Denver and North Dakota to meet for National Championship

By DJ Powers





Frozen Four Semi-Finals Game #1: Colorado College vs






Four WCHA teams met on Thursday to determine who will be
going to the National Championship game on Saturday. When it was all over, Denver and North
Dakota
emerged victorious. The National Championship
game will be a rematch of the WCHA Final Five opening round game that saw Denver come away with a
2-1 overtime win back on March 18th.

 

Colorado
College and Denver met in the first semi-final game that
saw a combined 48 penalties taken in the game. Colorado College
got some good scoring chances early but failed to capitalize on their
opportunities. Denver
freshman goaltender Peter Mannino, who started two consecutive games for the
first time this season, was very good throughout the game.

 

The Tigers’ inability to stay out of the penalty box
and failure to capitalize on their opportunities would be their downfall in the
game. At the 13:35 mark, sophomore defenseman Brandon Straub would draw Colorado College’s
second penalty of the game for cross-checking. Just nine seconds into their
power play at the 13:54 mark, the Pioneers would get on the board first. Senior
Luke Fulghum
split the Tigers defense to flip a shot over Colorado College
senior goaltender Curtis McElhinney (CGY) for the score. Defensemen Brett Skinner (VAN) and Matt Carle (SJ) drew the assists.

 

At the
15:18 mark, Colorado
College
sophomore
defenseman Brian Salcido
was sent off on an interference call. Once again it didn’t take the
Pioneers long to capitalize on the opportunity. Just eight seconds later at the
15:26 mark, Fulghum would notch his second goal of
the game when his blazing shot beat McElhinney over
his left shoulder for the score. Skinner notched his second assist on the goal
to go with an assist given to junior Gabe Gauthier.
Towards the end of the opening period, Denver
got into some penalty trouble of their own and Colorado College
failed to capitalize on any of their chances.

 

The Tigers began the second period on a power play that
failed to yield a goal. At the 6:05 mark, Carle would extend Denver’s lead to 3-0 on the power play.
Carle took a great shot from the blueline that
somehow made its way through the traffic in front of the Tigers net to beat McElhinney for the score. Skinner notched his third assist
to along with one by senior Jeff
Drummond
. At the 8:46 mark, Gauthier was assessed a tripping penalty that
once again put Colorado
College
on the power
play. At the 9:49 mark, Salcido would finally get the
Tigers on the board with a power play goal that was assisted by sophomore
defenseman Lee Sweatt
and junior Joey Crabb
(NYR). With the goal, Colorado College snapped out of a scoreless drought versus Denver that lasted nearly
154 minutes over a span of three games. As the period wore on, the Tigers
defense began getting more involved in creating plays in hopes of cutting into
the Pioneers lead further. One of the best such opportunities came very late in
the period when Tigers senior defenseman Mark
Stuart
(BOS) made a nice drive to the net in a four-on-four situation.

 

At the 19:23 mark, junior defenseman Brady Greco (TB) would be assessed a cross-checking penalty that
would allow the Pioneers to restore their three-goal lead on a five-on-three
situation. At the 19:51 mark, Gauthier would do just that with the first of his
two goals on the night, with Fulghum and Carle
drawing the assists.

 

After killing off the rest of Greco’s late second
period penalty, the Tigers began getting some qualities chances, but once again
it would be all for not. At the 5:42 mark, Gauthier would net his second goal
of the game on a five-on-three situation for Denver. The goal resulted from a perfectly
executed play that started with a rush into the Tigers zone led by Skinner.
Drummond and Skinner, who notched his fourth assist of the game, were credited
with the assists. The score was now 5-1 Denver.
At the 13:02 mark, freshman James Brannigan’s power play goal would cut into Denver’s lead. Brannigan notches his goal off of a rebound that Mannino gives up. Stuart and junior Aaron Slattengren would draw the assists.
The score was now 5-2 Denver.
Late in regulation, one of the strangest plays of the game happened. Denver freshman Ryan Dingle attempted to lift the puck
over McElhinney that instead completely missed the
net. Sophomore Adrian Veideman put the frosting on the cake for Denver at the 19:15 mark with
yet another power play tally. Veideman roofed a slapper for the goal that was assisted by Mannino and freshman Tom
May
. In all, Denver went 6-for-12 with the
man advantage while Colorado
College
went 2-for-8.

 

“We didn’t have a very good shooting game. We
did get there, but we didn’t shoot the puck well when we got there and
that’s it” said Colorado College senior Scott
Polaski
(PHX) when asked about why they
couldn’t beat Denver
in three tries and similarities of how the games were played. “I think their
power play was big in all three games” added senior defenseman Mark Stuart (BOS), “I think in
previous games, especially the one at the Final Five, there wasn’t many
chances for either team and they capitalized on a few they had and tonight they
capitalized on a lot they had and that was the difference”.

 

“I thought there were parts of our game where we need
to continue to get better at. I would say that it wasn’t our best
performance but good teams find a way to win even though they’re not
playing at their best. We definitely feel that we can give a better performance
for a better part of the game than we did today,” said Denver head coach George Gwozdecky
on assessing his team’s performance after the game.

