Make us your home page

Get the quickest, smartest news, analysis and photos from the Bucs game emailed to you shortly after the final whistle.

(View our Privacy Policy)

North Dakota edges Denver, reaches Frozen Four title game

TAMPA — The storied, 66-year rivalry between Denver and North Dakota added another crazy chapter with a frenzied finish in Thursday's Frozen Four semifinal at Amalie Arena.

North Dakota squandered a two-goal lead in the third period before recovering when Nick Schmaltz scored the game-winning goal with 56.8 seconds left to lift the Fighting Hawks to a 4-2 win in front of an announced crowd of 18,037. North Dakota will play for the program's eighth national title in Saturday's championship game against Quinnipiac.

"Maybe it wasn't our best performance," North Dakota forward Coltyn Sanderson said, "but there was never any doubt in our minds that we were going to keep battling, keep fighting, keep clawing to get to Saturday night."

The 276th all-time meeting — and the sixth this season — between two powerhouses with 14 combined titles seemed prime for a North Dakota (33-6-4) win through 40 minutes. The Fighting Hawks failed to record a shot in the first eight minutes but withstood two first-period power plays before finally coming alive with the best line in college hockey — the CBS line of Schmaltz, Brock Boeser and Drake Caggiula, which led the country in plus/minus rating and accounted for 57 of the team's 153 goals.

Boeser centered a pass to Caggiula, who fired a shot past Denver goalie Tanner Jaillet's stick side to extend his career-long points streak to 12 game.

Three minutes later, Caggiula corralled a loose puck and rocketed it from the right circle for his 23rd goal of the year to improve to a plus-43 rating — tops in the nation — and give him 18 points in 17 career games against the Pioneers.

"Big-time players make big-time plays, and that's what they did," first-year North Dakota coach Brad Berry said.

But Denver (25-10-6) wasn't done. The Pioneers ended the shutout three minutes into the third period when they won a faceoff in their offensive zone and Will Butcher blasted his ninth goal of the season.

Denver continued its attack on North Dakota and its standout goalie Cam Johnson — the Division I active leader in career goals-against average (1.76) and winning percentage (.821) who set a single-single season school record in save percentage.

Eight minutes later, defenseman Matt VanVoorhis tried a shot from the right side. North Dakota captain Gage Ausmus tried to stop it, but the puck deflected off of his stick and past Johnson for the tying goal.

"Man, we came out and we played hard," Denver captain Grant Arnold said of the Pioneers' third-period rally. "We played Pioneer hockey for about 19 minutes there."

But it all unraveled in the final 60 seconds, thanks to a costly icing call and North Dakota's CBS line.

Boeser won a faceoff in the Fighting Hawks' offensive zone but had his shot blocked by Jaillet. Schmaltz was in front of the net to backhand the rebound with 56.8 seconds left for his fourth goal against Denver this season.

"I said two days ago that the team that's going to win is the team that makes the last play," Denver coach Jim Montgomery said. "And North Dakota made the last play."

Rhett Gardner added an empty-net goal to seal the win. North Dakota advances to the title game for the first time since 2005.

Contact Matt Baker at Follow @MBakerTBTimes.

North Dakota edges Denver, reaches Frozen Four title game 04/07/16 [Last modified: Friday, April 8, 2016 12:32am]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times


Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

  1. Crosstown rivals Bloomingdale-Newsome kick off season


    LITHIA — In a week filled with area football rivalries, there is a game on the east side of Hillsborough County — Bloomingdale vs. Newsome — that has matured into a classic crosstown battle, complete with classic cliches.

    Bloomingdale wide receiver Ed Amos charges through a drill a few days before the big rivalry game against Newsome on Friday night.
  2. Bucs Cannon Fodder podcast: Several key players still sidelined


    Greg Auman gives an injury update, with several key players still sidelined from practice three days before the Bucs play the Cleveland Browns in Tampa, and a full recap of your favorite scenes from Tuesday …

    Bucs wide receiver Mike Evans was held out of practice Wednesday at One Buc Place. [CHARLIE KAIJO | Times]
  3. Playoff ambitions evident in opener for Zephyrhills, Wiregrass Ranch


    WESLEY CHAPEL — A new football season in Pasco County begins Friday night, but this one promises to be like none before it — with more math than ever. A new playoff system emphasizes schedule strength, making non-district tilts particularly important.

    Wiregrass Ranch wide receiver Jordan Miner catches a pass in spring practice at Wiregrass Ranch High School in Wesley Chapel on Monday, May 1, 2017.
  4. Dirk Koetter says Bucs used team meeting to discuss social issues


    Four days before their preseason home opener against the Cleveland Browns, which had 12 players not stand for the national anthem prior to their last game, the Bucs used their team meeting to discuss social issues that might have led to that demonstration, coach Dirk Koetter said.

    "The main thing is we have to respect everybody's opinion," Dirk Koetter said, "because everybody is not going to agree." [AP photo]
  5. Rookie tight end Antony Auclair making case to stick with Bucs


    Don't let his modest preseason stats fool you: Antony Auclair, the undrafted rookie tight end from Canada is making a strong case to stick around on the Bucs' 53-man roster this season.

    Bucs tight end Antony Auclair (82) collides with a defender following a catch during training camp. [CHARLIE KAIJO   |   Times]