It seemed unlikely at the end of the regular season, but sixth seed Denver is headed back to the NCAA tournament for the seventh consecutive year, the second longest active tournament streak in the NCAA, after a 4-3 victory over Miami in the inaugural NCHC Frozen Faceoff championship game.
The Pioneers jumped out to a 2-0 lead in the first period on goals by Nolan Zajac and Daniel Doremus and looked to be in control of the game until a strange bounce off the back boards allowed Miami's Anthony Louis to jump on a loose puck and score an easy goal in the second period to bring Miami back into the game. Sean Kuraly would knot the score at two just three minutes later, setting up a decisive third period.
Denver captain Zac Larraza put Denver ahead early in the third period and Emil Romig extended that lead to 4-2 at 6:47 of the third period. The Pioneers would have to withstand one last charge by Miami however to take the title. Anthony Louis scored an extra attacker goal with 1:33 remaining to bring Miami within one goal, and Louis had multiple chances to tie the game in the final minute that were turned away.
The loss ends Miami's amazing run through the NCHC tournament after finishing in last place in the league, and ends their season with a record of 15-20-3. Denver's record improves to 20-15-6 and marks the 13th consecutive season that the Pioneers have won at least 20 games in a season, the longest such streak in college hockey.
3:13 Nolan Zajac from Zac Larraza and Will Butcher (power play) 1-0 Denver
With the man advantage, Zajac wound up for a slap shot from the left point. His shot made it through traffic and rang off the post before bouncing into the net.
13:48 Daniel Doremus from Nolan Zajac 2-0 Denver
Doremus skated down the right wing and fired a low, hard shot on McKay. McKay though he covered the puck, but the rebound slid out in front of him, and Doremus was able to poke it into the net as he skated by.
13:08 Anthony Louis from Sean Kuraly and Alex Wideman 2-1 Denver
Kuraly dumped the puck into the Denver zone. The puck took a weird bounce off the back boards and directly in front of the net, where Louis pounced on the puck and scored on Brittain.
16:08 Sean Kuraly unassisted 2-2 tie
Denver tried to clear the puck out of their zone along the boards. Kuraly stopped the clearing attempt at the blue line and fired a quick slap shot towards the goal that beat Brittain to the blocker side.
1:06 Zac Larraza unassisted. 3-2 Denver
Larraza carried the puck into the attacking zone and cut towards the slot where he fired a hard wrist shot past McKay.
6:47 Emil Romig from Matt Marcinew 4-2 Denver
Romig took a feed from behind the net by and shot a quick one-timer
18:27 Anthony Louis from Blake Coleman and Austin Czarnik (extra attacker goal) 4-3 Denver
With the goalie pulled, a loose puck in the corner popped out to the front of the net, where Louis was in position to punch the puck into the net.
-I mentioned pre-game that this might come down to a battle of goalies, and despite seven goals being scored, in a way it did. In almost a complete reversal of last night's semifinals, it was Sam Brittain that came out looking extremely sharp, while Ryan McKay struggled a bit. McKay was screened on Denver's first goal, but those were the type of perimeter shots that McKay was so effective against last night against North Dakota, and the second goal, in which he thought he had controlled the rebound, is likely one that will haunt him.
Brittain likely wants back the second goal he gave up, but was very solid early, and made two or three game-savers(nay, season-savers) in the final minute of the game when his team really needed him. When he's on, he's a guy that can steal a game, which has to be a very scary proposition for Boston College next weekend.
-There was a weird spot on the back boards on the visitor's side of the arena that caused pucks rimmed around the boards to pop out in front of the net. It happened in the third place game but Western Michigan had nobody in front of the net to capitalize on it. In the championship game, Anthony Louis was johnny-on-the-spot on a Sean Kuraly dump in for an easy goal.
-Though it ended up not being the championship-winning goal, you can't place enough importance on Zac Larraza giving Denver the lead just over a minute into the third period. Both of these teams are an absolute bear to play against once they get a lead, and the fact that Miami was never able to play with a lead tonight made a huge difference in the final outcome.
-Austin Czarnik and Riley Barber likely played their last game for Miami tonight, but wow does the future look bright for Anthony Louis. Like Czarnik, he's a tremendous skater, but more apparently, knows how to use that skating to be in the right place at the right time. That led to both goals, and some incredible chances to tie the game late. He's going to be a special player.