ST. PAUL, Minn. — Minnesota Duluth’s players recently decided to dye their hair blond.
Everyone except Kyle Schmidt, who had the getting-married alibi to abstain from the not-so-fashionable exercise in team bonding.
The finish was fitting, then, when Schmidt whisked in the winning goal 3:22 into overtime to give the Bulldogs a 3-2 victory over Michigan on Saturday night for the first national championship in the program’s 50-year history.
Coach Scott Sandelin wryly prodded Schmidt to say yes when asked if sitting out the ritual was the secret.
“Blond hair or just the tips, either way, I think I would’ve buried that one and luckily I did,” Schmidt said.
This was the 15th overtime game this season for the Bulldogs.
“I didn’t really do a whole lot. My linemates were working their butts off there in the corner. Luckily it was a gimme because I was probably too nervous to bury anything else,” said Schmidt, a senior from Hermantown, near Duluth. “Saw it go in and just started skating for the other end. It was amazing.”
Travis Oleksuk pulled Wolverines goalie Shawn Hunwick to the side and, from behind the net, fed Schmidt for a blink-of-the-eye tap-in to hand Michigan coach Red Berenson his first loss in a championship game.
“I just didn’t get over across in time,” Hunwick said.
Oleksuk and Max Tardy had second-period goals for Minnesota Duluth (26-10-6), which hadn’t played for the championship since losing in four overtimes to Bowling Green in 1984.
“We know what to do to get it done,” said forward J.T. Brown, picked as the tournament’s most outstanding player.
This has been quite the school year at UMD on the hill above Lake Superior, just a 2½-hour drive north from the Xcel Energy Center, with the football team winning the Division II championship. Hockey is the time-worn way to endure those long, harsh winters, and this trophy was a long time coming for a team that has been in the University of Minnesota’s shadow for decades.
“It’s been a long time coming for them,” Berenson said. “They’ve got a good coaching staff, and they’ve got a good team. They’re a better team than we thought they were all year.”
Ben Winnett and Jeff Rohrkemper scored for Michigan (29-11-4), which fell to 9-3 in title games. The Wolverines still have the NCAA record of nine, with two of those under Berenson.
“It’s the opportunity of a lifetime gone in the blink of an eye,” Rohrkemper said.
The Bulldogs handed the Wolverines just their second loss all season when scoring the game’s first goal (22-2-3).
After going 8 for 23 in prior opportunities in the NCAA tournament, the Bulldogs were 1 for 9 on the power play in regulation. The Wolverines, who killed all five penalties against North Dakota in the semifinals, deftly pressured the point men and kept UMD from getting many clean shots. But that took a lot of energy.
“Just too many penalties. Were they good penalties? I can’t tell you what I really think,” said Berenson, who thought his team played with some jitters at times. The Wolverines were on their heels more than they wanted to be and were outshot 38-24.
Said Hunwick: “In the overtime anything can happen, but it was a strong defensive effort.”
The Wolverines were denied the lead early in the first period when Chris Brown’s point-blank poke was waved off (the video review confirmed the official’s whistle came before the puck was pried loose from goalie Kenny Reiter), but they kept at it and scored 5:18 into the game when Winnett’s screened shot off the draw zipped past Reiter’s stick.
Winnett had only three goals during the regular season, but he scored in both games at the Frozen Four.
Oleksuk evened the score just 1:39 after the first intermission when his rebound nicked the thigh pad of Mac Bennett, skipped over the Wolverines defenseman and into the corner out of Hunwick’s reach.
Then Tardy scored the first goal of his college career on a power play to make it 2-1, before Rohrkemper snagged a loose rebound and sent it in to tie the game later in the second period.
A “UMD! UMD!” chants filled the sold-out arena, another reminder that this was essentially a second straight road game for the Wolverines after playing in front of a pro-North Dakota crowd in the semifinal. In homage to the UMD players and their bleached hair, four fans held up signs that read, “Blonds have more fun.”
Michigan never looked fazed, though, just like their stone-faced, crewcut, 72-year-old boss on the bench. Berenson, who guided the Wolverines to national titles in 1996 and 1998, finished his 27th season coaching his alma mater.
The Bulldogs were the fourth straight Western Collegiate Hockey Association foe the Wolverines faced in this year’s tournament, beating Nebraska-Omaha, Colorado College and North Dakota to get here. Michigan left the WCHA in 1981 for the Central Collegiate Hockey Association.
“That’s how the game goes. It doesn’t always go your way,” Wolverines defenseman Greg Pateryn said. “We are all disappointed and sad but we’re still moving forward. Our time will come, I guess.”