CHICAGO — Denver used a stifling forecheck to limit Notre Dame’s chances and create puck possession in a 6-1 rout in Thursday’s second NCAA national semifinal.
The Pioneers advanced to the program’s 11th overall national championship game against NCHC rival Minnesota Duluth on Saturday.
[scg_html_ff2017]From the start, Denver kept the Fighting Irish bottled up in their own end.
“Their defense was their offense,” said Notre Dame coach Jeff Jackson. “Their defense was their puck possession, their puck management.”
“We’re just relentless with four lines and six D,” said Denver coach Jim Montgomery. “And we’ve got a hell of a goaltender [Tanner Jaillet] behind everything.”
The non-stop pressure by the Pioneers in the first period contributed to two Denver goals.
Emil Romig made it 1-0 Denver at 8:18 of the first, speeding out from behind the net and roofing a sharp-angle shot on a feed from Colin Staub after defenseman Michael Davies sent the puck deep.
“I think we have to give a lot of credit to our forwards,” said Denver defenseman Will Butcher. “Our forecheck really dominated them tonight and really ate ’em up.”
That forecheck led to Denver’s second and eventual game-winning goal when Liam Finley left the puck along the wall for Butcher, who scooped it up and carried it around the Notre Dame net. With Fighting Irish goalie Cal Petersen’s paddle on the ice to protect the left side, Butcher slid a pass just past the end of the goalie stick to Henrik Borgström, who tapped it in at 14:50 of the period.
“When our forecheck is really going, it makes it easy for the defensemen,” said Butcher. “We can gap up and get right on their forwards in the offensive zone.”
Notre Dame was only able to muster three shots in the first, the fewest shots on goal in the opening period of a national semifinal since 1999.
“That’s how you hold teams down in shots,” said Jackson. “If the other team doesn’t have the puck, they’re not going to get many shots.”
Notre Dame seemed to turn the tide a bit in the second period, but that was stymied by Denver’s third goal.
A stumble to the ice by backskating Notre Dame defenseman Luke Ripley in the neutral zone sprung a two-on-one Denver rush. Evan Janssen backhanded a pass on the doorstep to defenseman Tariq Hammond, who steered it into a wide-open net.
“I felt we were turning the corner, and then we had a defenseman fall down and everything changed,” said Jackson. “That third goal was the back killer.”
As the top seed, Denver had the last change, and Montgomery said that he was able to match lines well and keep the pressure on because of it.
“In particular, I knew [Dennis] Gilbert was their best defenseman. I wanted him out against [Dylan] Gambrell’s line,” said Montgomery. “And sticking Borgström out against their third pairing was important to us. And we were able to get that with the last change, especially on the fly.”
Gambrell scored on a wraparound at 16:31 of the second to make it 4-0 and tallied his second of the night with just over three minutes left.
Denver’s Evan Ritt sent a wrist shot past Petersen at 18:18 to make it 5-0 at the end of two.
Notre Dame’s lone goal of the contest came just five seconds into its only power play. Cam Morrison tipped a Jordan Gross shot from the blue line just inside the right post at 11:24 of the third period.
Despite his team smothering opponents early through the first three games of the NCAA tournament, Montgomery doesn’t think the Pioneers will be able to jump on Duluth in the same way.
“Outside the NCHC, what I’ve seen the last two years is we’re able to jump on people,” he said. “That’s not going to happen Saturday night. It’s an NCHC opponent.”