Whether it's the first half of the season or their WCHA Final Five semifinal win against Minnesota, the Fighting Sioux have had a tendency to start slow and finish strong. That wasn't the case Saturday night.
Brock Nelson (New York Islanders) scored his 27th goal of the season and had another waived off as North Dakota (25-12-3) came out strong with 2 first period goals 46 seconds apart to defeat Denver (25-13-4) 4-0 in the WCHA Final Five championship. Carter Rowney, Michael Parks (Philadelphia Flyers) and Mark MacMillan also scored for the Sioux and Aaron Dell made 22 saves for his second shutout this season.
With the victory UND has won the Broadmoor Trophy for a record third season in a row. They find themselves fourth in the Pairwise ranking and will be a #1 seed in the NCAA Tournament. Denver drops to 11th in the Pairwise with the loss and will be a #3 seed.
The first fifteen minutes of the game were a feeling out period for both teams as much of the action was contested away in the corners away from Dell and Pioneers goalie Juho Olkinuora. Neither team took control until North Dakota's second power play of the game. After Corban Knight (Florida Panthers) won a face-off to the right of Olkinuora, Nelson crashed the net and found himself in perfect position for the rebound from Dillon Simpson's (Edmonton Oilers) shot to put it home for a 1-0 lead.
46 seconds later Carter Rowney made it 2-0 and any adrenaline DU was running on after playing 88 minutes Friday afternoon disappeared into the St. Paul night.
Denver didn't help matters In their sixth game in nine nights when the team, already shorthanded with five defensemen, lost defenseman Josiah Didler to an injury early in the game. If they were tired beforehand, having only two defensive pairings to go against gave the Sioux that much more confidence. North Dakota won every puck battle, out-worked DU and in retaliation the Pioneers took penalty after penalty.
On the Sioux's fourth power play (at a time when Denver was still waiting for their first), an interference call on Jason Zucker (Minnesota Wild), Parks beat Olkinoura to give North Dakota a 3-0 lead with 10:02 left in the second.
Maintaining 3-0 leads had been an issue throughout the Final Five but as the evening went on Denver was unable to get out of first gear. Aaron Dell made the saves he needed to but wasn't really challenged like in the two previous tournament games.
Even when the Pioneers finally starting receiving power play chances, UND ended up being the team scoring. With Rowney in the box, Mark MacMillan created a turnover and put the game out reach with 12:49 remaining in the game.
Things got worse for Denver after the fourth Sioux goal. Zucker, who was injured earlier in the season against Minnesota, left for the locker room in the middle of the third period and did not return. Defenseman John Lee also left the game - this one because of a five-minute major and game misconduct - leaving DU with three defensemen, The end result was Nelson nearly making it 5-0 on another rebound but the referees determined Danny Kristo (Montreal Canadiens) interfered with Juho Olkinuora before the puck crossed the line.
In the end, however, North Dakota won their seventh straight game Saturday night and continue to make winning the WCHA Final Five in St. Paul a yearly occurrence for the fans. Regardless of if it's their first or third Broadmoor Trophy in a row, Dave Hakstol's team put together an effort that has to make the Sioux a team that no one is looking forward to facing.
Both teams, along with semifinalists Minnesota and Minnesota-Duluth will find out where they are heading when ESPNU airs the NCAA Hockey Tournament selection show tomorrow morning (March 18) at 11 a.m.