ST. PAUL, Minn. — An old adage says the two-goal lead is the most dangerous margin in hockey.
A day after it appeared inflation had raised that number to three, the North Dakota Fighting Sioux accomplished what no other team had in the 2012 WCHA Final Five.
North Dakota utilized a steady, yet opportunistic attack to lead the Denver Pioneers 3-0 after two periods and cruised to a 4-0 Final Five title game win on Saturday night at the Xcel Energy Center.
After trailing Minnesota 3-0 in their Jekyll and Hyde Friday night semifinal, UND scored the tournament’s final 10 goals to capture its third consecutive Broadmoor Trophy as the WCHA playoff champions.
The Sioux were led by a goal and an assist each from Carter Rowney and Mark MacMillan along with Derek Forbort’s two assists. In what he says was his first third game in three nights since his days with the Calgary Canucks of the Alberta Junior Hockey League, UND goaltender Aaron Dell pitched the shutout on 22 saves.
“We wanted to try to come into today and play a complete hockey game right from the drop of the puck,” said North Dakota coach Dave Hakstol. “We were plus-one five-on five, we scored two power-play goals and a shorthander and we had very good goaltending.
“That’s a pretty good formula for playoff time especially going into a championship game. We’re proud to be Broadmoor [Trophy] champions.”
Starting goaltender Juho Olkinuora made 18 saves for the Pioneers before the sophomore was replaced at 8:17 of the third period by junior Adam Murray.
“They were better than us pretty much in every area of the game tonight and they are a good champion,” said Denver coach George Gwozdecky. “That’s a quality team, they’re playing very well, they’re getting strong goaltending, and they defend very well. I was very impressed with them.”
With its 13th straight league playoff victory and eighth consecutive Final Five win, North Dakota earns its 11th WCHA playoff championship – fourth under Hakstol’s guidance – and becomes the first team ever to win three consecutive Final Five titles.
UND also becomes just the third team overall and third in the past four years (Minnesota-Duluth in 2008-09, North Dakota in 2009-10) to win three straight games at the Final Five to claim the Broadmoor Trophy.
The teams traded chances nearly shot-for-shot in a tightly-contested first period, but it was North Dakota which made the most of its opportunities and the Sioux led 2-0 at the break.
Right off of a faceoff in the Pioneers’ zone with North Dakota on a power play, UND’s Brock Nelson beat Denver’s Joey LaLeggia and Jason Zucker to a rebound of a Dillon Simpson shot and buried it to put his team up 1-0 at 17:43. Nelson’s goal was his league-leading 27th of the year and fourth of the tournament.
Just 46 seconds later, MacMillan received a pass from Forbort from between the circles and slipped a backhand pass to Rowney, who tapped in his 18th of the season from the left edge of the crease.
Denver’s best chance of the opening period came off the stick of left winger Nate Dewhurst, whose one-timer from the center hash marks courtesy of a Shawn Ostrow pass from near the end boards was foiled by Dell.
Despite a combined 6:13 of power-play time in the second period, each team managed just four shots on goal. In fact, Denver’s first shot of the period didn’t come until the 9:25 mark and was just the second since Dewhurst’s first-period scoring chance.
Like the first period, however, the Sioux provided the period’s one shining moment. Just 13 seconds after Zucker went off for interference, right wing Michael Parks one-timed a Rowney cross-ice feed past Olkinuora for North Dakota’s second power-play goal at 9:58 and a 3-0 Sioux advantage.
Gwozdecky was asked if, considering recent events, allowing the first three goals was a tactical move.
“After they scored three, I was thinking, ‘Yeah, that’s a pretty good idea,’” said Gwozdecky whose team let a three-goal lead of its own slip away to Minnesota-Duluth in Friday afternoon’s semifinal before the Pioneers won it on Zucker’s goal in the second overtime.
Hakstol admitted to giving some thought to the potential frailty of the situation.
“It crossed my mind, but I’d rather have a three-goal lead than a two goal lead,” said Hakstol. “So we were happy to build on it in the second period.”
Any thoughts of another comeback game, however, were dashed when MacMillan scored a shorthanded breakaway goal to seal it at 7:11 of the third after picking the pocket of Denver’s Drew Shore in the neutral zone.
An injury-depleted team which has now played six games in nine days with a couple of overtimes in the mix, Denver lost the services of Zucker midway through the final period with an upper-body injury. Already playing with just five defensemen, the Pioneers later lost John Lee for the game by way of a checking from behind penalty.
“Denver’s been on one heck of a run here in terms of the battles that they’ve been through,” said Hakstol. “Maybe they ran out of gas just a little bit tonight with the amount of hockey that they’ve played.
“That was one of the things that we had to try to exploit if we possibly could by being a real tough team to play against.”
The matchup marked the second straight season the Sioux topped the Pioneers in the Final Five title game. North Dakota came out on top in last season’s meeting 3-2 on a goal by All-American Matt Frattin in the second overtime.
Each team now awaits its NCAA tournament fate to be announced on Sunday. While both are safely in the tournament, seeding and regional location remain to be determined.
“We know it’s a heck of a tough battle no matter who we end up drawing next week,” Hakstol said of his team which will likely be a No. 1 seed. “I like where we’re at going into our week of practice and all we can do is try and take care of business Tuesday when we come back to practice.”
Video: North Dakota’s Aaron Dell and Brock Nelson:
Video: North Dakota coach Dave Hakstol:
Video: Denver’s Dustin Jackson and Drew Shore:
Video: Denver coach George Gwozdecky: