CHICAGO — The phrase “limping along” is not a term one would use to describe Denver’s play in this Frozen Four, but that’s just what Pioneers defenseman Tariq Hammond did after the game-ending buzzer sounded and a sea of crimson and gold gloves and helmets went up in the air in celebration of the club’s eighth national title.
A large brace wrapping his lower right leg and foot, Hammond hopped on one limb with the aid of his teammates to join in on the once-in-a-lifetime moment of standing at center ice for the trophy presentation, soaking in college hockey’s ultimate victory.
Just over an hour earlier, with 16:50 remaining in the third, the junior defenseman went into the boards awkwardly with a Minnesota Duluth player and attending medical personnel almost immediately called for a stretcher, covering his right leg with a towel, eventually wheeling him off the ice.
In the postgame news conference, an emotional coach Jim Montgomery said Hammond’s prognosis is probably a broken ankle after three orthopedic surgeons on site worked to put it back in place.
“That’s how tough a kid he is,” Montgomery said, choking back tears. “Once it was back in place, he wanted to hop out on the ice. Just shows the character of the individuals that we recruit at Denver.”
“The injury’s nothing right now,” said Hammond, in tears and holding crutches while standing on the ice after the game. “I’m just so happy we won. I just love this team, love this program. They’re just the best.”
Jarid Lukosevicius’ three goals in the second period not only won the game but prompted a laundry list of both personal and professional records.
Lukosevicius scored the Pioneers’ first two goals just 16 seconds apart — they were the fastest consecutive goals scored by an individual in NCAA championship game history and second-fastest in NCAA tournament history.
His first collegiate career hat trick — over the span of 7:37 — was the third-fastest in a championship game.
Also, it was the first hat trick in the title game since 1993, when Montgomery scored a natural hat trick in the third period for Maine in a span of 4:35.
A jovial Lukosevicius said that his last hat trick was in midget hockey, adding with a twinge of humor: “I didn’t get one in juniors. I wasn’t that good. I don’t know what Monty saw in me.”
Heading to the Hall
The stick Lukosevicius used to score his hat trick is headed to the Hockey Hall of Fame.
Representatives of the Hall were on hand at the United Center to collect items for display in Toronto.
Also worth mentioning …
• Denver captain Will Butcher is the first player to win both the Hobey Baker Award and the national title in the same season since 2009 when Matt Gilroy did it with Boston University.
• The United Center packed in 19,783 fans — the third-highest attendance at an NCAA Frozen Four game or session and the second-highest at the national championship. The only higher attendance totals for any Frozen Four game were the three contests in 2010 at Ford Field in Detroit. The two-day total attendance this year was 39,409.