Minnesota Duluth played like a team that knew its way around a big stage, especially early. The reward was another crack at the national title.
Louie Roehl and Jared Thomas scored in the first 3:04 and Minnesota Duluth held off Ohio State 2-1 on Thursday night to reach the NCAA championship game for the second straight year.
Hunter Shepard made 19 saves for the Bulldogs (24-16-3), allowing only Tanner Laczynski's power-play goal in the third period. Sean Romeo stopped 26 shots for the Buckeyes (26-10-5).
The Bulldogs will face Notre Dame, a 4-3 winner over Michigan in the second semifinal, on Saturday night. Duluth lost 3-2 to Denver in the title game last season in Chicago. The Bulldogs were the last at-large entrant to make the 16-team NCAA field.
"When you're fighting for your life to get into the tournament, you're kind of playing playoff hockey a couple weeks earlier than everyone else, and you get on a run and keep it going and find out how to play tough, close games like that," Thomas said. "I think the fact that we had to crawl and scratch our way from the bottom from the start of the season to where we are now, it's been a heck of a run.
The Bulldogs needed less than two minutes to ignite the heavily partisan crowd, with freshman defenseman Roehl scoring his third career goal after a cross-ice pass from Matt Anderson. Roehl is one of five freshmen playing defense for the Bulldogs.
"It's been fun to watch that whole group grow," Bulldogs coach Scott Sandelin said. "We let them make mistakes early, but we knew we were going to have to play all those kids. It's been fun, and we're reaping the benefits of it."
Just 1:11 later, they made it 2-0 when Thomas got behind the defense and scored on a breakaway. The Bulldogs outshot Ohio State 17-4 in the opening period.
The Buckeyes rebounded for an 8-6 shot advantage in the second, but could not solve Shepard until midway through the third. On Ohio State's second consecutive power play, Laczynski's wrist shot hit Thomas' left hand and changed directions in front of Shepard.
"Tough way to start a hockey game against a really good hockey team," Buckeyes coach Steve Rohlik said. "We dug ourselves a hole, but I couldn't be more proud of my group. They didn't quit and like they have all year, played right to the end."
Duluth's lone NCAA title came in 2011 when the Bulldogs beat Michigan 3-2 in overtime, the last time the Frozen Four was played at Xcel Energy Center. This will be their fourth title-game appearance in six trips to the Frozen Four.