Was there any chance anyone could pry the national championship trophy out of Peter Armbrust’s grasp?
“No, not a chance in hell,” Armbrust said. “This thing is staying right here.”
The University of North Dakota senior is one of a select few players who can say his last collegiate memory will be piling on the ice, throwing off the gloves and jumping around in joyous celebration.
For the seventh time, the Fighting Sioux are national champions, this one thanks to a 4-2 win over Boston College on Saturday. And a long list of players make up the credits.
Playing the starring role was Lee Goren, who was named the tournament’s Most Outstanding Player. But the supporting cast made it all possible.
Best supporting actor? That’s certainly Karl Goehring. After tossing a shutout on Thursday in the national semifinal win over Maine, he was sharp in bringing the championship trophy back to UND.
And who knew he could skate so well? When Goren slammed the clincher into an empty net from neutral ice, the goaltender went zooming around his own zone like a strange cross between a speedskater and a figure skater.
“I guess my teammates know my skating prowess when I get a little excited,” Goehring said. “Sometimes I can’t control it. I was just so excited once Lee put home that empty-netter, I couldn’t control myself.”
That North Dakota would skate around the ice at the Providence Civic Center with the trophy was something out of Hollywood two months ago.
The Sioux were supposedly on a downswing, having fallen hopelessly behind in the race for their fourth straight MacNaughton Cup, the prize for the regular-season champion of the Western Collegiate Hockey Association. But instead of having that destroy the team, the loss unified it.
Since Feb. 11, the Sioux went 13-1-2 and steamrolled through the WCHA Final Five, the NCAA West Regional and took down two Hockey East powers in the Frozen Four.
“Six weeks ago, we would never have dreamed (this),” said North Dakota coach Dean Blais, who held the championship trophy as a coach for the second time. “I think we lost sight of the WCHA title and it just worked in reverse. Instead of getting down, the guys really kicked it into gear.”
And the Sioux found yet another gear in the third period of Saturday’s title game. Trailing 2-1 going into the third period, UND’s top line took control.
First it was Goren to tie the game early in the period. Then it was Goren helping Jason Ulmer for the game-winner. And then it was Goren again with the empty-netter.
“Big players play big in big games,” Blais said of Goren, “and he certainly did that all year long.”
There was a familiar ring to the Sioux’s first three goals of the night. Each was created in the neutral zone, allowing the team to enter the attacking zone with speed and an opportunity to score.
“We’re a rush team,” Goren said. “We’ve got myself, Ulmer and (Ryan) Bayda who generate a lot of offense in the corners. Then we come back with the (Jeff) Panzer, (Bryan) Lundbohm and (Tim) Skarperud line and all three of those guys can skate just as fast as anybody in the nation. It’s a good one-two punch.”
It helped that the Sioux settled down in the third; they weren’t called for a single penalty after taking seven in the first two frames.
“I think it was the difference between winning and losing the game,” Blais said. “You look at Boston College, three Hobey Baker finalists, obviously all great players. We didn’t want to get into a specialty-team game with them, we wanted to play five-on-five hockey and roll either three or four lines, depending on what they were doing.”
The rest of the cast played their roles marvelously. But a key piece to getting the Sioux the national championship was the development of the team’s freshmen.
With Bayda getting 17 goals and 23 assists as a part of the top line, the Sioux had another weapon to rely on. The all-freshman line of Jason Notermann, Kevin Spiewak and Ryan Hale accounted for 19 goals.
On defense, Travis Roche and Chris Leinweber brought stability to a corps that was the big question mark for the team entering the season.
“I don’t think they expected us to win a national title this year,” Blais said. “We lost eight seniors last year — this was kind of a rebuilding year, although the players that returned had great years. We knew we had a good freshman class, but we didn’t know they were good enough to get us the national championship.”
As Blais and the rest of the world found out Saturday night, they were and they did.