No. 3 University of Denver (24-12-4) vs. No. 2 University of Minnesota-Duluth (24-8-6)
Time/TV: 2:07 p.m. Central, Fox Sports North & www.foxsportsnorth.com
The first WCHA Final Five semifinal features the defending National Champions going against overtime hero (and Minnesota Wild prospect) Jason Zucker and the University of Denver. Both Minnesota-Duluth and the Pioneers have likely earned at-large NCAA Tournament berths but at stake this afternoon is a chance to get a better seed and for UMD, a chance to be the top overall team in the Pairwise.
While the Bulldogs rested, Denver played yesterday and defeated Michigan Tech 3-2 in overtime. They have now won their last three after dropping the first WCHA 1st-round game to Wisconsin and Thursday was their second consecutive overtime victory.
Senior forward Luke Salazar has emerged as Denver's hot hand in the postseason. He's scored both the overtime game-winner to send DU to the Final Five and the game-tying goal Thursday with under four minutes. Despite that, the trio of Zucker, Drew Shore (Florida Panthers) and Nick Shore (Los Angeles Kings) also created fits for Michigan Tech yesterday and WCHA Rookie of the Year Joey LaLeggia set up the game-winning-goal.
Minnesota-Duluth, however, has the offensive firepower to match the Pioneers. Three Bulldogs, WCHA Player of the Year Jack Connolly, Travis Oleksuk and J.T. Brown, have scored 45 points or more and they have depth few teams match. Mike Seidel scored his 15th goal last weekend (a number that would be first or second on most college hockey teams) and he's a distant fourth.
The Bulldogs had a couple issues in their first-round series last weekend putting away Minnesota State - they won 4-2 Friday and 3-2 Saturday in double overtime on their 59th shot - and despite only losing once in their last nine games, have not quite looked to be the same dominant team they were during a 17-game unbeaten streak between October and January. That streak includes UMD taking three points from Denver in the Mile High City back in November. Whether teams have caught up or made adjustments, Minnesota-Duluth remains dangerous and boasts the core of a national champion.
That includes senior goaltender Kenny Reiter, who has shown the ability to keep the Bulldogs in single-elimination games. He made 47 saves on 49 shots in Saturday's double-overtime win. Denver put up 44 shots in their Thursday win so this game could feature two teams shooting the lights out. Juho Olkinuora started that game for the Pioneers but don't be surprised if Sam Brittain (Panthers) makes the start between the pipes Friday.
The winner of Friday's game faces the winner of Minnesota-North Dakota Saturday night for the WCHA Final Five Championship, Broadmoor Trophy and an automatic NCAA Tournament berth.