ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) — Matt Frattin’s rebound shot in the second overtime on Saturday night lifted North Dakota to a 3-2 victory over Denver in the WCHA tournament championship game.
Dustin Jackson scored early for Denver, and Anthony Maiani tied the game late — with 2:13 left in regulation to force overtime. Freshman goalie Sam Brittain was a force, making all kinds of tricky saves for the Pioneers (24-11-5).
Danny Kristo and Brent Davidson gave North Dakota second-period goals, and Aaron Dell was just as steady for the Fighting Sioux (30-8-3) in goal — making 40 saves.
North Dakota has a 13-game unbeaten streak, with just one tie since Jan. 28, and became the first team in four years to win both the regular-season and postseason titles.
With Minnesota again failing to reach the Final Five, the green-and-white-wearing North Dakota fans took over Xcel Energy Center and filled it up for a home-away-from-home advantage for the Fighting Sioux. The crowd, announced at 16,731, broke out in a “Hobey Baker!” chant for Frattin when the WCHA Player of the Year was announced before the game. The school pep band played often from the upper deck.
Though seeds and regional sites were still on the agenda this weekend, both teams are safely in the NCAA tournament, making this game more about staying sharp and staying healthy.
Both teams survived scares in the second period, when Denver’s 21-goal scorer Jason Zucker left with an upper-body injury. North Dakota, already missing standout forward Jason Gregoire for an unspecified health reason, saw captain and defenseman Chay Genoway doubled over in pain with his hands on his knees as he struggled to leave the ice at the end of the middle frame. Zucker and Genoway each returned for the third period, though.
These Denver-North Dakota games are always feisty, and this was no different — 12 penalties in the first two periods and plenty of scuffling and shoving. North Dakota’s Brad Malone was called for boarding when he came up behind Luke Salazar and knocked him back-of-the-neck-first into the side wall in front of the benches. Salazar was all right, but the sequence caused flashbacks to last fall when Denver’s Jesse Martin suffered a broken neck after a hit by Malone.
Six years ago at the Final Five, North Dakota’s Robbie Bina broke his neck on a hit by Geoff Paukovich. Bina came back to play a year later, but Martin has not.
Kyle Ostrow plucked the puck off the end boards and sent it to the slot for Jackson, who gave the Pioneers a lead barely five minutes into the game with his shot.
Denver, which whiffed on all six power-play chances in regulation, didn’t seize the momentous opportunities that came next. Instead, North Dakota tied the game with less than three minutes elapsed from the second period.
Kristo, who missed 10 games this season after suffering severe frostbite on his right foot, sneaked a shot from the goal line that glanced off Nick Shore’s right skate and in. Then the Fighting Sioux went in front, when Brent Davidson lost the puck on a rush up the right wing but had it bounce off the end boards right back to him for a wraparound shot got by Brittain.
Brittain made the save of the game a few minutes later, sprawled out on his stomach, when he snagged Corban Knight’s close-range shot by sticking his glove out and gobbling up the puck like a venus flytrap. Brittain made a highlight-reel kick save in overtime, too, to deny Davidson and keep the game going.
Denver was headed for defeat with all those missed chances, but Maiani came through before it was too late with his one-timer off a behind-the-net feed from Beau Bennett.
(Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)