TAMPA — On Thursday, senior forward Drake Caggiula started the charge for North Dakota, scoring back-to-back goals in the second period to lead the Fighting Hawks to their first NCAA national semifinal victory in the past seven attempts.
Two days later, Caggiula had a similar performance. Except this time, he finished the job, scoring two third-period goals to deliver a 5-1 victory against No. 1 Quinnipiac and an eighth NCAA championship to North Dakota, ending a 16-year title drought.
"At the intermission we talked about keeping the foot on the gas. We wanted to get the next goal, we wanted to push back and make it as hard for them as possible," Caggiula said of the Fighting Hawks' third-period attack. "Then from there we kept rolling and rolling."
North Dakota (33-6-4) was the aggressor from the start of Saturday's game, recording its first shot just 10 seconds after the first puck drop at Amalie Arena. And it showed no signs of letting up.
It took the Fighting Hawks nearly 12 minutes to get on the board — Shane Gersich did it with his ninth goal of the season after an assist from Gage Ausmus and Brock Boeser — but they had countless chances in the first half of the opening period.
Three minutes into the game, North Dakota defenseman Tucker Poolman had a straight shot at the goal, but the puck hit the post and went out. After five minutes, North Dakota was outshooting Quinnipiac 5-1.
Once the Fighting Hawks got on the board, though, it wasn't long until they found their stride. At the 14:16 mark, Boeser, a first-round draft pick in 2015 by the Vancouver Canucks, beat Quinnipiac defenseman Devon Toews and had a 1-on-1 with goaltender Michael Garteig.
In the Bobcats' win against Boston College on Thursday, Garteig was nearly unstoppable, coming up with big saves in the final minutes to seal the deal.
But this time, Garteig came out to defend Boeser, and the North Dakota freshman beat him, too, scoring an empty-net, shorthanded goal to put the Fighting Hawks up by two.
It was just the jolt Quinnipiac needed to briefly come alive.
With the first period winding down, North Dakota was called for a second cross-checking penalty in a nine-second span, and Quinnipiac (32-4-7), one of the best power-play scoring teams in the country, quickly took advantage of a 5-on-3 situation with a Tim Clifton goal, set up by brother Connor Clifton and Travis St. Denis.
In the second period, Quinnipiac used that momentum to keep up with North Dakota's speed a little better. The Bobcats had a few good looks, but all of them ended in shots that landed just wide. North Dakota had a power play in the second, but it wasn't able to take advantage, missing both shots it took during that time.
"I thought we played a stronger second period," Garteig said. "We hit a couple posts, a couple bounces that didn't go our way. That's kind of the way hockey goes sometimes."
Quinnipiac needed to take control of the third period in order to finish its rally, but instead, Caggiula did just that.
Just less than a minute and a half into the final period, Caggiula received a pass while standing at the corner of Quinnipiac's goal, flipping it in off the side of his stick and in. Two minutes and 20 seconds later — the exact span of time that separated North Dakota's two goals in the first period — Caggiula struck again, this time receiving a pass from Boeser as he skated toward the goal, poking it in from close range.
North Dakota forward Austin Poganski added one more for good measure when he scored his 10th goal of the season with 9:19 left to play.
For North Dakota coach Brad Berry, the first first-year head coach ever to win an NCAA hockey championship, the biggest feat in the sport arrived quickly. But for the Fighting Hawks, who have come to the Frozen Four seven other times since its last championship only to fall short, Saturday's victory was a relieving end to a disappointing trend.
"It's a special night, not only for us but for all the people that have put work in the program, all the guys that played before us and all the coaches that came before us," Caggiula said.
"It's a 16-year drought, but it's finally coming back to North Dakota."