Denver clinched its seventh consecutive NCAA tournament appearance Saturday night, defeating Miami 4-3 at the Target Center in the inaugural National Collegiate Hockey Conference Frozen Faceoff championship.
The Pioneers (20-15-6) scored twice in the third period, and Sam Brittain saved 23 of 26 shots, as the team capped its surprise playoff run with a victory over the RedHawks (15-20-3).
The Pioneers built a 2-0 lead in the first period on goals from defenseman Nolan Zajac and forward Daniel Doremus. Miami cut the lead to one on a power-play goal by Anthony Louis at 13:08 in the second period and tied the game three minutes later on a goal from forward Sean Kuraly.
Denver regained the lead 1:06 into the third period on Zac Larraza’s goal. Forward Emil Romig added the team’s fourth goal with 13:13 remaining. Louis scored his second of the game with 1:33 remaining, but Denver held on.
Denver’s win capped its surprise NCHC tournament run. The Pioneers upset Omaha in the quarterfinals last weekend and defeated fifth-seeded Western Michigan in the semifinals Friday.
Brittain, the conference goalie of the year, stopped 47 of 53 shots on the weekend after an early mistake against Western Michigan. The first shot of the weekend bounced off his skate and into his own net just 42 seconds into the semifinal game.
Miami’s run was also surprising, after the RedHawks went 6-17-1 in conference play and 2-8 in their last 10 regular-season games.
Miami had played better, however, since first-line forward Blake Coleman returned from an injury Feb. 21. With Coleman back and goalie Ryan McKay playing well, Miami swept top-seeded St. Cloud State in the quarterfinals last weekend and upset second-seeded North Dakota on Friday.
Announced attendance for Saturday’s games was 8,139.
North Dakota 5, Western Michigan 0: Connor Gaarder scored two first-period goals as North Dakota stayed alive for a 12th consecutive NCAA berth by winning the third place game.
Jordan Schmaltz, Rocco Grimaldi and Paul LaDue also scored for North Dakota (23-13-3), and goalie Zane Gothberg stopped 25 shots.
North Dakota, which finished second in the NCHC during the regular season, lost to last-place Miami in Friday’s semifinals.
North Dakota is 19-6-1 in its past 26 games. It likely would have missed the NCAA tournament if Ohio State upset Wisconsin in the Big Ten final, but the Badgers won 5-4 in overtime.
Nate Gotlieb is a University of Minnesota student on special assignment with the Star Tribune.