Ryan Fanti made 28 saves in his third consecutive shutout, propelling Minnesota Duluth to a 3-0 win over Michigan Tech in the opening game of the NCAA Loveland Regional on Thursday.
“We’re excited to move on. It was a good hockey game,” said Minnesota Duluth coach Scott Sandelin. “I thought we came out well and did what we wanted to do as far as the start, get a lead, but I think we forgot to play the next two periods. It wasn’t our best.”
The final score gives every indication that Minnesota Duluth dominated the game, but Fanti and the Bulldogs fought to stay ahead of a tenacious Michigan Tech team in the final two periods, when the Huskies outshot the Bulldogs 19-12. With 4:06 remaining in the game, Michigan Tech pulled goaltender Blake Pietila and continued pressuring until Kobe Roth scored on the empty net with 57 seconds left in the game, his second goal of the night.
“It’s a good lesson,” said Sandelin. “It’s a three-period game or more and you’ve got to play hard. Teams are too good. You can’t quit playing. I don’t think it’s so much that we quit playing so much as it was Tech stepped it up and forced us into some bad decisions and we were fortunate.”
Everything seemed tilted the Bulldogs’ way from the initial drop of the puck through at least the midway point of the first, when Duluth was leading Tech 10-2 in shots. “They came out ready to play,” said MTU coach Joe Shawhan. “Their objective was pretty easy to figure out, that they wanted to put some pressure on us and get us to panic a little bit, and I think they were successful in that in the first period.”
A major boarding penalty and game misconduct assessed to the team’s leading scorer, Brian Halonen, at 3:17 in the first did not help the Huskies’ initial efforts. “Did that leave you reeling? I don’t know that,” said Shawhan. “If we weren’t ready to go, that’s on me.”
At 14:54 in the first, Roth scored his first goal of the night, unassisted, when he forced a turnover along the boards near the Huskies’ blue line, giving the Bulldogs a 1-0 lead after one.
“I think the first period we weren’t really ready, mentally, for where we were,” said Shawhan. “I thought the guys did a good job of getting it back as the game went on.”
After a tight, scoreless second period, Duluth’s Kyler Kleven made it 2-0 at 6:09 in the third, another unassisted goal on another turnover in the Michigan Tech zone when Eric Gotz gave up the puck on a clearing attempt in front of Pietila.
For the remainder of the game, the Huskies continued to press but had difficulty penetrating the Bulldogs’ defense. When they did, Fanti was there to make the save, especially in the closing minutes of the game.
“As long as they have a little bit of space and a little bit of time,” said Fanti, “they’re a great team and they’re going to make a play toward the net. When there’s 11 skaters on the ice, there’s a better opportunity for it to go off someone’s skate or someone’s stick and pop out somewhere, so I wanted us to keep a little bit more pressure and don’t give them so much respect in the zone even though they had an extra guy.”
Fanti’s three-game shutout streak includes Minnesota Duluth’s 2-0 win over Denver in NCHC semifinal action March 18 and the Bulldogs’ 3-0 NCHC title win over Western Michigan the following night. Fanti hasn’t allowed a goal since the 3:41 mark of the third period in Duluth’s 4-3 win in overtime against St. Cloud State in the NCHC playoffs March 12.
“From a goalie perspective, there’s times when you’re seeing pucks easier than other times,” said Fanti. “I think it’s just the ups and downs of the season, and fortunate enough for myself and for us that one of those times is right now when I’m seeing it often.
“That’s a testament to our defensemen. There were a couple of chances here and there where I had to make a save or two, but for the most part, there were lots of outside shots [and] I was seeing lots of shots from the point. They were doing a good job of clearing guys in front of me. Definitely one of those times right now when I’m seeing the puck well.”
Sandelin said that Fanti’s “probably not” giving himself enough credit, adding: “But I don’t mess with it. He’s been our MVP all year. There was a reason he was a first-team guy in our league, there was a reason he was goalie of the year in our league, and he’s showing that here in the playoffs.”
Michigan Tech finished the season 21-13-3. Minnesota Duluth (22-15-4) advanced to play the winner of second regional semifinal between UMass Lowell and Denver.