Sunday, January 21, 2018

Brock Boeser's gutsy goal sparks North Dakota

TAMPA — When it comes to hockey, there are all kinds of goals.

Sniper shots. Deflections. Tip-ins. Rebounds. Goal-scorers' goals and soft goals.

There are special-teams goals and seeing-eye goals. Wicked wristers and bombs from the point. Roofers, wraparounds and screeners. Lucky goals and how-did-that-go-in goals.

But the most precious goal of all? One that wins a national championship.

The author of that goal Saturday night was a freshman from the University of North Dakota by the name of Brock Boeser.

My gosh, what a name, eh?

Brock Boeser. That's a star's name.

Sounds like a comic-book superhero. Sounds like a sheriff sent to clean up a town in some spaghetti Western. Sounds like some spy played by Jason Statham who gets the girl after he's done kicking in the face of the bad guy and saving the world.

Brock Boeser.

That name and his heroics certainly will go down in North Dakota and Frozen Four lore.

"He has been a special player for us all season long," linemate Drake Caggiula said. "Big players step up in big games and he stepped up for us."

This season, Boeser has scored just about any kind of goal you can name. The freshman came into Saturday with a team-high 26 goals in 41 games. That made for a great season.

What he did Saturday night made it a legendary one.

Boeser had a hand in four of North Dakota's five goals Saturday night in the Fighting Hawks' 5-1 victory against top-ranked Quinnipiac in the national championship at Amalie Arena.

But that special goal he scored Saturday night was the one you slap on the cover of next year's North Dakota program. That's the one he and everyone who has ever rooted for the Fighting Hawks will remember.


That goal broke the backs (and hearts) of Quinnipiac and catapulted North Dakota to its eighth national title and its first since 2000.

And what a goal it was.

Shorthanded. Lucky. Skilled. Smart.

But most of all: a winner. Wait, check that: a national-title winner.

It was as unique as it was spectacular, and as dramatic as it was important.

It was late in the second period. North Dakota led, 1-0, after Boeser assisted on Shane Gersich's goal at 11:56. Quinnipiac was pushing back and got a great chance to tie the game by going on the power play.

That's when Boeser snuffed out Quinnipiac's momentum. That's when Boeser changed the course of the game.

That's when Boeser skated into Frozen Four history.

Killing the penalty, Boeser used his speed to rocket around a Quinnipiac defenseman and chase after a loose puck halfway between the blue line and the Quinnipiac goal. Bobcats goalie Michael Garteig raced out of his net and clearly was going to beat Boeser to the puck.

That's when Boeser showed his hockey IQ by doing something that can't be learned in a chalk-talk session or video meeting.

Instead of sprinting to a race he was never going to win, Boeser slowed and anticipated where Garteig was going to go with the puck. Whether it was a brilliant read or a really good guess, Boeser darted left just as Garteig flipped the puck into Boeser's side.

As Garteig's momentum carried him well past Boeser, Boeser saw two things in front of him: A puck at his feet and an open net in his sights.

Yet, his work was not done. Neither was his uncanny feel. Instead of letting his good fortune get the best of him, Boeser recognized that the puck was still wobbling on the ice and that simply whacking away at it likely would have led to a misfire.

"Oh yeah," Boeser said. "Just knowing how much pressure is on empty-netters in big games like this."

Boeser calmly gathered in the puck, let it settle on the ice, then slid it into an open net from an angle more difficult than he made it look.

And there, folks, was the winning goal in the national championship.

North Dakota took a 2-0 lead, a lead it would never relinquish. Quinnipiac, taking advantage of a five-on-three power play late in the first period, cut the Fighting Hawks' lead to 2-1, but would never get the equalizer.

Thanks to two goals in the first 3:41 of the third period, both scored by Caggiula and both assisted by Boeser, North Dakota opened up a 4-1 lead. Austin Pogasnski tacked on the fifth goal with just under 10 minutes left.

From there, Boeser and his teammates simply counted down the time until the buzzer set off a huge celebration and the biggest thing to happen in North Dakota since, well, its hockey team won the 2000 national title.

Certainly, the fact that Boeser left his fingerprints all over this game should be of no surprise. The 19-year-old from Burnsville, Minn., (a suburb of Minneapolis) was the 23rd overall pick by the Vancouver Canucks in last year's draft.

For the Frozen Four, he had a goal and five assists.

"Tremendous feeling," he said.

And the best news of all? He says he will be back against next season.

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