NCAA: Maine and Denver to meet for National Title

By DJ Powers





NCAA: Maine and Denver to meet for National Title






 

On Saturday, the University
of
Maine Black Bears

will meet the
University
of
Denver Pioneers

for the top prize in the NCAA, the National Championship. This will be the
first meeting since 1999 between the two teams.
Maine
last won the national title in 1999, while
Denver
will be seeking its first title since 1969. The two teams feature two of the
hottest goaltenders in this year’s post season:
Denver
senior Adam Berkhoel
(CHI) and
Maine
sophomore Jimmy Howard (DET).

 

The following is a look at each team, how they stack up
against one another and some keys to winning it all.

 

 

The University of Maine Black Bears come into the National
Championship game with the nation’s best and stingiest defense as well as the
top goaltender in Jimmy Howard
(DET). In the National Semi-Finals game on Thursday,
Maine
did an excellent job of shutting down the potent Boston College Eagles. One
area where they particularly excelled was on the penalty kill, where the Black
Bears completely shut down the nation’s top ranked power play. In addition to
the top defense in the nation,
Maine
also ranks tied for first in the nation in short-handed goals with 12. Of
Maine’s
twelve short-handed goals scored, five were by senior defensive forward Todd Jackson (DET). The stingy
Maine
defense has given up an average of 1.58 goals per game this season. The only
time
Maine
allowed more than two goals in a post-season game this season was back on March
26th versus Harvard in the East Regional Semi-finals, where the game
ended in a 5-4 win for
Maine.
Maine
has also gotten excellent goaltending all season from their tandem of the
sophomore Howard and senior Frank Doyle.
Both goaltenders have goals against averages of below 2.00. Howard has been
tapped as the starter in the post-season, and he has been stellar. His 1.20 GAA
and .956 save percentage both rank first in the nation. Howard is a goaltender
that is positionally sound has shown great
athleticism. In addition he reads and follows plays superbly. His greatest
assets however, are his tremendous focus and his remarkably calm nature. These
attributes have served Howard well and his team has benefited greatly as a
result.

 

As stellar as Maine
is defensively, they are not a high-scoring team. They thrive in tight,
low-scoring affairs. Two areas where
Maine
will need to address going into the National Championship game will be more
goal-scoring and their power play.
Maine
has struggled mightily on the power play. The Black
Bears have only scored two power play goals in the post-season thus far.
Despite being a low scoring team in the post-season, the Black Bears do possess
players who can put the numbers up. Senior Colin
Shields
(PHI) leads the Black Bears in scoring with 44 points (18 goals, 26
assists). Shields plays on the right side on one of
Maine’s
two outstanding line combinations. Shields, along with linemates,
sophomore Greg Moore (NYR) and
freshman Michel Leveille
were excellent in the East Regional Semi-Finals versus Harvard, having a hand
in three of
Maine’s
five goals. But it is the line combination of freshman Mike Hamilton (ATL), sophomore Jon
Jankus
and junior Dustin Penner that has been
Maine’s
best line combination in the post-season. In addition to providing the scoring
in the East Final versus
Boston
College

and the East Regional Final versus
Wisconsin,
they also accounted for the lone goal in the opening Hockey East conference
playoff game versus
Boston
University
.

 

Maine will
face the University of Denver
Pioneers
, who looks to once again be the
underdog. However, the Pioneers are more than deserving of their due after
defeating the nation’s two top offensive teams in North
Dakota
and Minnesota-Duluth respectively. Unlike the
two previous teams they have faced, Denver
will be facing an excellent defensive team in Maine.
The key to the Pioneers’ post-season success has been the superb goaltending of
senior Adam Berkhoel
(CHI). Berkhoel almost single-handedly carried the
Pioneers to victory in the West Regional Final match versus North
Dakota
. In the West Final versus Minnesota-Duluth he allowed
the offensively deep UMD Bulldogs team to score three goals, only one of which
was even strength. Furthermore, after suffering a 6-1 loss to in-state rival
Colorado College in the opening round of the WCHA conference playoffs back on
March 13th, the Pioneers tightened up their goals against total
dramatically, allowing three or less goals in their last three games. What
makes the feat even more remarkable is the fact that all three opponents (Miami-Ohio,
North Dakota
and Minnesota-Duluth) were
highly ranked teams going into the post-season.

 

The one area that Denver
will need to address going into the National Title game is their ability to
stay out of the penalty box. During the West Final on Thursday versus
Minnesota-Duluth, the Pioneers were penalized seven times, most of which were
for unnecessary infractions. The Pioneers did an excellent job of getting shot
on goal in Thursday’s game versus Minnesota-Duluth and they will need to
continue to do so against Maine.

 

The Pioneers’ greatest areas of strength are special teams
and offense from their defensemen. Denver
ranks in the top 20 in the nation on both the power play and penalty killing.
The Pioneers have 18.7 percent effective rate that ranks 19th in the
nation, while their power play has an effective rate of 85.2 percent, which
ranks 15th in the nation. Denver’s
overall team offense ranks seventh in the nation, averaging 3.44 goals per
game. Sophomore Gabe Gauthier leads the Pioneers in scoring
with 42 points (17 goals, 25 assists). Denver’s
best line combination in the post-season has been the trio of junior Luke Fulghum
and seniors Max Bull and Lukas Dora. In the three previous games
leading to the National Championship game, the trio has accounted for much of
the Pioneers’ scoring among forwards. But one area where the Pioneers’ have
gotten excellent offensive production is from their outstanding group of
defensemen. The Pioneers possess a very active and excellent skating defensive
corps who often jumps up into plays. The stellar tandem of senior Ryan Caldwell (NYI) and freshman Matt Carle (SJ) have been the Pioneers’
most effective offensive duo accounting for 27 and 25 total points respectively
this season. Junior Brett Skinner
(VAN) leads all Pioneers defensemen in scoring with 30 points (7 goals, 23
assists).

 

The National Championship game will be broadcast live on
ESPN this evening.