Frozen Four: Late goal helps North Dakota win

Posted at 12:18 AM, Apr 08, 2016
and last updated 2016-04-08 00:18:39-04

Nick Schmaltz scored off a rebound with less a minute left and North Dakota beat Denver 4-2 on Thursday night to advance to the NCAA hockey championship game for the first time in 11 years.

Schmaltz's backhand shot from in front of the net slipped past goalie Tanner Jaillet, setting off a wild celebration among Fighting Hawks fans in the crowd of 18,037 at Amalie Arena.

Drake Caggiula scored a pair of second-period goals for North Dakota. Rhett Gardner added an empty-netter with 1.9 seconds remaining.

North Dakota's trip to the Frozen Four in its first season under coach Brad Berry is the 22nd for the Fighting Hawks. They will face No. 1 overall seed Quinnipiac on Saturday night in the title game.

Quinnipiac (32-3-7) advanced with a 3-2 victory over Boston College and is looking for its first national title. North Dakota (33-6-4) has won seven NCAA crowns, tied with Denver for second behind Michigan's nine.

The Fighting Hawks, who lost in the semifinals the past two years, are headed to their first championship game since 2005, when they lost to Denver in the final. A win would give North Dakota its first national title since 2000.

Denver (29-10-6) was in the Frozen Four for the first time since 2005. The Pioneers entered this year's tournament as one of the nation's hottest teams, compiling an 18-3-4 record over the past three months after going 7-7-2 in October, November and December.

The Fighting Hawks and Pioneers, conference rivals who first played in 1950, met for the 276th time. They split five previous meetings this season 2-2-1, and their first matchup in the NCAA tournament since 2011 was another evenly matched game.

Caggiula scored twice within a span of just over five minutes to extend his career-best points streak to 12 games for North Dakota, which seemed like an unlikely candidate to let Denver back in the game.

But the Pioneers were far from done.

Will Butcher scored less than three minutes into the third period. Denver pulled even when Matt VanVoorhis tried to slip a pass to Gabe Levin in front of  the net and the puck was deflected off North Dakota captain Gabe Ausmus' stick past goalie Cam Johnson with nine minutes remaining in regulation.

Goalie Cam Johnson stopped 21 shots for North Dakota, which limited Denver's high-scoring "Pacific Rim Line" of Trevor Moore, Dylan Gambrell and Danton Heinen to nine shots and zero points.