 

The second Frozen Four semi-final game pitted two old
adversaries against one another in Minnesota
and North Dakota.
The good news coming into the game for Minnesota
was the return of junior Tyler Hirsch,
who missed the NCAA Tournament West Regional due to personal reasons.

 

North Dakota
came out firing and also forced Minnesota
to take the first penalty of the game at the 17-second mark, when freshman Kris Chucko
(CGY) was called off for a trip. The Fighting Sioux did an excellent job of
moving the puck and generating some quality scoring chances but were unable to
get one by Minnesota
sophomore goaltender Kellen Briggs. At the 5:34 mark, sophomore Erik Fabian would get North Dakota on the board first with a nice
individual effort for his fourth goal of the season.

 

The Fighting Sioux did an excellent job of taking space and
skating room away from the Gophers. They also did an excellent job of utilizing
their large and physical defensive corps to their advantage. One of the best
scoring opportunities of the game came around the 15-minute mark of the period
when sophomore Drew Stafford (BUF)
made some sensational moves to beat the Minnesota defense before launching a
shot that just misses getting by Briggs. Minnesota’s
sophomore goaltender was outstanding for much of the game despite allowing four
goals.

 

North
Dakota
picked up right
where they left off coming into the second period. If it wasn’t the
stifling, hard-hitting defense that was shutting down the Gophers, it was the
stellar play of sophomore goaltender Jordan
Parise
. Parise would be
counted on more and more as the game progressed to come up with key saves and
he didn’t disappoint. In what could only be described as a highlight reel
save, Parise makes an absolutely unbelievable glove
save on Minnesota
senior Garrett Smaagaard’s
point blank chance around the mid-point of the period. At the 10:12 mark,
Fabian would notch his second goal of the game. The goal came as a result of a
defensive breakdown by the Gophers that allowed Fabian to turn and flip a shot
on goal that beats Briggs for the score. Seniors Brian Canady and defenseman Matt
Jones
(PHX) would draw the assists.

 

One problem that plagued the Gophers in the final two
periods of the game was negating their power play opportunities by taking
unnecessary penalties shortly after getting on the power play.

 

The Sioux began the final period on a power play that
stemmed from a late second period penalty taken by sophomore Danny Irmen
(MIN). At just 45 seconds into the period, freshman Travis Zajac (NJ), who was outstanding in
the game, would notch the first of his two goals on the night. After Stafford takes the initial shot, Zajac
does a nice job of following up the play by banking home the rebound for the
score. Stafford and senior defenseman Nick Fuher
drew the assists. At the 5:00 mark, Zajac would notch
his second goal of the game on a beautifully executed short-handed tally. Zajac and Stafford go into the Minnesota zone on an odd-man situation. A
nice give and go ensues between Zajac and Stafford with Zajac finishing
the play. Stafford and junior defenseman Matt Greene (EDM) drew the assists on
the goal. The score was now 4-0 North
Dakota
.

 

Despite being down four goals in the final period, the
Gophers weren’t about to go quietly. They would try to get back into the
game. With a two-man advantage power play, the Gophers saw their chance. At the
6:17 mark, freshman Mike Howe would
get the Gophers on the board. Howe’s wrister
from just inside the slot area beats Parise for the
score. Junior Gino Guyer
(DAL) and sophomore defenseman Mike Vannelli (ATL) would draw the assists. Just a minute and
23 seconds later, Guyer made it 4-2 Minnesota with a nice snapshot that beats Parise top-shelf for the score. Howe and senior Barry Tallackson
(NJ) assisted on Guyer’s 12th goal of the
season. Prior to Howe’s power play tally, North Dakota had successfully killed off 23
consecutive opposition power plays. Howe’s goal also marked the first
time in 23 tries that Minnesota
has capitalized with the man-advantage.

 

Having given up two quick goals to Minnesota, the Sioux gradually got back to
playing the hard-hitting, in-your-face style that worked so well in earlier in
the game. A scary moment for the Fighting Sioux happened around the 18-minute
mark when a Minnesota
player driving to the net barrels into Parise,
leaving him lying on the ice for a few moments. After Parise
was able to return to play, he and his North Dakota
teammates were able to hold off then send the Gophers home.

 

“It was a great game all around. We were able to
establish our speed and physical play throughout the game”, said North Dakota head coach Dave Hakstol
after the game.

 

Minnesota
head coach Don Lucia, while disappointed and saddened by the loss, said of his
team after the game, “You know when the year began with this group, I don’t think we had a lot of believers that
we’d be in the Frozen Four, so I’m really happy for our players. We
had a lot of young guys out there in a difficult environment, but our seniors
to get to go to three Frozen Fours in their four-year career is a real tremendous
statement for what they were able to do for the University of Minnesota hockey
program, and I couldn’t be more proud of our team and what they did this
year.”

 

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2005 Hockey’s Future.  Do not
duplicate without permission of the editorial staff.