Columnists, Sports

Burn the Boats: Last team in, last team standing, still not Cinderella

Minnesota Duluth won its second national title after beating Notre Dame 2-1 in the final. PHOTO COURTESY WIKIMEDIA COMMONS

The University of Minnesota Duluth was the final team to qualify with an at-large bid and it did so by quite literally the smallest of margins — .0001 percent in fact. That is all that separated Duluth from its in-state rival the University of Minnesota in the PairWise Rankings on the final day of the regular season.

The Bulldogs are the third example in the last five years where the final at-large team went on to win the national championship. Duluth joins Yale University (2013) and Providence College (2015) at the ball, holding the title of Last Team in last team standing, but let’s not call this a Cinderella story.

Yes, Duluth may have won with house money, but don’t tell me that team “shouldn’t have won the title.” There is more than enough talent on the Bulldogs’ roster to win, and clearly, they proved that.

They didn’t come out of nowhere to win that national championship. Far from it.

Duluth may have been the “last team in,” but at the end of the day, it was still 12th in PairWise.

In no way did the team shock the world. It didn’t go on a run like Princeton University did — finishing seventh in the ECAC and winning the league tournament in overtime to get in. No, Duluth was ranked above the cutline for pretty much the entirety of the season.

In 2009, the Bulldogs could have been Cinderella. That year, Duluth finished seventh in the WCHA, but found a winning formula late in the year. The Bulldogs swept Colorado College in Colorado Springs in the first round, beat Minnesota in the quarterfinals, shut out the University of North Dakota in the semifinals and blanked the University of Denver in the finals to qualify for the NCAA’s. That is a Cinderella run.

Oh yeah, the Bulldogs then played one of the most epic games in NCAA tournament history against Princeton in the regionals. Duluth was down 4-2, before scoring twice in the final 40 seconds to tie. The game-tying goal came with 0.8 seconds left to force overtime. There, the Bulldogs won to advance to the regional finals. That is not only a Cinderella run, but a miracle.

This year’s team had five players in the 2018 IIHF World Junior championships, finished 12th in the PairWise, were a No. 3 seed and last year, lost the national championship game by one goal. Don’t tell me this team came out of nowhere.

House money?

Oh, absolutely. Without a doubt. Yes.

Duluth won every game in the tournament by one goal. The Bulldogs overcame a 2-0 deficit in their opening round game against Minnesota State University to push the contest into overtime, where, of course, they won.

The next three games would play out in an almost identical faction. Duluth went up 2-0 on the United States Air Force Academy in the regional final, Ohio State University in national semifinals and the University of Notre Dame in the final.

All three games ended in meat-grinding, edge of your seat, 2-1 Bulldogs victories. Championship teams don’t always have to blow teams out, they just have to find a way to win. And win they did.

And so that’s it. College hockey 2018 is in the books. Is it October yet? (Or maybe we’ll start in September again?). Either way, it will be here before you know it.

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