No. 4 University of North Dakota Fighting Sioux (24-12-3) vs. No. 3 University of Denver Pioneers (25-12-4)
Time/Location: 7:07 p.m. Central, Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul, MN
TV: Fox Sports North & www.foxsportsnorth.com
If this year's Final Five championship game seems familiar, there's a good reason.
For the ninth consecutive year, one of either Denver or North Dakota is playing in St. Paul for the Broadmoor Trophy awarded to the WCHA tournament champion. In fact Saturday's game is a rematch from last year, which saw the Fighting Sioux win 3-2 in double overtime to claim their second straight Final Five championship.
Both teams were inconsistent during their wins Friday. The Pioneers let a three goal lead in the 2nd period slip away against Minnesota-Duluth. They barely held off the Bulldogs before freshman Zac Larazza won the game in double-overtime 4-3 with his first career collegiate goal. In the night game, North Dakota looked like a team that had given up against Minnesota for 40 minutes, down 3-0 and being out-shot 12-2 in the first period, before scoring six unanswered goals to beat the Gophers 6-3.
At their best, Denver and UND are able to take down any team in college hockey. However,neither team has shown that effort throughout an entire game this tournament. Whoever can avoid those stretches has the best chance to win.
Up front, North Dakota has the more high-powered first line with Brock Nelson (New York Islanders), Corban Knight (Florida Panthers) and Danny Kristo (Montreal Canadiens). They played a big role in getting the Sioux back in the game against Minnesota and when on their game are tough for opposing defenses to stop.
The Pioneers' top line, meanwhile, is no slouch of its own with Ty Loney, Drew Shore (Panthers) and Luke Salazzar with Salazzar scoring three goals in the last four games. He was injured in the first overtime Friday but came back later. At the same time they rely heavily on their second line to put up shots and score goals. Jason Zucker (Minnesota Wild) has scored in each of the two WCHA Final Five games and will need to be contained by UND. Easier said than done.
Denver has relied on a trio of goalies this season and it will be interesting to see which one Pioneers head coach George Gwozdecky uses. Sam Brittain (Panthers) made a school-record 68 saves in the win over Minnesota-Duluth but freshman Juho Olkinuora looked impressive when DU beat North Dakota 5-3 February 25th and did not play 88 minutes Friday.
Aaron Dell, meanwhile, looks to be the hot hand for the Fighting Sioux. Despite giving up three goals to the Gophers Friday, he kept the team in the game and North Dakota goalie Brad Eidsness (Buffalo Sabres) was chased from the net when they lost to Denver. It's the last time Dave Hakstol's team has tasted defeat and since the loss the SIoux have gone 6-0.
The biggest question mark on either side is the effect playing three consecutive overtime games will have on the Pioneers. Saturday's game is their sixth in nine days and it's hard to believe even the best conditioned team wouldn't be feeling that. If North Dakota can take advantage of that and goad Denver into taking penalties, it will compound the situation.
Regardless, both teams have ways to win Saturday night's game and it's no surprise to see Denver and North Dakota back in the WCHA Final Five championship.
After all it's a familiar feeling for both.