Minneapolis MN – In the first three seasons of the NCHC’s Frozen Faceoff, the University of North Dakota has been unable to win a semi-final game. Even during last season’s NCAA Championship run, UND was only able to muster a tie. Last night, that changed.

Through six games, UND is 1-4-1 in the Frozen Faceoff. They’ve never had a chance to play on Saturday night in the championship game. On Friday, the Fighting Hawks needed a win over the Denver Pioneers to secure an at-large bid in the NCAA playoffs.

With the Fighting Hawks 1-0 victory over the Pioneers, they improve to 2-4-1 all-time at the Frozen Faceoff.

During the 2016-17 season, the Fighting Hawks were 12-4 against the teams that are below them in the standings. Entering the Frozen Faceoff, UND was 1-8-1 against the teams that were above them in the standings.

With the win, the Fighting Hawks will play the Minnesota-Duluth Bulldogs for the Frozen Faceoff championship. So far this season, the Hawks are 0-4-0 against the Bulldogs. They were shutout twice by freshman goalie Hunter Miska.

With the win, the Fighting Hawks pole-vault to ninth place in the Pairwise Ranking and will be playing in the West Regional Championship next weekend in Fargo, ND.

“It was the first win here at the Target Center in a long time and again, we’re very grateful for it,” UND coach Brad Berry said. “We’re fighting for our lives and our guys played like it. “We’re looking forward to tomorrow (night’s game against the Bulldogs).”

The games between the Pioneers and the Fighting Hawks have been close. How close you ask? Per UND Sports Information Director, Jayson Hajdu, “North Dakota and Denver have played eight full periods plus one five-minute overtime this year; it’s been tied or a one-goal game for every minute of it.

Through two periods, the Fighting Hawks and the Pioneers looked like two heavyweights ready to go 15 rounds.

Finally, at the 2:30 mark of the third period junior forward Austin Poganski scored to give UND a 1-0 lead. That was all UND needed.

“I think he (Colton Poolman) was trying to put it on the net there it and might have got deflected or whatever,” Poganski said. “It hit the back wall and it came off kind of lively. I was just driving the net to see if I could get a rebound. It came out to me and I put it away.”

The Fighting Hawks would hold onto their one goal lead and win the game 1-0. Johnson stopped all 21 shots that he faced. It was Johnson’s first shutout since November 19, 2016. With the shutout against the Pioneers, Johnson now has nine career shutouts, he tied for fourth all-time with former UND goalie Aaron Dell.  In 11 playoff games, Johnson is 9-1-1.

UMD 5 Western 2

The game started off slowly. There was very little flow. To quote CBC’s Don Cherry: “fans don’t come to a hockey game to watch the officials call a game.” That being said, it was apparent, the refs were going to call this game closely. And they did. In the first period, there was a parade to the penalty box. The Broncos were whistled for four minor penalties. The Bulldogs committed three minor penalties.

Broncos head coach Andy Murray said, there were more penalties called in the first period of Friday’s semifinal game than there were in last weekend’s three-games series between the Broncos and Nebraska-Omaha. “Two per team, each game, he said.”

In the first period, the Bulldogs were the better team and escaped with a 2-1 lead after one period of play.

Defining moment.

To start the second period, the Broncos started to make a push. At times, the Broncos had the Bulldogs on their heels. The Bulldogs would weather the storm.

At the 13:59 mark of the second period, Broncos junior forward Frederik Tiffles thought he’d scored the game-tying goal, but after a lengthy review by the on-ice officials, it was ruled that the Broncos interfered with Bulldog goalie Hunter Miska. The ruling: a Bronco player had skated behind Miska and inferred with him. Even though the Broncos player appeared to get out of the crease in time, it didn’t matter. The officials waved the goal off.

At the 07:00 mark of the second period, Broncos Colt Conrad would finally score the game-tying goal. Now, imagine if the disallowed goal had counted it could have been a much different result. However, in the end, it didn’t really matter, the second period would end just like the first period, with the Bulldogs leading 3-2.

Bulldogs wear down Broncos

On Friday, when the Bulldogs needed them most, senior forwards Dominic Toninato, Kyle Osterberg, and Alex Iafallo stepped up and scored beautiful highlight-reel goals for their team. The Bulldogs were in the blue paint all day long and made Western’s All-NCHC Rookie goalie Ben Blacker look like a third stringer.

As the game progressed, the Bulldogs began to get behind the Broncos defense regularly. The Bulldogs wore down the Broncos with their tenacious forecheck and would finally put the game out of reach with a beautiful goal from sophomore forward Parker Mackay. Duluth forward Adam Johnson took a pass from Osterberg and he waited for the Western Defenseman to go sliding by. Johnson then fed MacKay a beautiful pass and he tapped it into the back of the net. Dagger!

The Bulldogs like the Hawks are going for their first NCHC Frozen Faceoff Championship.

About The Author

College Hockey Writer, Contributing Editor

Eric Burton is a 1996, 1999 graduate of the University of North Dakota. Eric covers college hockey and the University of North Dakota for Inside Hockey. Eric is the editor of the SIN BIN. Lastly, Eric was the college hockey writer for The Hockey Writers.

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