2016 NCAA Frozen Four: North Dakota makes long-awaited return to title game after win over Denver

By DJ Powers
Nick Schmaltz - University of North Dakota - 2016 NCAA Frozen Four

Photo: University of North Dakota forward Nick Schmaltz slides the puck past University of Denver goaltender Tanner Jaillet to score the game-winning goal as the Fighting Hawks downed the Pioneers 4-2 to move on to the title game at the 2016 NCAA Frozen Four (courtesy of Richard T. Gagnon/Getty Images)



A meeting of NCHC rivals went down to the wire in the second semi-final game at the 2016 NCAA Frozen Four, with the University of North Dakota’s Nick Schmaltz scoring a late goal to break a 2-2 tie that sent the Fighting Hawks on to a 4-2 win over the University of Denver at Amalie Arena in Tampa, FL.

Why North Dakota won: Sophomore Cam Johnson was sensational in goal, making a number of key saves that allowed his team to win. The dynamic “CBS” line of freshman Brock Boeser (VAN), sophomore Nick Schmaltz (CHI) and senior Drake Caggiula had a hand in all four North Dakota goals. Caggiula led the way with a pair of goals and assisted on Schmaltz’s game-winner. All told, the “CBS” line accounted for six points (three goals, three assists) in the game.

Why Denver lost: More often than not throughout the game, the Pioneers failed to mount a strong net-front presence in front of Johnson. Furthermore, their ability to drive up the middle was effectively shut down for much of the game by North Dakota’s stifling defensive corps. Although the “Pacific Rim” line had a number of excellent scoring opportunities throughout the game, they failed to capitalize on any of them.

How the scoring was done

Caggiula struck with the first of his two tallies in the game to open the scoring at 1:03 of the second period. Boeser, who was credited with an assist on the goal, made a beautiful feed to set up Caggiula.

Later in the period at the 6:21 mark, Caggiula struck again. This time, it was off a turnover along the boards. After taking possession, he went top shelf on Denver sophomore netminder Tanner Jaillet for the score.

Junior defenseman Will Butcher (COL) got Denver on the board early in the third period at 1:03. He took a redirected feed from senior Grant Arnold before rifling it top shelf over Johnson to cut North Dakota’s lead to 2-1.

Junior defenseman Matt VanVoorhis was credited with the equalizer at the 11:51 mark on a fluky play when his centering pass attempt wound up being redirected off of North Dakota junior defenseman Gage Ausmus’ (SJS) stick before trickling through Johnson’s pads for the score.

Schmaltz netted the eventual game-winner at the 19:03 mark when he slid a backhander behind Jaillet from just outside the Denver crease.

Freshman Rhett Gardner put the frosting on the cake for North Dakota with an empty-netter at 19:58. Junior defenseman Troy Stecher, who was credited with the lone assist, did some outstanding work along the boards to make the play happen.

Highlights from the North Dakota-Denver game can be viewed below.

National Championship game: North Dakota vs. Quinnipiac

Saturday night’s National Championship game will be the first-ever meeting between Quinnipiac and North Dakota at the Frozen Four. Although the two teams have never met in the Frozen Four prior to this year, they have met in previous NCAA Tournament regionals. The most recent meeting was in last year’s West Regional semi-final game where the Fighting Hawks defeated the Bobcats, 4-1.

Quinnipiac will be seeking their first-ever National Championship, while North Dakota will be seeking their eighth and first since 2000. The last time the Bobcats reached the National Championship game was in 2013. The Fighting Hawks last reached the NCAA title game in 2005.

Follow DJ Powers on Twitter via @DJPowersHF