COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. — After North Dakota and Denver advanced to the West Regional final with victories Friday, neither team’s coach was worried about deflecting pressure from their goaltenders.
DU coach George Gwozdecky called the NCAA tournament a goaltenders’ tournament, believing his team was in great shape because it had “the best goaltender in the nation” in senior Adam Berkhoel.
Dean Blais of North Dakota had the same sort of expectations for Jordan Parise, saying his freshman netminder would start in the regional final against the Pioneers because he had a habit of playing well in big games.
Berkhoel and Parise lived up to that lofty billing Saturday at the World Arena, battling save-for-save in a defensive struggle waged between the WCHA rivals.
It took a line-drive shot from DU senior Max Bull with 2:29 remaining, and a deflection off teammate Luke Fulghum’s stick, to give the Pioneers a 1-0 victory, their first against the Fighting Sioux in seven games.
“We beat an awesome WCHA champion,” said Denver head coach George Gwozdecky. “We were honored to be able to play against another WCHA foe in the regional championship. We couldn’t be more honored to come out of here with a victory.
“It was back-and-forth. North Dakota really put pressure on us but Adam Berkhoel was there to give us the reprieve we needed.”
DU (25-12-5) will face another WCHA rival, either two-time defending champion Minnesota or Minnesota-Duluth, in the national semifinals in Boston on April 8. It will be the Pioneers’ first appearance in the Frozen Four since 1986.
Berkhoel kept the Pioneers in the game during the first period, turning away an opening salvo by the Fighting Sioux that might have unraveled a younger goaltender.
North Dakota opened the game much like it did in Friday’s 3-0 win against Holy Cross, when Zach Parise scored 47 seconds after faceoff. Junior Rory McMahon had a one-on-one chance against Berkhoel 15 seconds into Saturday’s contest, but Berkhoel stretched both legs to turn away the shot.
North Dakota’s Brandon Bochenski, a Hobey Baker finalist, had an open look on a rebound five minutes into the opening frame, but Berkhoel gloved Bochenski’s line drive.
UND outshot DU 13-6 in the first period. Both teams failed to capitalize on a pair of first-period power plays.
The Sioux kept the pressure on the Pioneers in the second, outshooting DU 10-7 while creating most of the prime scoring chances. Parise made a point-blank stop early in the frame against DU senior Lukas Dora, but the rest of the period belonged to Berkhoel.
Berkhoel made a solid kick-save with his left leg minutes later, pushing his foot against the post to thwart a chance by Bochenski. He repeated that effort on the ensuing faceoff, and each team’s failure to score on the power play in the frame ensured that the scoreless tie would remain intact going into the third period.
“You’ve got to give that guy credit. We threw everything at him tonight,” said UND’s Andy Schneider. “He just stood on his head. A hot goalie this time of year is what a team needs. It is frustrating, we were getting opportunities. You’ve got to give Denver credit. A hot goalie, we had our chances, and we just couldn’t capitalize.”
DU’s Jon Foster had the first scoring chance of the third, but Parise gobbled up his line drive. After that, the Fighting Sioux again went on the offensive.
Zach Parise, North Dakota’s other Hobey Baker finalist, finally made noise with an open charge from the right wing that Berkhoel turned away. Matt Smaby launched a nasty slapshot a few minutes later that whistled into Berkhoel’s glove.
Bull finally scored the game-winner after Colorado Springs native Fulghum worked the puck into North Dakota’s zone. Fulghum dropped the puck to Dora, who found Bull open at the left circle.
Bull’s laser beam nicked the stick of Fulghum and whistled past Parise for Fulghum’s 13th goal of the season and, minutes later, the win and the berth in the Frozen Four.
“Bull’s shot actually hit my stick and redirected it just enough for it to go in,” said Fulghum.
“It was kind of a harmless play. But it was a good play for us that was the difference,” said Gwozdecky.