CHICAGO- How determined were the Denver Pioneers to put last year’s heartbreaking Frozen Four loss to North Dakota behind them?
Just ask Notre Dame.
Dylan Gambrell scored twice and Tanner Jaillet made 16 saves as Denver routed the Fighting Irish 6-1 on Thursday night at United Center, advancing to the championship game against Minnesota Duluth, which defeated Harvard 2-1 earlier.
“I don’t really know what to say. I’m just amazed at the effort that our team produced in a big-time moment,” Pioneers head coach Jim Montgomery said.
Notre Dame was simply no match for a determined and motivated Denver team in its 10th national championship game for the first time since 2005 when George Gwozdecky was coach.
“Certainly a great team, seemed like a team on a mission to me,” Notre Dame head coach Jeff Jackson said.
Motivation was easy for the Pioneers in this game, especially after they gave up a goal with under a minute left in a 4-2 loss to eventual champion North Dakota in last year’s Frozen Four in Tampa.
“Everybody’s kinda got that at the back of their mind,” Gambrell said. “We still think about it all the time.”
The Pioneers jumped on the Irish right from the start, winning puck battles, forechecking superbly and wearing Notre Dame’s forwards and defensemen down with long shifts. Defenseman Will Butcher credited that to his team’s offensive dominance inside the Notre Dame zone.
“I think our forecheck really dominated them tonight,” he said. “Whenever we have a good forecheck going, we seem to get the puck back a lot more. We’re a puck possession team.
“When our forwards are playing well, it makes our job as defensemen even easier.”
Jeff Jackson agreed.
“[Denver’s] defense was their offense,” Jackson said. “Their defense was their puck possession, their puck management, they do a god job with their defensemen making good plays coming out of their zone.”
A shift nearly two minutes long in the Irish zone eventually led to the first Denver goal of the game, a top-shelf sharp-angle snipe from Emil Romig. Another good forecheck led to a wraparound attempt by Butcher, and the rebound went right to Henrik Borgstrom, who buried it on the doorstep.
Denver kept rolling in the second period, scoring three times to put the game well out of reach-a Tariq Hammond 2-on-1 with Evan Janssen, a Gambrell wraparound beauty and an Evan Ritt wrister from the right circle.
The Fighting Irish got on the board a little over halfway through the third on a power play goal by Cam Morrison, but Gambrell’s second goal, which he threw from behind the net and deflected in off ND goaltender Cal Petersen, pushed the margin back to five.
Notre Dame, which had a remarkable run to the Frozen Four, saw their season come to a tough end. After upending No. 4 overall seed Minnesota and Hockey East rival UMass-Lowell in the Northeast Regional to reach their third Frozen Four in program history, the Irish fell short of reaching its second championship game.
“I think it just makes us more hungry to get back here next year and come in with a better mindset,” ND forward Andrew Oglevie said. “So we’re going to build off of it and have a good offseason and come back ready.”
Top overall seed Denver will meet NCHC rival and No. 2 overall seed Minnesota-Duluth in the championship game at 7 p.m. on Saturday. The teams split a series in Denver earlier in the season, and Montgomery knows that because he and his staff and players at Denver as well as Scott Sandelin and his staff and players at Minnesota-Duluth know each other very well, that will play a factor on Saturday night.
“I don’t even think the coaches have to tell who’s gonna go on the ice when one line goes over, because they’re gonna know that’s my responsibility,” he said. “It’s gonna be a barnburner.”
Petersen made 36 saves for the Irish.
DU goal at 8:18: Romig 9. Assists: Colin Staub 9 and Michael Davies 12.
DU goal at 14:50: Borgstrom 22. Assists: Butcher 30 and Liam Finlay 11.
DU goal at 14:07: Hammond 3. Assists: Evan Janssen 19 and Logan O’Connor 11.
DU goal at 16:27: Gambrell 12. Assists: Hammond 5 and Troy Terry 19.
DU goal at 18:18: Ritt 2. Assist: Staub 10.
ND PP goal at 11:24: Morrison 12. Assists: Jordan Gross 22 and Jake Evans 29.
DU goal at 16:42: Gambrell 13. Assists: Terry 20 and Hammond 6.
Power plays: ND 1-1, DU 0-2.
Shots on goal: DU 42, ND 17.