ST. PAUL - As a young hockey player, Louie Roehl begged to emulate his father and don goaltending pads.

Dale Roehl was a standout goalie at Minnetonka High School and was drafted by the NHL's Philadelphia Flyers in 1987. Instead of testing the professional hockey waters, however, the elder Roehl played football at Minnesota Duluth where he was an award-winning strong safety.

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The younger Roehl begged his father the entire summer to play goalie at the Squirt level.

"Like every youngster he liked the gear and wanted to be goalie," Dale said Friday at a team autograph session at Roy Wilkins Auditorium. "Once he got the pads on, he loved it."

But no matter how much prodding, the son couldn't convince his father.

"He kept saying, 'No, no' and I kept bringing him magazine ads of goalie pads that I liked," Louie said. "He told me, 'You don't want to be sitting on the bench, you always want to be in the game.' And he said it was too expensive."

That turned out to be profound advice.

Louie Roehl is one of five freshmen defensemen who have turned the Bulldogs' biggest question mark into a strength as they prepare to play in the NCAA championship game for the second straight season tonight at Xcel Energy Center. UMD (24-16-3) faces Notre Dame (28-9-2) at 6:30 p.m. today.

Roehl helped the team advance this far by scoring on his first shift less than two minutes into Thursday's 2-1 semifinal win over Ohio State. It was his third goal of the season after a goalless high school career at Eden Prairie.

It also marked the first time his father had seen his son play live for the Bulldogs. Dale has had to watch UMD's games online since moving to Mesa, Ariz., where he works out of his home.

"I was super excited to see him be part of the team and to see how the Bulldogs are playing; it's a great opportunity for him," Dale said. "And getting his third goal, how exciting it was to see him step up."

UMD teammates weren't surprised to see the 5-foot-10, 180-pound defensive defenseman hop into the offensive zone and spark the Bulldogs.

"Louie just buried the puck," said fellow freshman defenseman Matt Anderson, who passed the puck to Roehl. "It didn't matter who I passed it to, I think anyone on the team right now can score."

That Roehl is even on the team is a surprise. After one season playing for the Minnesota Wilderness of the North American Hockey League - he scored six goals and totaled 35 assists there - Roehl expected to join Madison of the United States Hockey League.

Then came a July phone call from UMD coaches that took him by surprise. They wanted him to enroll in the fall and play in the 2017-18 season.

"It was out of the blue, a shock to me," Roehl said. "It changes your whole mindset to go in and play college hockey instead of going back to juniors. It was a shock to me and my family but it was for the best."

With sophomore Nick Wolff and five freshman blueliners, defense was supposed to be the weak link in UMD's efforts to return to the NCAA tournament. Instead, Roehl, Matt Anderson, Scott Perunovich, Mikey Anderson and Dylan Samberg have been a strength. Perunovich was named national rookie of the year Friday.

"Coming into the season, people talked about it being a rebuild year for us," Roehl said. "But we knew what we had in the locker room and saw what we could do on the ice. We have all the confidence in the world right now as a group."

Wolff was glad the Bulldogs brought in Roehl early, both for his on-ice talent and his off-ice playfulness.

"He's one of my best buddies. He's my roommate on the road and my housemate," Wolff said. "Louie's just a great guy. He's always got a smile in the locker room and is one of the biggest competitors in practice. He's a great influence to the other guys."

UMD coach Scott Sandelin praised all his young defensemen, including Roehl during Friday's news conference.

"His development is like a lot of the other (young defensemen)," Sandelin said. "Nick and Louie are two of our fiercest competitors back there. Louie's got good skating ability and can move the puck. Obviously, he scored a great goal (Thursday) night. He's been a big part of that D corps and has played with a lot of confidence."