UND upsets No. 1 Denver to reach NCHC title game
MINNEAPOLIS -- No need to scoreboard watch the rest of the weekend.
No need to crunch those Pairwise formulas.
UND not only marched to the National Collegiate Hockey Conference Frozen Faceoff championship game by knocking off No. 1 Denver 1-0 on Friday night, it also solidified a spot in the NCAA tournament for a 15th consecutive season.
Austin Poganski scored the game's only goal 2 minutes, 30 seconds into the third period and the defense and goalie Cam Johnson (21 saves) did the rest.
The win sets up a showdown against Minnesota Duluth at 7:38 tonight in the Target Center (CBS Sports Network) for the league's playoff championship.
"We're fighting for our lives and our guys played like it," UND coach Brad Berry said. "We're looking forward to tomorrow."
UND entered the weekend knowing that it needed at least one win to clinch a spot in the NCAA tournament and the West Regional in Fargo next weekend.
It took care of that right away against a Denver team that rolled through the regular season and hadn't lost since Jan. 20. Now, it won’t need to get help from other teams to reach the NCAA tournament.
"I definitely didn't want to scoreboard watch," Johnson said. "I had faith in our group. It's our own fate. We're in control of our own fate."
The lone goal Friday came early in the third period.
UND freshman forward Tyson Jost sent a pass back to rookie defenseman Colton Poolman, who stepped into a slap shot from the point. Poolman's shot went wide of the net, but it took a long rebound that Poganski one-timed into the open side of the net before Denver goalie Tanner Jaillet (23 saves) could move over.
"I was just driving the net to see if I could get a rebound and it came out to me," Poganski said.
Although UND went through some ups and downs early in the season, it has now won five games in a row and will try to win its first league playoff championship since 2012, when it was a member of the Western Collegiate Hockey Conference.
Since then, this semifinal game has been a jinx.
UND went 0-3 in its first three NCHC semifinals in the Target Center, losing games to Miami, St. Cloud State and Minnesota Duluth the last three years.
"It was obviously our first win in the Target Center in a long time," Berry said. "We're very grateful for it. It was a typical NCHC game you saw tonight with two teams battling."
Berry had a difficult choice to make before the game started.
Should UND wear festive green jerseys for St. Patrick's Day or should it stick with the black jerseys, which have been the lucky ones this season.
Berry opted with the black jerseys.
"We came here on a business trip, so we wore the business suits," said Berry, whose team is 5-0 in the black jerseys this season.
Although Denver entered the game with the nation's top-scoring offense since Jan. 1, UND's defensive corps slowed down the Pioneers' top players.
Johnson made a few key saves, too, on the way to his fourth shutout of the season.
"We were playing the right way, doing the little things like boxing out and blocking shots," Johnson said. "Guys were buying in. I didn't have to do too much work tonight. My team made it a little easier on me. It was a group effort. We played well."
Berry said he's pleased with the progression of his team.
"Early in the season, we were playing hard and the right way, but we weren't getting results," Berry said. "Now, we're starting to battle. Tonight, there was not a lot of room on the ice, but we found a way to score and make a difference."
Johnson added: "This season's been up and down all year. We've played well at times. We haven't played great at times. It's the end of the season. We've been playing playoff hockey the past few weekends, because our lives have been on the ice. This is huge for us, our group and our confidence."
Notes: UND played without forwards Ludvig Hoff and Zach Yon. Hoff was injured last Saturday night against St. Cloud State. . . Mike Gornall and Chris Wilkie took their spots in the lineup. . . Defenseman Hayden Shaw returned after missing seven games due to injury.