We all wish we could have weeks like Scott Sandelin just had.
Last Thursday, his Minnesota Duluth Bulldogs beat Providence 4-1 in the NCAA Frozen Four in Buffalo, N.Y., to reach the national championship game for the third consecutive year. On Saturday, UMD throttled Massachusetts 3-0 to win back-to-back titles and give the program its third national championship. On Tuesday, Sandelin and the Bulldogs held their championship celebration, and he was named coach of Team USA for the World Junior Championship this winter in the Czech Republic.
“It’s a fun week,’’ Sandelin said Wednesday, as he put a wrap on the season with a news conference and phone interviews. “It’s a special moment for the program, for all of us.’’
And it’s moments like this that Sandelin expects to continue in Duluth. With talk swirling that Sandelin could be a candidate for an NHL head-coaching job, the 54-year-old indicated he’s happy at UMD.
“I’m not looking for any opportunity,’’ he said in Duluth. “If somebody calls me, I’ll listen. Right now, my plan is to be back at Duluth and be at Duluth for a long time, hopefully.’’
Sandelin just completed his 19th season with the Bulldogs by leading UMD to its third national championship in nine years, adding to his 2011 and ’18 titles won at St. Paul’s Xcel Energy Center. This one, a comfortable victory over UMass, gave him a better chance to savor it while it was happening.
“This time it wasn’t a one-goal game. I enjoyed the ending a little bit more where the other ones were a little more stressful because they were one-goal games, and Michigan was overtime [3-2 in 2011]. It was a little different feeling that way, but nonetheless it was still pretty exciting.’’
Minnesota Duluth’s route to the national title last year was one of an underdog. The Bulldogs were the last at-large team to make the tournament, then won four consecutive one-goal games with a defensive corps that had freshmen in five of the six spots. Sandelin’s task this season was keeping a championship team properly motivated to win another.
That wasn’t always easy, with the Bulldogs starting 0-1-1 in a home-and-home series against the Gophers, going on a 10-2 tear through early December, then splitting four series and being swept in one of the eight NCHC series after Jan. 1.
“This year we went in there with more of a target on our back,’’ he said. “That’s always the first thing: How hungry are they to do it again? I know they are, but sometimes you just don’t know.
“… There were some times we had to be hard on them, for sure – probably more so than the year before or previous years,’’ he added. “But we just kept trying to push because we didn’t want guys to get satisfied.’’
After a regular-season-ending sweep suffered at league champion and No. 1-ranked St. Cloud State, the Bulldogs didn’t lose again, winning eight games in the NCHC playoffs and NCAA tournament and outscoring opponents by a combined 24-7. They finished 29-11-2.
“When we got to the [NCAA] tournament and got closer and closer, our guys got more and more dialed-in to what was going on,’’ Sandelin said. “When you’re in those one-game shots, it’s do or die. They had a good, even-keel approach to every game. There was no panic, whether we were up or down.’’
The cherry on top was the dismantling of UMass, a team that entered the NCAA final with a 31-9 record.
“Win or lose, I would have been thrilled because of the way we played in that hockey game,’’ he said. “…. To see it all come together in that last game on the big stage is something I will remember about this team. They put it together at the right moment, and sometimes that doesn’t happen. I was so excited to see them play that way and get rewarded for it. It made it even more special.’’
Now, the offseason has started, and the Bulldogs suffered their first early departure, with junior forward Riley Tufte signing with the Dallas Stars on Wednesday. Others could follow the first-round draft pick in signing with NHL teams. “It’s that time of year, and we all go through that,’’ Sandelin said. “I hope we can get ’em all back and try to have another good year next year.’’
Up next for Sandelin is world juniors work for Team USA, the American Hockey Coaches Association convention from May 1-4 in Naples, Fla., and a little time to relax.
“Hopefully, the ice is off the lakes when the fishing opener starts,’’ the Hibbing native said. “That would be good.’’