Denver Wins 2017 National Championship
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CHICAGO The Denver Pioneers are national champions.
Hanging on after Minnesota-Duluth scored late in the third to cut the deficit to just one goal, the Pioneers beat the Bulldogs, 3-2, in front of 19,783 fans at the United Center in Chicago.
"Great for the university, great for our fans, great for the city of Denver," said senior captain Will Butcher. "It's hard to put into words what this win means. I love each and every one of the guys on this team, and I'm so proud of them."
Jarid Lukosevicius scored goals 16 seconds apart early in the second period and added a third goal minutes later. Alex Iafallo scored for the Bulldogs between Lukosevicius' second and third goals and Riley Tufte has added a goal in the third period.
Lukosevicius' first two goals were scored just 16 seconds apart, which was the fastest consecutive goals scored by a single player in NCAA championship history. The goals were the sixth-quickest consecutive goals by the same team in championship history.
After his hat-trick goal, the only player in NCAA history with three quicker goals in an NCAA championship game is Lukosevicius' head coach, Jim Montgomery, who scored three goals in 4:35 for Maine in the 1993 championship game. Lukosevicius three goals were scored over a span of 7:39 in the second period. Lukosevicius hat trick is also the first hat trick in championship game history since Montgomery's hat trick in 1993.
"(Dylan Gambrell) and Troy (Terry) did an unbelievable job," said Lukosevicius. "They forechecked their butt off and I wouldn't have scored any of those goals if it wasn't for those two. I just happened to stay in front of the net because I knew that they were going to shoot pucks or bring the puck to the net. And I was in the right place at the right time."
The opening six minutes of the first period were controlled by the Pioneers, but the Bulldogs began to shift momentum around the midway point.
Denver received the game's first power play at the 17:32 mark, when Dan Molenaar was whistled for an elbowing penalty, but the Pioneers only mustered one shot on the power play. Minnesota-Duluth had a golden chance, breaking in on a 2-on-1 early on the penalty kill, but Tanner Jaillet was able to smother the puck with his glove.
Shots in the first period were 13-10 in favor of Denver.
Denver took the lead at the 4:44 mark of the second period. Logan O'Connor took a shot from that right side off the rush that sailed over Miska's glove and over the net. The Pioneers continued to control the puck deep in the UMD zone, and Blake Hillman found the puck on his stick near the right wall. After twirling in the corner to shake his defender, he fed the puck to the top of the circle where Michael Davies was waiting, snapping a wrist shot that was tipped by Lukosevicius in the slot and fooled Miska, beating him high glove.
Off the ensuing faceoff, the puck was dumped down the Denver attacking zone. Troy Terry scooped it up in the corner and skated to the left circle, losing two defenders after changing direction and moving the puck to the front of the net off a smooth forehand move. Lukosevicius was there waiting, knocking the puck into the open net as Miska was trying to move laterally.
UMD would counter on the power play just 2:16 later. Possessing the puck in the zone, Neal Pionk found Joey Anderson at the bottom of the left circle. The freshman saw an opening and threaded the puck to the front of the net, where Alex Iafallo tipped it with his backhand and beat the outstretched pad of Tanner Jaillet.
Just 18 seconds after the Bulldogs cut the deficit with a power-play goal, the Pioneers would go on a power play of their own. With a pass coming up the boards in front of the Minnesota-Duluth bench, Willie Raskob stepped up on Lukosevicius and followed through with a huge hit. The officials reviewed the play for several minutes before determining that it would be a two-minute minor for elbowing, indirect contact to the head.
UMD would kill the penalty, only surrending one shot on goal.
Denver would double its lead with 7:37 left in the second period. After Gambrell and Terry pressured behind the UMD net, forcing a turnover, Terry came out with the puck in the left corner. Looking for Gambrell in front, Terry's centering pass was kicked out by Miska. However, the puck landed on the stick of Lukosevicius, who one-timed the rebound into the net for the hat trick.
"I did not know that's the first hat trick (since mine)," said Montgomery. "But I'm glad I'm part of both, and I'm glad we won the championship on both nights."
With seconds remaining in the second period, Pionk beat two defenders at the blue line and was able to tip the puck over a rushing Jaillet, but the puck trickled wide of the right post.
In the opening minutes of the third period, Denver defenseman Tariq Hammond was racing for a loose puck when his foot was jammed awkwardly into the end boards. After remaining on the ice for several minutes with EMTs and an stretcher summoned from the Zamboni entrance, the entire Denver bench emptied to check on their fallen teammate as he was being wheeled off the ice.
"It's terrible when a teammate and brother goes off like that," said Butcher. "The guy's battled all year and that game especially with a play like that. It was very tough. We knew they were going to come with a push. It was the last game of the season. So everybody was going to come with a push in that kind of situation."
When play resumed, the Bulldogs rattled a couple of scoring chances on the understandably shaken Pioneers, but Jaillet was up to the test.
UMD continued to pour on the pressure at the seven minute mark, forcing Denver to ice the puck.
Minnesota-Duluth opened the third period with a 9-1 edge in shots on goal, dominating possession for the first 10 minutes but unable to sneak a puck past Jaillet.
With a little more than seven minutes left in regulation, Troy Terry hit the post on a rush. UMD immediately brought the puck back the other way and sustained possession again, with the edge in shots during the period growing to 11-3 in favor of the Bulldogs.
"They were coming, obviously, but we practiced all year staying composed and closing out games in third periods," Jaillet said. "I've got to give a lot of credit to my team. They were blocking shots, making plays, chipping pucks out. But obviously it was good. We were calm back there, and we got the job done."
The Bulldogs would finally break through to cut the deficit with 5:21 left. Coming out of a board battle, Riley Tufte fed Avery Peterson for a shot from the bottom of the right circle that caromed off the post, hitting Tufte in the chest, and the freshman was able to bury the rebound to make it 3-2.
"Our mindset was that we could come back and tie the game and maybe win the hockey game," said UMD coach Scott Sandelin. "In the third period, we did a pretty good job of spending a lot of time in their offensive zone. We just needed to be, maybe a little harder on pucks and a little stronger on the net."
At the time, shots were 14-3 UMD for the third period and 37-28 Bulldogs in the game.
With the goaltender Hunter Miska on the bench for an extra attacker, the Bulldogs continued to apply pressure, but were unable to get a shot through to Jaillet, with three shot attempts blocked in the final 90 seconds.
Denver was able to clear the puck with about five seconds left, sealing the win.
The championship is Denver's first since 2005, and the eighth in program history.