TAMPA — North Dakota advanced to tonight's Frozen Four final with the help of a penalty-kill unit that ranks fifth in the NCAA, shutting down Denver's power play on the way to a 4-2 win Thursday night.
In six games against their rival Pioneers this season, North Dakota killed 23 of 23 power plays — special teams perfection, something the Fighting Hawks (33-6-4) have taken great pride in this season.
"Penalty kill is huge for our team," UND defenseman Troy Stecher said. "Any time you can get a kill, you can build a lot of momentum. … I think we blocked something like 30 shots (Thursday) night. Tucker Poolman (a defenseman) I think had three in one sequence. Guys were willing to put the body on the line for the betterment of the team, and that's important this time of year."
That penalty-kill unit will have its hands full tonight against top seed Quinnipiac (32-3-7) — in all of college hockey this season, six players scored nine or more power-play goals and three of them play for the Bobcats: Travis St. Denis, Sam Anas (10 each) and Tim Clifton (nine).
Quinnipiac has piled up 46 power-play goals in 42 games for a prolific 29 percent success rate, but coach Rand Pecknold said there isn't pressure to score on every power play. Like a baseball player who hits .300, even success means coming up short more than two-thirds of the time.
"It's about us realizing that we are going to fail probably 70 percent of the time. That's okay," Pecknold said. "We don't talk about goals, we talk about good looks. We want to get good looks, and we have to take what they're going to give us and be able to adapt."
Pecknold said his team respects North Dakota goaltender Cam Johnson, who ranks second in the nation by allowing just 1.68 goals per game. To beat him, the Bobcats want traffic in front to make his job harder.
"We've got to take away his eyes, get in his face a little bit and really try to score gritty, greasy goals," he said. "If you look at our power-play goal (against Boston College on Thursday), it was bang around and tap it in."
Top honors: At a presentation Friday at the Tampa Theater, Harvard senior forward Jimmy Vesey was chosen as the winner of this year's Hobey Baker Award, given to college hockey's top player.
Vesey, who scored 24 goals this season, took the honors over Boston College goalie Thatcher Demko and Michigan forward Kyle Connor. Vesey, who was drafted by Nashville in 2012, can elect to be an NHL free agent this summer.
Demko, the losing goalie in Thursday's semifinal against Quinnipiac, had some consolation Friday as he won the Mike Richter Award, given to college hockey's top goalie. Demko was honored in a ceremony at the Marriott Waterside, with former University of Wisconsin standout Richter attending.
Two players from the remaining teams earned first-team All-America honors from the American Hockey Coaches Association, Anas and North Dakota forward Brock Boeser. North Dakota also had three second-team All-Americans: Johnson, Stecher and forward Drake Caggiula.
Contact Greg Auman at [email protected] or (813) 226-3346. Follow @GregAuman.