WORCESTER, Mass. — Many fans who showed up for Saturday’s NCAA East Regional doubleheader knew that they would see one of the best lines in college hockey when they came out to the Worcester Centrum.
They just might not have realized how early in the day they would get to see a top line show off some serious offensive firepower.
Though many in the crowd came out to see Boston College showcase their offensive talents against Maine in the nightcap, Eastern fans can now appreciate the top forward line of North Dakota. WCHA Player of the Year Jeff Panzer and his linemates, Ryan Bayda and Bryan Lundbohm, combined for all four goals and all eight assists as the Sioux beat Colorado College 4-1 to advance to the Frozen Four in Albany.
This will be North Dakota’s 14th trip to the Frozen Four and its second in a row. The Sioux look to become the first team to repeat as national champions since Boston University pulled off the feat in 1971 and 1972.
Panzer assisted on all four goals, while Bayda and Lundbohm notched a pair of lamplighters and helpers apiece. Yet, despite the fireworks by the top line, North Dakota coach Dean Blais emphasized that it was far from a three-player effort keying the victory.
“Even though the Panzer line scored all four goals, I thought our team played real disciplined all over the ice,” Blais said. “I don’t think [CC] had a lot of great opportunities — maybe because they were a little tired. Karl Goehring didn’t leave any rebounds. They had a few great chances, and he made the saves.”
Blais also praised his second line of Jason Notermann, David Lundbohm, and Kevin Spiewak. Relentlessly matched up against the Tigers’ dangerous top line, the Sioux linemates kept them off the scoreboard and piled up at least four strong scoring opportunities of their own.
“I think all three of us bought into our jobs,” Spiewak said. “You’ve really got to be aware of where those guys are all the time. You can’t let them shoot — all three of them have rockets.”
CC coach Scott Owens was disappointed by the outcome but basically pleased with his team’s effort.
“I thought it was a great college hockey game,” Owens said. “It was a game that was up-tempo and a lot different for us from last night. We were able to open it up a little bit and skate a bit more.
“It was a real challenge trying to contain their speed and skill, but I was real proud of our club,” Owens added. “We were in a position in the third period to make some good things happen — down 2-1 and on a power play — and possibly push the envelope for the last 10 minutes of the game.”
Given the match-up between two WCHA opponents, the Worcester Centrum was about 80 percent empty when the puck was dropped. Those in attendance had to wonder how much fuel the Tigers would have left in their tank after playing a double overtime game — the 22nd-longest game in NCAA history — last night while the Sioux enjoyed a bye and scouted the opposition.
“We knew that they had a tough week,” Panzer said. “They had a lot of travel and played a lot of tough games, so we just wanted to play our game: our speed and movement through the neutral zone. Just keeping going after them, not sit back.”
One theory was that the Tigers might have an advantage early on, given that North Dakota has had a week-long layoff. With this in mind, Joe Cullen’s pass setting up breakaway for Tiger Noah Clarke at 1:35 looked like a great chance for an early momentum, but Sioux goalie Karl Goehring made the save.
Four minutes in — after one Sioux chance — the Tigers’ top playmaker, Mark Cullen, made a great pass to leave Trent Clark all alone with Goehring, but the junior struggled to wheel the puck around the goalie and couldn’t get enough of a handle for a quality shot.
In light of these chances for the Tigers — and the importance of scoring early — CC had to be deflated when North Dakota got the first goal at 6:24. Hobey Baker finalist Panzer, who is second in the nation with an average of 1.19 assists per game this season, added another helper to his impressive total.
Panzer picked up the puck on the goal line in the right-wing corner and set up his winger Bryan Lundbohm, who was surprisingly unmarked in the slot. The junior turned and beat Sanger with a 12-footer for the 1-0 lead.
North Dakota continued to have the skating edge early on in the second period. Amazingly enough, David Lundbohm had three straight scoring chances in about a seven-minute span. Sanger dramatically sprawled on his side and lifted his left leg just enough to deflect one shot over the net, then lunged to snare another Lundbohm bid with his glove.
Yet despite all of these chances for the Sioux to increase their slim margin, it was the Tigers who startled the crowd by getting the next goal, which resembled North Dakota’s first one. In this rendition, Clarke was the one to make a pass from the right-wing boards to Alex Kim cruising toward the net. Sioux defenders were in the vicinity, but Kim found enough of a seam to get off a one-timer that beat Goehring high, stick-side.
The crowd might have wondered if a third straight overtime game was in the works, but North Dakota regained the lead at 16:09. Bryan Lundbohm led the rush into the zone before dropping the pass to Bayda for the slapper. Sanger made the initial save, but Lundbohm was thinking rebound and knocked home the loose puck in the crease.
It was his 32st goal of the season, second in the nation behind BC forward Brian Gionta.
The Tigers had a power play early in third, and WCHA Rookie of the Year Peter Sejna had one good look at the net when Goehring failed to contain a rebound. No dice.
CC gave the Sioux another scare at the four-minute mark, when a faceoff led to an Andrew Canzanello slapshot that pinballed through traffic for a near seeing-eye goal.
North Dakota countered a minute later with yet another scoring chance for David Lundbohm, who had a how-did-he-miss-it try slip through his fingers as he backhanded a shot wide of a vacant corner of the net.
The Sioux put the game out of reach with a goal at 10:33. Panzer’s initial shot was kicked out by Sanger, but Bayda got to the rebound and buried a 15-foot backhander to make it 3-1.
Less than three minutes later, Bayda picked up his second of the night to round out the scoring.
North Dakota (28-7-9) will face the winner of Sunday’s Michigan State-Wisconsin matchup in the Frozen Four, while the Tigers (27-12-1) hang up their skates till next season.