Freshman Shines in Denver's 2-OT Title Game Loss
by Dan Myers/CHN Staff
ST. PAUL, Minn. Following Saturday night's 3-2 North Dakota victory over Denver in the WCHA Final Five championship game, Denver head coach George Gwozdecky said freshman goalie Sam Brittain's eyes got big when he saw the large media contingent awaiting in the media room.
"This was his first ever real press conference," Gwozdecky said.
Brittain's solid season was enough for the media to name him to the All-Rookie team when those winners were announced last weekend. He garnered numerous votes for one of the three all-league teams too. But for those in attendance who weren't familiar with Brittain before Saturday night, now they are.
The freshman netminder put on a clinic Saturday against the nation's hottest team, making highlight reel save after highlight reel save, especially in the first overtime. After robbing Corban Knight from his belly in the second period — a save that should make all the Sunday highlight shows — Brittain went post-to-post twice in a five minute span, first making a kick save on Brent Davidson's one-timer from the top of the crease, then going the other way to deny Evan Trupp on a similar play.
"With the way he was playing, it looked like the game wasn't gonna end," said UND forward Matt Frattin, who finally ended it on a rebound early in the second overtime.
For the night, Brittain stopped 33 shots and was named to the Final Five All-Tournament team. It didn't end how he or the Pioneers wanted it to end, but Grozdecky said his team — and his goaltender — can gain momentum in defeat.
"It's not often you can say that in a double overtime defeat," Gwozdecky said. "We had found a way to win our last four games. We lost it tonight, but we had some chances to win it.
"I just think we're playing well right now. Obviously, there are certain things from the game we would have liked to have seen. But when you can play in a game like this, the championship of the Final Five, it's a great privilege, a great thrill and a great honor."
When it came right down to it Saturday, UND did a better job of scoring the greasy goal. Both of Denver's goals — including the game-tying tally with under three minutes to play — were pretty goals. Both featured centering passes to a streaking player in front, who tapped in the one-timer.
UND had to work harder to get shots past Brittain. Danny Kristo got credit for UND's first goal, which tied the game early in the second, when it was kicked in off the skate of Denver's Drew Shore.
Davidson gave UND the lead six minutes later on a wrap around try that deflected off Brittain's skate and into the net.
Even Frattin's game winner at 5:11 of the second overtime came off a point shot by Chay Genoway that hit traffic in front and deflected right to Frattin — the league's deadliest scorer — at the left circle. There was nothing Brittain could do but lunge — and watch.
"You have to give them credit, they got the greasy goals," Brittain said. "They were able to put the puck in the net by hard work and playing their systems."
Following the game, Gwozdecky seemed relieved to move on. The win would have been nice, but he was happy the game ended when it did.
"I told Dave [Hakstol, UND head coach] I was happy this ended. I didn't want either team to get tired for regionals."
Where the Pioneers play will be decided during Sunday's selection show, but DU said they have no preference as to where they'd like to play.
"You want to be in close games heading into the tournament," said Pioneers forward Kyle Ostrow. "We don't care where we go. We're excited to play anyone, anywhere."
The Pioneers head to NCAA play with no trophies for the first time in a couple of years. But with Brittain at the back end, DU has the potential, and the "momentum" to potentially, finally, make some noise again.