FARGO – Denver’s formula of strong defense and goaltending came through at an opportune time once again.
Filip Larsson delivered a strong performance in net with 24 saves, and a late second-period goal by Les Lancaster provided all the offense necessary as the #2 seed Pioneers defeated the #3 seed Ohio State Buckeyes 2-0 on Friday afternoon in the first West Regional semifinal.
“I thought it was a really tightly contested game,” head coach David Carle said as he earned his first NCAA Tournament win. “Not a lot of open ice for either team, to be expected. Really liked how we defended as the game went on.”
Colin Staub put the game away with a late empty-net goal to help Denver avenge a 5-1 loss to Ohio State in the Midwest Regional final last season. The Pioneers are now just one win away from making their third Frozen Four trip in four years.
The Buckeyes played well defensively themselves, and offensively they showed no signs of rust after playing just three games in March prior to Friday’s game. But every decent chance Ohio State had was snuffed out by Denver’s terrific defense, and the Big Ten regular-season champions closed the season with a 1-6-1 record and are one-and-done for the second time in their three consecutive NCAA Tournament appearances after reaching their second Frozen Four last year.
“Obviously a disappointing result for us. I’m proud of our team,” Buckeyes head coach Steve Rohlik said. “I thought we came into tonight and played the exact game we wanted to play. We knew the team that scored first was probably going to get the upper hand, and we certainly had our chances there. Just didn’t work out the way we wanted it to.”
Senior forward Mason Jobst and his teammates knew what they were in for from the start of the game.
“Going into the game, obviously we know the style [Denver is] playing was gonna be mainly defensive,” Jobst said. “Credit to them. It was tough to play against.”
While neither team was able to crack the scoreboard in the first period, Ohio State showed no signs of rust offensively, generating a handful of offensive chances and keeping the Denver defense and goaltender Filip Larsson busy. But the Pioneers held tough on their end.
“Filip Larsson was a stud in net in the first period when we needed him to be,” Carle said.
Denver finally broke through first in the closing seconds of the second period. Emilio Pettersen caught three Ohio State skaters napping in their own end as he threaded a beautiful pass to Les Lancaster closing in on the net.
“That was a heck of a pass by [Pettersen]. He has some great vision,” Lancaster said.
With 1:45 of power-play time to start the third, Ohio State quickly skated into the Denver zone and managed to catch Larsson out of position. But with the net empty and a bunch of players tangled up in the crease, the Buckeyes missed out on their best chance to tie the game. They kept the pressure going while holding the Pioneers to one shot over the final 20 minutes, but that one shot went in for Staub’s empty-netter from center ice with 58 seconds left.
Denver is in their 5th consecutive regional final, and Carle is off to a good start in his first year as the bench boss. He credits his predecessors for building the tremendous program he now leads.
“I think it speaks to the stability of our program, and what we try and do at Denver,” Carle said. “I just think there’s a really great foundation of quality people that have come before us and allowed us to have the success that we have today.”
After the final handshake at center ice, some Ohio State skaters faced their fans and gave a respectful stick tap as a final salute for their season.
“It’s a little bit of a goodbye, I guess,” senior defenseman Sasha Larocque said. “It’s tough to accept the best four years of your life are behind you. It’s not easy to accept, but at the end of the day, everyone’s got a future.”
To reach Buffalo, the Pioneers will have to get past the American International College Yellow Jackets, who stunned top overall seed St. Cloud State 2-1 later on Friday night in their NCAA Tournament debut.
DU goal at 19:20: Les Lancaster (5). Assisted by Emilio Pettersen (24) and Michael Davies (11).
DU empty-net goal at 19:02: Colin Staub (6). Assisted by Davies (12).
Power plays: OSU 0-4, DU 0-3.
Shots on goal: OSU 24, DU 13.