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North Dakota goalie Cam Johnson flies under the Frozen Four radar

North Dakota goalie Cam Johnson’s 1.68 GAA is second in the nation (photo: Jim Rosvold).

TAMPA, Fla. — In the days leading up to the Frozen Four, most of the buzz surrounding this year’s goaltenders centered on Boston College’s Thatcher Demko and Quinnipiac’s Michael Garteig.

Demko, after all, is a Hobey Baker Award finalist, and Garteig had a stunning first half with nine posted shutouts between the start of the season and Jan. 7. Both Demko and Garteig have been among the nation’s top five goaltenders all season.

North Dakota sophomore goaltender Cam Johnson has also been among the nation’s top netminders but hasn’t received the same recognition. That may be in part because he spent the first half of the season battling an injury.

When he returned as the starter in December, however, Johnson made quite an entrance, shutting out opponents in four straight appearances (Dec. 5-Jan. 1). His GAA (1.68) is second in the nation, and his save percentage (.933) is seventh.

That no one seems to be talking about him isn’t an issue. Johnson is a steady, unassuming guy — an asset for someone in his position.

“He’s a goalie,” said coach Brad Berry. “I think that helps him as far as his focus. When we watched him in the USHL, he would let a goal in early in the game or partway through the game, and we always watched to see what’s a goaltender’s body language or how does he react after a goal. We watched him a lot. He was grounded. He was focused. He was dialed in.”

“Dialed in” is a phrase that Berry and his players use frequently, and it seems to be an apt one — especially for a goalie that backstops a penalty kill that sees success 86.7 percent of the time. In Thursday’s semifinal game, the Fighting Hawks stopped all four Denver power plays and went a perfect 23-for-23 against the Pioneers on the PK in six meetings in 2015-16.

In seven postseason games dating to the start of the NCHC tournament, Johnson and North Dakota have allowed three power-play goals on 22 opponent attempts.

Berry credits the entire North Dakota penalty kill for the team’s success but points to Johnson’s ability to remain cool under pressure — and that is something he credits to two additional men.

“A guy by the name of Zane McIntyre that he got to play behind,” said Berry. In his three years with North Dakota (2012-15), McIntyre’s cumulative GAA was 2.15 with a .924 save percentage.

“Zane ran the table playing the majority of the games,” said Berry. “He [Johnson] got to learn how to prepare and be a professional and adapt to the role he’s in.”

Then there’s UND alum Karl Goehring (1997-2001), who volunteers to work with the Fighting Hawks’ goalies. “He’s done an unbelievable job with Cam as far as mental preparation,” said Berry, “how to prepare for games.”

Johnson was prepared for Denver on Thursday, even after the Pioneers tied things up late in the game.

“I think we all had a common goal in mind that we wanted to win that game,” said Johnson. “Denver is a team we’ve played five times. We knew what was coming at us and obviously that stuck in our mind.”

Video: Quinnipiac practices Friday at the Frozen Four

TAMPA, Fla. — Quinnipiac practiced at Amalie Arena on Friday, the day after beating Boston College and the day before playing North Dakota for the national championship. Here’s a quick look:

Here’s why Wisconsin’s logo is on the ice at the Frozen Four

As a host institution, Wisconsin gets branding on ice and boards during the Frozen Four at Amalie Arena (photo: Jim Rosvold).

TAMPA, Fla. — Judging from our Twitter mentions, many of you were confused to see Wisconsin’s logo on the ice and the boards during Thursday night’s Frozen Four semifinals.

So here’s the explanation:

NCAA rules require that a member institution or conference serve as the host institution for its championship events. In Boston last year, that was Hockey East. When the event was last in Tampa, it was Alabama-Huntsville.

This year, it’s Wisconsin, which gets to have its branding around the event and has to help with athletic training and sports information duties.

The Tampa Bay Sports Commission is also a host for the Frozen Four, but it needed to have an NCAA member as a partner. It has close ties with current and former members of Wisconsin’s athletics administration, and the Badgers have been fairly frequent visitors to Tampa for football bowl games.

See this Wisconsin State Journal story for more on the process.

