SAINT PAUL, Minn. - The Denver Pioneers advanced to the Frozen Faceoff Championship game with a 3-1 victory over Minnesota Duluth in the semifinals Friday night at Xcel Energy Center.
Denver (21-9-8), which has lost in the Frozen Faceoff semifinals in each of the last three seasons after winning the inaugural tournament in 2014, will face St. Cloud State in the championship game. The defending-champion Bulldogs (21-15-3) will face North Dakota in the third-place game.
Friday's two-game attendance of 11,983 fans set a single-day Frozen Faceoff attendance record.
It was the sixth-consecutive victory for the Pioneers over UMD, dating back to last year’s National Championship game. Each of UMD’s losses have come by two goals or less. However it was a somewhat uncharacteristic win for Denver. The Pioneers, who came into the game ranked second-to-last in the NCAA in penalty minutes per game (8.1), accrued 21 overall penalty minutes in the win, all but one of which came in the second period.
Bulldog defenseman Scott Perunovich, the NCHC’s Offensive Defenseman and Rookie of the Year, capitalized on UMD’s first power play of the game early on in the second period to tie the game at 1-1. The freshman used a Denver forward as a screen and beat NCHC Goalie of the Year Tanner Jaillet over the shoulder with a wrist shot. The Bulldogs were unable to find the net on any of their subsequent power plays in the game, which included a 5-on-3 advantage.
After the Pioneers successfully killed off a five-minute major that straddled the second and third periods, the momentum swung in their favor -- and stayed there for the rest of the game.
“I did like our poise on the bench and how after we killed off the five-minute major, I thought that we really played smart hockey and we really limited their opportunities, but we took some needless stick penalties that changed the momentum of the game,” Denver head coach Jim Montgomery said. “We’re gonna play a really good St. Cloud team (tomorrow) and we’re not going to be able to afford to give them five or six power plays.”
Although the Bulldogs outshot DU 25-19, the ice was tilted towards the UMD end for much of the game, especially the opening and closing periods. The Pioneers outshot UMD 10-4 in the first period, and spent the majority of their time in the UMD zone.
Henrik Borgstrom, who was named the NCHC’s Forward and Player of the Year at the NCHC Awards Banquet Thursday night, gave the Pioneers the lead nine minutes into the game -- and 10 seconds into their first power play -- with a wrister through traffic.
The Bulldogs generated some offensive chances but had neither the goals nor shots on goal to show for it in the first. Denver blocked a total of seven shots in the opening period. Overall, the Pioneers played a strong defensive game, blocking 17 UMD shots and forcing the opposition to take shots from the perimeter.
Any momentum the Bulldogs had gained from Perunovich’s power play goal was lost just minutes later, when Denver’s Colin Staub buried a rebound.
“For a little bit they were coming after us, so my line wanted to go out there and simplify things, we were just trying to get as many pucks and bodies to the net,” Staub said.
While the Bulldogs had the lion’s share of the opportunities to tie the game from there on out, the chances were well-spaced out, and according to Bulldog head coach Scott Sandelin, execution was lacking.
“Our execution wasn’t good enough, we had opportunities to get pucks to the net, we were trying to make hard plays, we didn’t come up the rink with enough speed,” Sandelin said. “I think their second goal was the one that stung a little bit, but we had opportunities, we took a couple bad angle routes to try and make a different play when all we had to do was get pucks there, we had bodies there, we were looking for the perfect play every time.”
Saturday's championship starts at 7:30 p.m. CT, while the third-place game between UMD and North Dakota is at 3:30 p.m. CT.
Henrik Borgstrom celebrates after scoring a goal Friday. Photo by Bruce Kluckhohn