday’s regional semifinal against No. 2 Michigan was declared a no-contest around noon due to positive COVID-19 test results within the Wolverines program.

Instead, the Bulldogs now await the winner of Friday’s second regional semifinal in Fargo. Top-seeded and host North Dakota plays No. 4 and 16th overall seed American International in a game that was moved up an hour to 7:30 p.m.

“Certainly we're obviously disappointed to not play the game because we were looking forward to playing them,” Bulldogs coach Scott Sandelin said. “We felt it was going to be a great game, but as I just told a couple people, the weird year continues. We'll just try and get ready for whoever we're going to play.”

Scheels Arena in Fargo, North Dakota Friday, March 26, 2021. Michigan had a positive COVID test forcing them to forfeit the game, allowing Minnesota Duluth to advance to the regional championship game. (Clint Austin / caustin@duluthnews.com)
Scheels Arena in Fargo, North Dakota Friday, March 26, 2021. Michigan had a positive COVID test forcing them to forfeit the game, allowing Minnesota Duluth to advance to the regional championship game. (Clint Austin / caustin@duluthnews.com)

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UMD and Michigan were scheduled to drop the puck at 3:02 p.m. on Friday in the first meeting between the two schools since the 2011 NCAA championship at Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul, which UMD won 3-2 in overtime.

The Wolverines were making their first NCAA tournament appearance since reaching the Frozen Four in St. Paul in 2018, when they lost to 4-3 to Notre Dame in the semifinals. The Wolverines led 2-0 in that game before giving up the game-winning goal with 5.2 seconds left.

“I'm devastated for these players,” Michigan coach Mel Pearson said in a statement Friday. “These student-athletes have done a wonderful job all year of making sacrifices to get to this point of the year. It's unfortunate. I don't completely understand the final decision but I have to respect it.

"They've given so much and to get this opportunity taken away from them, it's hard to swallow. I know it's just a game, but it's extremely important to these young men. It's two years in a row now we've been denied an opportunity to compete in the national championship. It hasn't quite sunk in yet.”

Michigan is the third team forced to withdraw from the NCAA men’s hockey tournament this year and the second to do so after reaching their regional.

St. Lawrence originally disqualified itself from consideration late Sunday when the Saints’ coach tested positive for COVID-19 after they had won the ECAC postseason championship. Contact tracing and quarantining resulting from the positive test made their appearance not possible.

Notre Dame, which snuck into the tournament as an at-large after St. Lawrence withdrew, dropped out of the Albany regional on Thursday after arriving Wednesday for initial testing and quarantining prior to its first game against Boston College. That regional semifinal was also declared a no-contest and the Eagles were advanced to the regional final, where they will play either Boston University of St. Cloud State on Sunday.

The NCAA only allowed replacement teams to be added to the tournament within 24 hours of the bracket being released on Sunday night, hence why the games featuring Michigan and Notre Dame — both Big 10 schools — were declared no-contests.

“The NCAA and the Division I Men’s Ice Hockey Committee regret that, because of COVID-19 protocols, Michigan’s student-athletes and coaching staff will not be able to compete in a tournament in which they earned the right to participate,” the NCAA said in a statement sent out around noon Friday. “The Michigan-Minnesota Duluth game scheduled for this afternoon at Scheels Arena in Fargo, North Dakota, will now be considered a no-contest, and therefore, Minnesota Duluth will advance to the next round of the tournament. This decision was made in consultation with Fargo Cass Public Health. Because of privacy issues, we cannot provide further details.”

The Bulldogs are still the defending back-to-back NCAA champions after appearing in the last three Frozen Fours and the last three NCAA title games, winning the last two in St. Paul and Buffalo, New York.

UMD has won eight straight at the NCAA tournament and 11 of its last 12 national tourney games, including three straight regionals in Fargo (2017), Sioux Falls, South Dakota (2018), and Allentown, Pennsylvania (2019).

The entire 2020 NCAA tournament, for which UMD would have qualified for as it was in contention for a No. 1 seed, was canceled due to COVID-19.

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This story was updated at 1:15 p.m. and 12:25 p.m. on March 26, 2021 with more details and comments from Michigan and the NCAA, plus UMD coach Scott Sandelin. It was originally posted at 12:01 p.m. on March 26, 2021.