ST. PAUL, Minn. — Ohio State was looking to make history Thursday night in the Frozen Four.
But instead, the Buckeyes repeated history.
Making the Frozen Four for just the second time, the Buckeyes saw Minnesota-Duluth jump to a two-goal just 3:04 into their semifinal at the Xcel Energy Center. The Bulldogs, with a pugnacious defense, made those goals stand up, even during a frenzied final seven minutes, for a 2-1 victory.
The Bulldogs will play in the national final Saturday night against Notre Dame, which scored with four seconds left in regulation to beat Michigan 4-3 in the second semifinal.
Ohio State has yet to win a game in the Frozen Four. The 1998 team also was eliminated in the semifinals.
“Tough way to start a hockey game against a really good hockey team,” coach Steve Rohlik said. “We dug ourselves a hole.
“But I couldn’t be more proud of my group. They never quit all year, and right to the end, even believing with 1.2 seconds on the clock (and a faceoff on the Duluth end) we could still score. I’m just really proud of my university, proud to be on a big stage like this, and really proud of my guys.”
Duluth attacked from the start, and Louie Roehl converted a pass from Parker MacKay to beat Ohio State goalie Sean Romeo just 1:53 into the first period. Just over a minute later, Duluth’s Karson Kuhlman made a pick at mid-ice as Ohio State tried to get into a rush, and Kuhlman passed to a streaking Jared Thomas, who in essence had a penalty-shot chance against Romeo and converted.
“It was a huge start by us,” Thomas said. “That’s been the key for us all year long.”
Avoiding such starts has been the key for the Buckeyes, who dropped to 7-10-2 in games in which the opponent took the first lead. The start by Duluth made it doubly tough.
“They had a lot of pressure on us,” Ohio State defenseman Wyatt Ege said. “They had a two-man forecheck right away and, I don’t know, it kind of shocked us a little bit. But once we got into it we were good.”
The Buckeyes (26-10-5) actually prevailed from that point, but the damage been done.
Tanner Laczynski’s power-play goal 9:27 into the third period gave the Buckeyes new life. The play started when Ege’s attempt at a one-timer broke his stick, only to see the puck slip to Dakota Joshua, who passed to Laczynski crossing over the middle. He converted from about 15 feet.
But the Buckeyes couldn’t follow up, even at the end. They couldn’t crack Bulldogs goalie Hunter Shepard and the defense of Duluth (24-16-3), the last at-large team added to the 16-team NCAA Tournament field.
Creating quality shots was a problem for Ohio State. The credit for that went to the Bulldogs, OSU captain and forward Mason Jobst said.
“They did a really good job with their sticks and blocking shots,” Jobst said. “It obviously wasn’t the start we wanted. They just did a good job of clearing out in front of the net.”
Duluth ended Ohio State’s season last year, too, winning an NCAA Tournament first-round game in overtime. This time, in the fifth season under Rohlik, Ohio State advanced further before falling to Duluth again.
But like Rohlik, captain Jobst praised his fellow players for the season as a whole.
“This is one of my favorite teams I’ve been on my entire life, and I love these guys,” Jobst said. “I’m proud of 'em. The first time (making the Frozen Four) in 20 years is quite the accomplishment. It’s obviously not where we wanted to be with the end result, but I love 'em.”