Bulldogs’ unheralded rookies shine in NCHC Frozen Faceoff championship win

DULUTH -- The No. 13 wasn't just lucky for Minnesota Duluth in Saturday night's 3-2 double-overtime victory over St. Cloud State in the NCHC Frozen Faceoff championship at Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul.
Tanner Laderoute (13) and Jesse Jacques (18) of Minnesota Duluth celebrate after defeating St. Cloud State 3-2 in double overtime Saturday during the NCHC championship game at Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul.Clint Austin / Forum News Service
Tanner Laderoute (13) and Jesse Jacques (18) of Minnesota Duluth celebrate after defeating St. Cloud State 3-2 in double overtime Saturday during the NCHC championship game at Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul.Clint Austin / Forum News Service

DULUTH - The No. 13 wasn’t just lucky for Minnesota Duluth in Saturday night’s 3-2 double-overtime victory over St. Cloud State in the NCHC Frozen Faceoff championship at Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul.

As head coach Scott Sandelin said Sunday, march 24, back at Amsoil Arena, the owner of the No. 13 jersey, freshman wing Tanner Laderoute, was “really, really good.” Laderoute set up not only the game-tying goal for UMD, but the game-winner as well to give the Bulldogs their second NCHC postseason title in three seasons.

“I can tell he’s played a lot of playoff games in junior hockey. He’s got experience,” Sandelin said. “He plays a hard-nosed style. He was moving (Saturday) night. He was one of our best players, not just because of the (scoring) plays. He was going to get rewarded with ice time because he was moving, getting pucks in, being strong on walls.”

Laderoute enters the NCAA tournament - which gets underway for UMD at 3 p.m. Saturday against Bowling Green in the Midwest Regional in Allentown, Pa. - with seven goals and four assists.

Laderoute, 21, of Edmonton, Alberta, reached the playoffs in all four seasons in the Alberta Junior Hockey League with the Sherwood Park Crusaders and Okotoks Oilers before joining UMD.

In Saturday’s Frozen Faceoff championship against the Huskies, he forced a turnover on the forecheck during a penalty kill to set up the game-tying goal by senior winger Billy Exell late in the third period.

“I saw a bad pass go across and a big bobble by (Huskies’ center Kevin) Fitzgerald there,” Laderoute said. “I saw everyone dive toward me in desperation. I saw Billy out of the corner of my eye just kind of squeaking his way in. I just tried to put it in a spot where he can hit it home and he did.”

Laderoute was able to freeze Huskies goaltender David Hrenak on Exell’s game-tying, shorthanded one-timer. Seven-plus minutes into double overtime, Laderoute did it again to Hrenak and freshman defenseman Spencer Meier during a two-on-one breakaway to set up the game-winner by sophomore winger Nick Swaney.

“I was thinking pass the whole way down,” Laderoute said. “I just tried to make sure the D-man or goalie bit a little and then just tried to slide it across and give him the best chance he can get. He’s going to bury those.”

The game-winning two-on-one rush for UMD all started thanks to a block by Bulldogs freshman center Jesse Jacques on the opposite end of the ice. The Hermantown native stepped up and deflected a shot by Huskies senior defenseman Jimmy Schuldt, sending the puck right to the stick of Laderoute.

With fellow freshman center Jackson Cates out for the Frozen Faceoff due to illness, Jacques was in the lineup for just the fourth and fifth times since Jan. 18. He was slotted in Cates’ spot on the third line between Laderoute and junior wing Riley Tufte.

Jacques’ role only increased when junior center Jade Miller went down in the second period Saturday. At one point in the third period Jacques took a shift with Exell on one side and sophomore defenseman Scott Perunovich on the other wing.

“He played with confidence. That’s not an easy thing when you haven’t played a lot of minutes, to step into games like that,” Sandelin said. “I thought he played with composure and he did a pretty good job defensively. He made some plays offensively.

“It was important to have him play well for us, especially Saturday after Jade going down.”

Jacques said his composure during the NCHC semifinals and final comes from his previous experience playing big games at Xcel. He made three trips to St. Paul with the Hawks in high school, winning Class A state championships as a junior and senior in 2016 and 2017 with all three wins in 2017 coming in overtime.

“I was excited. I really was. I wasn’t really nervous at all,” Jacques said of getting the call in St. Paul. “I was ready to get in there, to try and keep proving myself. I had a blast.

“I love the environment. It brought back memories.”

  • Sandelin didn’t have much of an update on injuries Sunday after the selection show. The coach said Cates is day-to-day while he’s still waiting for a report on Miller. Perunovich - who missed the NCHC quarterfinal series against Nebraska-Omaha, but played in the Frozen Faceoff - is “getting through it.” Sandelin said Perunovich looked better in St. Paul, but his status remains week-to-week like a lot of other players with bumps and bruises this time of year.
  • Bulldogs junior goaltender Hunter Shepard was named the Frozen Faceoff’s most valuable player, but he was one of just two Bulldogs on the Frozen Faceoff All-Tournament team along with sophomore defenseman Mikey Anderson. The other four selections were all Huskies. The team is voted on by the media, but ballots had to be turned in before the conclusion of regulation.