ST. PAUL, Minn. – They were the last, the last team invited to the NCAA tournament.
On Thursday, however, Minnesota Duluth was first and second.
Just three minutes of his 2-1 victory over Ohio. Been on Thursday night at the Frozen Four, the Bulldogs had a pair of goals from Louie Roehl and Jared Thomas to change the game.
"You should leave your hat to Duluth, but our guys felt that we were on our heels right away," Ohio State coach Steve Rohlik said. "I could not have predicted it, we probably had the best last 10 days of practice we had intermittently, and we really felt that we were focused and ready to go, but they hit you in the face so early, it wakes you up."
A year after reaching the national title with a group of veterans, Scott Sandelin's squad did not know if they would have the resume to return to the NCAA tournament at the end of the season.  The Bulldogs, which have 10 freshmen, endured a turbulent regular season, so they were the last team selected in the field of 16 teams.
And they got into the NCAA tournament only after the state of Ohio lost the Big Ten title game to Notre Dame, triggering a series of fortuitous events.
But they did not play like a loser on Thursday night when they stalked Ohio State early and scored twice in the first 3 minutes, 4 seconds of a 2-1 win at Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul, Minn. The Bulldogs will play Notre Dame on Saturday for the men's national hockey championship (7:30 p.m. ET, ESPN).
They persisted as they have the whole season, looking for another tight victory in such an amazing race, Sandelin hesitated while trying to describe his return to the national title game with his young team.
"I do not know," Sandelin's help in response to a question about this trip after the victory. "You know that, you just do not know, we knew we had some good freshmen coming in. We had big questions, there's no question about that, so I think that even with a lot of people, there were doubts, and that's something we're talking about. I talked at length with some of our older players who trust us.
"But it's been a while since those kids got used to college hockey. Each weekend was a new experience for our freshmen. But we had a good … our advanced group, we had a lot of depth coming back. We did not have, as I said, the great offensive line or how some teams do it, but we had balance. And I think that started showing up in the second half. And again we have 26 players on our team and everyone has contributed this year. "
Minnesota Duluth overtook Minnesota, the host of the tournament, by a few tenths of a point in the RPI to secure the final spot in the NCAA Tournament. past Minnesota State, a school a few hours southwest of St. Paul, with a 3-2 overtime victory in the opening round and a 2-1 victory against the Air Force in the next round to ensure its second consecutive trip to the Frozen Four.
That trio of one-goal games aligned with the season pattern for the Bulldogs.Nothing had been easy for the reconstructed program that finished third behind Denver, the reigning champion who defeated Minnesota Duluth in last year's national title game, and St. Cloud State in the National Collegiate Hockey Conference rankings.
"I would like to think that it helped us," Sandelin said of previous commissions. "It's obviously great when you win. But we have had a lot. We are not a super powerful offensive team. I think the big change for our team, we have played a much better defense in the last month and a half, two months. "
Defense mattered for young Bulldogs when a 17-4 shot to his favor in the first period changed when a more aggressive Ohio State team outscored the last two periods on Thursday night by 16-11.
A Power-play goal by Tanner Laczynski, Ohio State's top scorer, in the third changed the vibe in building and forcing the Bulldogs to spend the last 10 minutes holding the lead.
Prior to Thursday's win, Minnesota Duluth had lost games to Denver and North Dakota on March 16 and 17, respectively, in the Frozen Faceoff, the semifinals of their league tournament, in the same arena that housed the Frozen Four.
Then, a team without guarantees waited to see if it would have another chance to prove to the world that it belonged to the NCAA tournament.  On Thursday night, however, this young group did much more than that.
The Bulldogs had another chance to show the world that they are possibly the best team in the game on Saturday night.
"[I’m] really excited about our guys, how they have grown up all year and they are able to play in the last game of the year is very special," said Sandelin. "So we're looking forward to it"