Notebook: Replay shows shoulder as point of contact in third-period North Dakota penalty

Referees Jamie Koharski and Cameron Voss review a third-period penalty on North Dakota’s Trevor Olson (11). (photo: Jim Rosvold).

TAMPA, Fla. — With 6:25 remaining in regulation and the game tied at 2-2 in Thursday’s second semifinal between North Dakota and Denver, a big hit along the boards by North Dakota’s Trevor Olson required the game officials to take an extensive look at the play via video review.

Thanks to a new rule inserted into the rule book before last season, referees in the postseason are allowed to look at plays that could result in a major penalty to verify whether the play warrants a minor, major, major plus game misconduct or major plus game disqualification.

On this play, Olson’s elbow made contact with the head of the Denver player. But the big question for on-ice official Jamie Koharski, who was in perfect position to see the play, was where the point of contact was.

Steve Piotrowski, secretary of rules for the NCAA, and Frank Cole, head of officials, allowed USCHO to view the replay, which had been modified to zoom directly to the point of contact, the same view Koharski was provided at ice level. It was clear that the elbow initially hit the Denver player’s shoulder then rolled up into the head.

“You can see the point of contact [is the shoulder],” Piotrowski said as he played the video. “And then it goes up secondary to the head.

“In order for it to be a major, it has to be direct contact.”

Piotrowski said that the officials executed the entire sequence — from calling the initial penalty through the review — to a T.

“The referee [Koharski] is in perfect position. He can’t be any closer to the play looking down on it,” said Piotrowski. “They followed the protocol as appropriate: on-ice discussion before they went into review, followed by a video review and utilization of the video protocol as it’s available.”

CBS vs. Pacific Rim, by the numbers

If you knew anything about the two teams playing coming into Thursday’s semifinal between North Dakota and Denver, you knew about each team’s top line, and of course their respective nicknames.

For North Dakota, it is the CBS Line. For Denver, the Pacific Rim Line.

So how did each stack up by the numbers? The Fighting Hawks network-named line dominated. The C, Drake Caggiula, scored twice in the second period and assisted on the game-winner. The B, Brock Boeser, tallied two assists, including on the winner. And the S, Nick Schmaltz, scored the big goal, his only point of the night. The trio combined for seven of North Dakota’s 23 shots.

Denver’s Pacific Rim Line was hardly as productive. Although the trio of Trevor Moore, Dylan Gambrell and Danton Heinen combined for nine of the Pioneers’ 23 shots, they were completely held off the board. Heinen was the only player to get his name in the box score, taking a two-minute minor for high sticking at 8:40 of the third period.

Cautious start ties record low for shots

Despite some flurries in the opening period, Denver and North Dakota each mustered just four shots each, tying the lowest combined shot total for a Frozen Four game.

The 1996 title game between Colorado College and Michigan in 1996 produced five shots for the Tigers and three for the Wolverines during the first period. Never before has a period in a semifinal game produced fewer shots combined for both teams.

North Dakota vs. Quinnipiac all time

There was only one team in this Frozen Four field that Quinnipiac, a 3-2 winner over Boston College in the opening semifinal, had ever faced before, and that is North Dakota. The two will meet Saturday night for the national title and the Fighting Hawks enter that game having won all three of the previous meetings between the two schools.

Two of those games seem inconsequential now, a pair of home wins for the then-Fighting Sioux, 6-1 and 4-2 in October 2006. The most recent game, however, came in last year’s NCAA regional opening game when North Dakota beat the Bobcats 4-1 on March 27.

Notable for that game was that Sam Anas played with a significant knee injury. Anas will enter Saturday’s game injured as well, fighting a shoulder injury suffered in the ECAC Hockey title game that significantly limited his action on Thursday night.

You also don’t have to go to far back for the last time two No. 1 seeds met for the NCAA title. In 2014, Minnesota, the No. 1 overall seed, and Union, a top-seed in its region and third overall seed, met in the championship game with Union prevailing 7-4.

Key play: Late North Dakota penalty kill ‘won us the game’

North Dakota held off Denver on a late power play (photo: Melissa Wade).

