ST. PAUL, Minn. — Minnesota-Duluth couldn’t win a faceoff and Denver couldn’t get anything past Kenny Reiter.
That was the theme in the opening minutes of overtime when the Pioneers had plenty of chances to put the game away.
One period later, Denver finally got the game winner. It was backhander by Zac Larraza, who was on the doorstep to pick up the rebound off a Josiah Didier shot 8:14 into the second overtime as the Pioneers outlasted the Bulldogs in the WCHA Final Five semifinals, 4-3, Friday afternoon at the Xcel Energy Center.
“At the most, I had 10 shifts all game,” said Larraza, a freshman listed as an extra forward on the Denver line charts. “I had fresh legs in overtime. This will be the most memorable goal of my career, so far.”
The game was the longest in Final Five history, surpassing the 2011 championship game in which North Dakota beat Denver 3-2.
The Pioneers face the UND/Minnesota winner at 7 p.m. Saturday.
Sam Brittain’s ironman performance certainly helped the Pioneers (25-12-2), finishing with a school-record 67 saves.
“It’s a very prestigious honor, especially with the names of goaltenders that have come through Denver,” said Brittain, who made 16 saves in the first overtime and four in the 8:14 of double overtime. “I’m very fortunate to have done that but, obviously all the credit and thanks goes to my teammates. My defense, my forwards tonight they were awesome.”
Reiter was almost as good, making a couple incredible toe and pad saves when the Pioneers were pouring on the pressure after regulation.
UMD is 24-9-6 and will wait to see where it ends up in the national tournament when the tournament is seeded Sunday morning.
The Bulldogs appeared to have put themselves behind the eight ball early on, getting behind 3-0 early in the second period.
“Our team just wasn’t very good early on,” said UMD coach Scott Sandelin. “We needed something to get us going. We hadn’t put many good shifts together before that.”
Denver got on the board at 8:01 of the first period when UMD’s Drew Olson tried to dump the puck into the Pioneers zone off the boards but it hit a linesman, Nate Dewhurst picked it up and sent it ahead to Shawn Ostrow who led a 2-on-1 rush into the UMD zone and beat Reiter stickside for his 11th goal of the season.
It took Denver 3:26 into the second period to make it a two-goal game. Jason Zucker caused a turnover just inside the UMD blue line and bolted up ice. The puck came back to Nick Shore, who sent an outlet pass to Zucker, free on a breakaway and beat Reiter on the backhand.
Less than three minutes later, Ostrow outbattled Wade Bergman for the puck to Reiter’s left off a dump-in, went around the UMD net with Bergman draped all over him and centered the puck to Dustin Jackson on the other side of the crease for Jackson’s second goal of the season.
But Mike Seidel took over to get the Bulldogs back into the game almost single-handedly.
He made an acrobatic move to stickhandle around Brittain right on the edge of the crease, having to get in the air and twist his body around to stuff it on his forehand into the net.
A few minutes later, Seidel picked up a loose puck sitting in the left circle, skated untouched to the high slot, turned around and fired a shot high over Brittain’s right shoulder.
Seidel almost tied the game with a natural hat trick on a great individual effort to get a backhand attempt off just before the horn sounded the end of the second period, in which the Bulldogs outshot Denver, 25-10.
“Brittain made an unbelievable save with his toe,” Seidel said. “I thought I had a chance to squeak it in.”
Jack Connolly finally tied the game when a loose puck squirted to him and he turned and slapped a shot past Brittain with 11:46 left in regulation.
Video: Denver’s Zac Larraza, Dustin Jackson and Sam Brittain:
Video: Minnesota-Duluth’s Scott Sandelin, Jack Connolly and Mike Seidel:a