MINNEAPOLIS – Junior forward Zac Larraza broke a 2-2 game early in the third period to lead sixth-seeded Denver to a 4-3 win over eighth-seeded Miami in the National Collegiate Hockey Conference (NCHC) Frozen Faceoff Championship game Saturday night at Target Center. With the win, the Pioneers (20-15-6) captured the inaugural NCHC Tournament title and an automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament, marking the eighth straight year DU has qualified for the National Tournament. Denver also assured itself of its 13th straight 20-win season – the longest such streak in the NCAA. The RedHawks finished their season with a 15-20-3 record as their eight-year NCAA Tournament streak came to an end.
Larraza finished with a goal and an assist, as did sophomore defenseman Nolan Zajac. Zajac and junior defenseman Joey LaLeggia were named to the NCHC All-Tournament Team, along with Denver junior forwards Ty Loney and Daniel Doremus and senior goaltender Sam Brittain. Miami freshman forward Anthony Louis, who had two goals in the loss and three on the weekend, was the lone non-Pioneer to make the NCHC All-Tournament Team.
Zajac opened the scoring just 3:13 into the game with a blast from the point on the power play, while Larraza picked up the primary assist. The Pioneers then doubled their lead with 6:12 remaining in the first frame when Doremus, who was named the MVP of the Frozen Faceoff, finished his own rebound off feeds from Zajac and Loney.
The RedHawks started to rally in the second stanza when Louis scored on the power play after an odd bounce off the end boards put the puck right in front of goal for him to finish 13:08 into the period. Exactly three minutes later Miami drew even when sophomore forward Sean Kuraly, who assisted on Louis’ goal, fired a wrister on goal that snuck under Brittain.
Larraza turned the momentum back to the Pioneers in the third period however, with a wrister from the left circle that found the back of the net unassisted just 1:06 into the frame. A little over five minutes later, freshman forward Emil Romig added an insurance tally that turned out to be the game-winner when classmate Matt Marcinew stole the puck behind the net and centered to a streaking Romig for the score. Miami attempted a late rally, as Louis tallied his second of the night with the extra attacker with 1:33 remaining to close the gap to one, but the RedHawks last-second chance sailed just wide of goal as the Pioneers held on for the championship.
Brittain totaled 23 saves to earn the win, while Denver finished with a 28-26 edge in shots on goal. Sophomore netminder Ryan McKay suffered the loss for Miami while stopping 24 shots. Each team found the goal once on the power play with DU getting three chances and MU going 1-for-2.
Denver will learn its first-round opponent and location for the NCAA Tournament on Sunday at noon ET when the NCAA Tournament field is announced live on ESPNU.
NORTH DAKOTA 5, WESTERN MICHIGAN 0
MINNEAPOLIS - Earlier Saturday afternoon, second-seeded North Dakota defeated fifth-seeded Western Michigan in the Frozen Faceoff third-place game, 5-0, at Target Center as junior forward Connor Gaarder scored the game’s first two goals in the first period and UND never looked back. No. 11 North Dakota (23-13-3) was blanked by Miami in Friday's second semifinal, 3-0, while the Broncos (19-16-5) lost to Denver in Friday's first semifinal, creating the third-place match-up.
Gaarder opened the scoring just 1:42 into the game when he slipped the puck past WMU junior netminder Frank Slubowski. He then doubled UND's lead just past the midway mark of the first stanza for a 2-0 lead. Neither team found the back of the net in the middle period despite each having a power play as North Dakota took its two-goal lead into the final frame.
Sophomore defenseman Jordan Schmaltz made it 3-0 UND with a blast nine minutes into the third period. Only 2:20 later sophomore forward Rocco Grimaldi put the game out of reach with his 14th goal of the year. Freshman defenseman Paul LaDue then capped the scoring with a power play tally with 5:07 to play, completing a three-goal outburst in a span of 3:53 for the 5-0 final.
UND sophomore goaltender Zane Gothberg stopped all 25 shots he faced for his third shutout of the season and of his career. Slubowski stopped 24 shots in defeat, as the Broncos were outshot, 29-25, in the contest. North Dakota finished 1-for-6 on the power play while killing both WMU man advantages.
With the win, North Dakota kept its chances of an NCAA Tournament at-large berth alive, which would be its 12th straight NCAA Tournament appearance, the longest active streak in the NCAA.
NCHC Frozen Faceoff All-Tournament Team
Daniel Doremus, F, Denver
Ty Loney, F, Denver
Anthony Louis, F, Miami
Joey LaLeggia, D, Denver
Nolan Zajac, D, Denver
Sam Brittain, G, Denver
MVP: Daniel Doremus, F, Denver
Denver Postgame Press Conference
Denver Celebration/Trophy Presentation
Miami Postgame Press Conference
Referee GoPro Cam from Saturday night's Frozen Faceoff Championship Game
North Dakota Postgame Press Conference (Third-Place Game)
Western Michigan Postgame Press Conference (Third-Place Game)