TAMPA, Fla. – Sometimes the biggest plays don’t end up on the scoreboard.

That was never more true than with 6:25 left in regulation of North Dakota’s Frozen Four semifinal contest against Denver. North Dakota opened the third period, 20 minutes away from the national championship game, with a 2-0 lead. But by the middle of the period, that lead had evaporated and all the momentum had shifted to the Pioneers.

North Dakota’s Trevor Olson was then whistled for an elbowing penalty that at first glance had five-minute major for a hit to the head written all over it. North Dakota fans shown on TV and the huge Amalie Arena video board looked as though multiple close family members had just died.

It was happening again. The Fighting Hawks’ recent Frozen Four agonies — plenty of appearances but no titles since 2000 — were about to get a thick, fresh layer.

A five-minute major in a tied game with six and a half to play?

Game over.

Video replay determined, however, that only a two-minute minor was justified.

The relief that the five-minute major bullet had been dodged lasted all of a nanosecond. Two long minutes still remained. Two minutes with the lead and the momentum still gone, gone, gone.

But with the Fighting Hawks’ national championship hopes riding in the balance, their penalty kill did to Denver what it has done all season long. It continued its six-game, 0-for-the-season shutout of the Pioneers (that also included, as if a further insult were needed, a mid-season short-handed goal).

Arguably, this PK rendered all others of secondary importance. But it also followed their results to a T.

“That was our worst power play tonight,” said Denver defenseman Will Butcher.

And what a time to force an opponent’s worst power play.

“We take pride in our special teams,” said offensive star Drake Caggiula whose two goals had staked North Dakota to its early lead. “We definitely take pride in our penalty kill. It’s a huge part of our game.

“We had that penalty kill there late in the third, and we were able to kill it off. You can get a lot of momentum from a penalty kill like that.”

It would be tough to argue the point based on this game since minutes later, with 57 seconds left on the clock, Nick Schmaltz scored the game-winner.

Schmaltz will get the headlines, and deservedly so. But you’ll get little argument from those in the know that the late-third-period penalty kill saved the game.

“The penalty kill did a great job,” said North Dakota coach Brad Berry. “It won us the game.”

And it won’t be a surprise if on Saturday night, it does it again.

Schmaltz scores winning goal with less than a minute left on way to a North Dakota 4-2 win

TAMPA, Fla. – Nick Schmaltz scored the winning goal for North Dakota with 57 seconds left to advance the Fighting Hawks to the national championship game after six consecutive semifinal losses.

Schmaltz stopped the puck in front of Denver goalie Tanner Jaillet’s pad and on his backhand tapped a shot into the open left side of the net for the goal.

 

Rhett Gardiner scored an empty-net goal with two seconds left to seal a 4-2 victory.

A fluke goal had tied the game for the Pioneers at 2-2 at 10:51 of the third period. Defenseman Matt VanVoorhis attempted a centering pass to Colin Staub in front of the crease. North Dakota’s Gage Ausmus extended his stick to interrupt the pass, but the puck deflected along the stick and underneath Fighting Hawks goalie Cam Johnson.

 

Denver got on the board when defenseman Will Butcher fired a wrist shot inside the left post from the top of the left faceoff circle for his ninth goal of the season. Matt Marcinew won the draw cleanly across to Grant Arnold, who deflected it back to Butcher.

 

After a scoreless first period which saw a combined eight shots on goal, North Dakota’s Drake Caggiula scored his 22nd and 23rd goals of the season on his first two shots of the game. The senior left wing intercepted a pass along the wall in the Denver zone and fired a rising wrist shot inside the right post and past the glove of Jaillet to make it 2-0 at 6:15 of the second.

Caggiula’s first goal came at 1:03 of the second period. Coltyn Sanderson entered the offensive zone on the left side and quickly fired a cross-ice pass to Brock Boeser as he headed toward the top of the right face-off circle. From the hash marks, Caggiula wristed Boeser’s feed high over Jaillet.

 

North Dakota is now 26-0-2 this season when leading after two periods.

USCHO.com will have complete coverage of this game later this evening.

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