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Sandelin joins elite company: UMD coach brings team to third consecutive Frozen Four

Minnesota Duluth head coach Scott Sandelin talks to his team during practice Friday for the NCAA Division I Men's Ice Hockey Midwest Regional at the PPL Center in Allentown, Pa. Clint Austin / Forum News Service

ALLENTOWN, Pa. — Quinnipiac’s Rand Pecknold is a coach that’s known to speak his mind. He doesn’t hold back, like on Saturday night after the Bobcats’ win when he decided to use his opening statement to critique the NCAA’s handling of the ice at regionals.

On Sunday, following his team’s 3-1 defeat to Minnesota Duluth in the Midwest Regional championship, Pecknold offered another pointed take during his postgame news conference. Mostly stone-faced, slightly slouched, behind a microphone in the basement of the PPL Center, Pecknold offered praise to his counterpart on the other bench, Scott Sandelin.

“They played hard, they were honest and they are a really well-coached team,” Pecknold said Sunday. “Sandy does a really good job coaching that team. I have always witnessed it from afar, but I got a good dose of it tonight. He has those kids play the right way. They compete and the goalie bails them out when they need it, so congrats to them.

“I am really impressed with how they play and I can see why they are going three years in a row.”

When the Bulldogs drop the puck against Providence at 4 p.m. April 11 at KeyBank Center in Buffalo, N.Y., Sandelin will be the first coach in more than a decade to lead his team to the Frozen Four in three consecutive seasons.

Sandelin’s alma mater, North Dakota, was the last school to make three straight trips, but it was with two different head coaches. Dave Hakstol led the Fighting Hawks to the Frozen Four semifinals in 2014 and 2015 before leaving to become head coach of the NHL’s Philadelphia Flyers. Brad Berry took over the next season and helped North Dakota win it all in 2016.

Hakstol led North Dakota to four consecutive Frozen Fours in his first four seasons as head coach from 2005-08, though he never won an NCAA title during that run. He and Jerry York — who led Boston College to three straight Frozen Fours from 2006-08 with an NCAA title in ‘08 — were the last coaches to do it until Sandelin.

“He’s definitely turned this program into a powerhouse and all the credit goes to the coaching for sure,” said Bulldogs sophomore defenseman Scott Perunovich, a Hibbing native like Sandelin. “We take a lot of pride in being part of this group.

“Putting the jersey on every day, that’s something we don’t take for granted. We know how much this program means to Sandy and the coaches. To be able to do it for them after all the hard work they put in, it’s just something special.”

The Bulldogs are 19-6 all-time in the NCAA tournament under Sandelin, who took over as coach in 2000. He took the Bulldogs to one NCAA tournament and Frozen Four appearance (2004) during his first eight seasons as coach.

In his last 11 seasons, the Bulldogs have made eight NCAA tournaments, including five straight. They’ve reached four Frozen Fours, played for three national championships and won it all twice in 2011 and 2018.

Sandelin’s .760 NCAA tournament winning percentage is the best of all active head coaches and ranks fourth all-time behind Minnesota’s Herb Brooks (.889), Michigan’s Vic Heyliger (.800) and Sandelin’s former coach at North Dakota, Gino Gasparini (.789).

Bulldogs junior goaltender Hunter Shepard said Sunday the key to his coach’s success is never being satisfied, making sure the players feel the same way.

“Coach is always making sure that we’re not being OK just with what we’ve done, settling with that,” said Shepard, the Cohasset native. “He recruits guys that are competitive. Getting the taste of winning it last year after being on the team my freshman year and it didn’t work out for us, I think this group has been there and we want more. We want to get back here — that was our goal at the beginning of the year — and we knew we had the players to do it. It’s just nice to see that work paying off.”

Sitting in the same chair and behind the same microphone as Pecknold in the PPL Center media room Sunday, Sandelin didn’t mince his words either after a third straight regional final victory.

He acknowledged there were times during the season that he wasn’t sure whether or not this team was hungry enough. After an 8-1-1 start to the season, the Bulldogs finished the first half 3-4-1, including 2-3-1 in NCHC play to fall behind eventual runaway regular-season league champion St. Cloud State.

After New Year’s, the team was up and down. The Bulldogs split with the Huskies and posted four straight wins over Miami and Nebraska-Omaha, but then suffered disappointing splits with Colorado College, Denver and North Dakota in which the team failed to play to its potential at least one night each series.

In what’s now becoming a trademark of the Sandelin era, the Bulldogs have taken off in the postseason by winning six straight, including the NCHC Frozen Faceoff championship over the top-ranked Huskies and Sunday’s win over the co-ECAC regular-season champion Bobcats.

Sandeli’s doubts concerning his team’s hunger have since vanished.

“They wanted it. They found out how hard it is to get there again. This weekend was absolutely no different finding that out. It was a good learning curve, too,” Sandelin said.

“It’s special. I’m really excited for the players. I’m really excited for the seniors. The group’s been very successful.”

NCAA FROZEN FOUR

At KeyBank Center, Buffalo N.Y.

Thursday, April 11

Semifinals

  • Providence (24-11-6) vs. Minnesota Duluth (27-11-2), 4 p.m. (ESPN2)

  • Denver (24-11-5) vs. Massachusetts (30-9-0), 7:30 p.m. (ESPN2)

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