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TAMPA, Fla. — Nick Schmaltz’s tiebreaking goal with 57 seconds left in regulation led North Dakota to a 4-2 victory over Denver in the second semifinal game of the 2016 Frozen Four on Thursday.
The Fighting Hawks advanced to Saturday’s title game against top-seeded Quinnipiac, which dispatched Boston College 3-2 in the earlier semi.
2016 Frozen Four
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“Big-time players make big-time plays; that’s what they did,” said North Dakota coach Brad Berry.
Schmaltz’s game-winner started with a faceoff win by Boeser back to Caggiula. His initial shot was blocked by a Denver player, but the puck came to Schmaltz, who tucked it around goaltender Tanner Jaillet.
“They executed on the play we drew up in practice,” said Berry. “Once or twice a week we work on faceoff plays, offensive and defensive. It’s guys executing, attention to detail of what we do every day in practice. They reaped the rewards tonight because they were dialed in.”
“We got outmuscled at the net front,” Denver coach Jim Montgomery said of the play. “The CBS Line scored [the first] three goals. You’ve got to tip your hat to them.”
The opening stanza saw just four shots for each team, tying a Frozen Four record for fewest total shots in a period. But it took just 1:03 of the second period for the Fighting Hawks to take the lead on the first of two Caggiula goals.
The senior winger opened the scoring when he was able to get behind the Denver defense on a rush and put a nice pass from Boeser past Jaillet.
Caggiula struck again at 6:15, stripping a defender of the puck along the half-boards, then walking in and putting a wrist shot by Jaillet.
Denver regrouped and struck twice in the first 11 minutes of the third to tie the game. Will Butcher got the Pioneers on the board at 2:50, off a play that started with a faceoff win by Matt Marcinew.
About eight minutes later, Matt VanVoorhis’ shot from a tight angle glanced off UND defender Gage Ausmus’ stick and went through the legs of North Dakota goalie Cam Johnson.
“We stopped making plays early in the third period,” said Berry. “And when you stop making plays, it’s a learning lesson for tonight. You have to keep the foot on the gas and keep making plays.”
That set the stage for Schmaltz’s heroics, and North Dakota was able to seal the win with an empty-net goal by Rhett Gardner with 1.8 seconds left. Gardner’s long clearing attempt from the faceoff circle in the UND zone slowly made its way down the length of the ice and into the Denver net.
“It was a great college hockey game,” said Montgomery. “It’s what we expected. And I said two days ago that the team that’s going to win is the team that makes the last play, and North Dakota made the last play.”
The Fighting Hawks led in blocked shots 27-10, a source of pride for Berry and his players.
“I think it’s a shot blocking mentality we had,” said Berry. “I think we had 27 blocks tonight. Tucker Poolman [four blocks] led the way for that.”
“It’s not easy to penetrate their blue line,” said Montgomery. “It’s not easy to get open sticks at the net. I wish we would have made a couple more plays, but we didn’t. Gotta give credit to them.”
North Dakota advanced to the championship game after a semifinal loss in their last six Frozen Fours, including two of the last three seasons.
“For the first three years we came up short,” said Caggiula. “As a senior class we wanted to leave this program with a national championship. We’re one step closer there.”