ST. PAUL, Minn. — We’d call this the Wade Dubielewicz show, but that would be a bit of a misnomer.
Yes, Dubielewicz was the star in Denver’s 3-0 victory over Colorado College in the semifinals of the WCHA Final Five on Friday afternoon. It was no show, however; just the same solid goaltending that’s come to be expected from the Hobey Baker Memorial Award finalist and WCHA first-teamer.
Dubielewicz made 26 saves and was in complete control of the game throughout. That, two goals from Chris Paradise and another from Greg Keith sent the Pioneers into the WCHA playoff championship game for the first time since 1999, when they beat North Dakota.
The Denver goaltender may have played like his 19th win of the season was merely another game, but he said there was a bit of motivation for him, and all he had to see was the CC logo across from him to get ready.
“I’ve had trouble with CC throughout my career,” Dubielewicz said. “To be able to have them in the semifinal game and beat them is the icing on the cake.”
Colorado College (25-12-3) will play for third place for the second straight year and the sixth in the last seven years. The Tigers will play the loser of Friday’s second semifinal between St. Cloud State and Minnesota in a 2:08 p.m. game Saturday that suddenly becomes important for the Tigers’ NCAA tournament chances.
They entered the weekend knowing that if they won Thursday night’s game against Wisconsin, they would probably have to win another game — either Friday or Saturday — to ensure themselves a spot in the 12-team national tournament.
That fate was left in the air overnight because of a performance that turned frustrating when Dubielewicz took all of their chances away.
“He’s a great goalie and he had a great game tonight,” Colorado College forward Mark Cullen said. “That’s the way it goes sometimes.”
Paradise had two of the Pioneers’ goals, but it was Keith’s second-period goal that seemingly sealed the game for Denver (31-7-1).
Until that point — 14 minutes, 10 seconds into the second — the Tigers were keeping up with the Pioneers despite a 1-0 deficit. Thereafter, the Pioneers clearly had the better of the play, which could have been partially attributed to CC’s game just 16 hours earlier, a 3-2 overtime victory over Wisconsin that sent it to this game.
Keith’s goal gave Denver a 2-0 lead, thanks to a sloppy play, a good bounce and a nice breakaway finish.
The Tigers made an errant pass toward their zone and it missed the CC defensemen. Keith just happened to have already made his way behind the defense, took the loose puck at the blue line and beat CC goaltender Jeff Sanger on a breakaway.
“That second goal definitely was a deflator,” Gwozdecky said.
Said CC coach Scott Owens: “That, obviously, breaks our backs then.”
A smart play by Paradise gave the Pioneers a 1-0 lead in a back-and-forth period that couldn’t have done much for an already tired CC team.
Kevin Ulanski emerged with the puck from a tie-up behind the CC net, moved to the left side and found space for a pass through the crease to Paradise, on the right side. Tigers goalie Jeff Sanger had that side of the net covered, though, so Paradise went against the grain, cutting back to the left and tapping the puck into a half-empty net.
From there, the first period belonged to Dubielewicz. He made a heady play to break up a 2-on-1 CC break with a poke check, and later slid through the crease to stop a Colin Stuart chance off a centering pass.
Dubielewicz continued to thwart the Tigers in the second period, and after the horn that frustration finally showed outwardly.
In the final seconds, Colorado College’s Joe Cullen found himself the recipient of a well-directed pass in front of the net. Cullen turned and fired a slapshot from the middle of the hash marks, but Dubielewicz held his ground and had the puck squeeze through his legs, hit the inside of his pads and go wide of the net.
As he left the ice, Cullen put a two-handed cross check on his own legs in disgust.
“We had a bad mental breakdown in the last two, three seconds of the second period with a point-blank opportunity,” Gwozdecky said. “We got a little fortunate there.”
Paradise added his second goal of the game 12 minutes into the third period, making an end-to-end rush — his first for a goal, he recalled, since a game against Minnesota last season — up the left side and wristed the puck off Sanger and into the net.
“It’s always been a dream of mine of come home and win a championship,” said Paradise, a senior from St. Paul, “and we have that opportunity now.”
His effort put the top-seeded Pioneers into a position to be the first WCHA team to win both the league’s regular-season and playoff titles since 1991. Northern Michigan did it that year, then won the national title at the St. Paul Civic Center, the building that formerly occupied the site of the Xcel Energy Center.
Then again, the Final Five’s top seed has lost in the championship game four years in a row.
“I really don’t follow statistics an awful lot,” Gwozdecky said. “It means nothing. This team really doesn’t care about the past. In fact, what happened today will mean nothing when the puck drops tomorrow.”