The 2015-16 Minnesota-Duluth Bulldogs’ season ended in the regional final of the NCAA tournament for the second straight year. To advance to this game, they controlled play against Providence and earned a 2-1 victory en route to the first of two four-versus-one upsets in the 2016 regionals.
However, the high-powered Boston College Eagles proved to be too much to handle Saturday, holding on after taking a 3-0 lead for a 3-2 final.
This was a result that we have seen in the past. The Eagles beat the Bulldogs in the 2012 regional final en route to their most recent national championship. Last year, UMD lost to another Boston-based team, the Boston University Terriers, in the same Northeast Region.
BC’s Thatcher Demko, one of the top goalies in the nation, made some big saves in the first two periods to keep the Bulldogs from finding the back of the net Saturday. One of his more impressive ones is seen below:
A kick save… AND A BEAUTY!
— NCAA Ice Hockey (@NCAAIceHockey) March 27, 2016
The Bulldogs would not go down without a fight. Despite being down, 3-0, past the halfway marl of the third period, they fought back to pull the game within one.
Duluth got a late power play and came within inches of tying the game, but BC’s Austin Cangelosi swept the puck away from the goal line to save the day.
Ultimately, they came up short, but the Bulldogs put up an admirable effort and showed they definitely deserved to be in the field of 16.
The 2015-16 Minnesota-Duluth Bulldogs season
This team was built on defense, and that starts in net. Sophomore goalie Kasimir Kaskisuo followed up on an impressive freshman campaign that earned him NCHC all-rookie team honors with another solid season.
This year, the Finland product earned all-conference honorable mention honors and improved upon his rookie year in terms of goals-against average and save percentage. This site named him as the top goalie in the NCHC.
The upperclassmen led the way for the Bulldogs, but a few underclassmen stood out as well. Particularly, freshman defender Neal Pionk impressed. He was second among defensemen in scoring on the team, behind only first-tier partner Andy Welinski. He will be a key member of their defensive corps for years to come.
The regular season did not go as well as expected for the Bulldogs. They were picked first in the official NCHC preseason poll, but finished fourth. However, they performed well enough against nonconference opponents, advanced to the NCHC championship game and earned an at-large bid.
For the second straight season, they won a game in the tournament. Upsetting the reigning national champion PC Friars was no small feat. Their goaltending was strong, and they really dominated play, outshooting the Friars, 56-37, in an affair that spilled into a second overtime.
However, they were unable to advance to the Frozen Four. The Bulldogs won it all in 2011, but have now lost in the regional final in each of their three tournament appearances since.
The Bulldogs lose three of their top five point-getters to graduation. This includes top scorer Tony Cameranesi. who was a fifth-round pick of the Toronto Maple Leafs in 2011. Fellow Leafs prospect Dominic Toninato should be relied upon to lead the way for the Bulldogs next year after a productive junior season.
They will lose a key defender in Welinski, a third-round pick of the Anahiem Ducks in 2011, along with two other defenders that played at least 20 games this season. The Bulldogs will therefore need rising seniors Carson Soucy and Willie Raskob to step up and fill the void.
The key to their team, Kaskisuo, will be a junior next season. That’s a good sign for UMD, as the undrafted Finn should return as the starter. He improved from freshman to sophomore year, so if he continues that trend, he will remain in the conversation among top goalies in the conference.
A good goalie can carry a team to success. However, for a team that did not have a very deep offense this season, losing the top two scorers could be a tough pill to swallow.
The Bulldogs had a 11-10-3-1 record in conference play and finished fourth in the NCHC. They earned the last at-large bid in the tournament. And given its impending offseason losses, it could be destined for a similar, if not worse fate next year.