Men’s ice hockey falls to North Dakota in national championship

Max Molski

North Dakota topped Quinnipiac men’s ice hockey 4-1 in the 2015 West Regional Semifinal at Scheels Arena in Fargo, N.D. last March.

Then Quinnipiac bounced back in 2015-2016 by winning the ECAC regular season title, ECAC Tournament and reaching its second ever Frozen Four as it set a program record in wins in a season (32).

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On Saturday night, Quinnipiac and North Dakota met up again, this time in front of 19,358 at Amalie Arena in Tampa, in the NCAA National Championship Game.

Much like the last matchup, the Bobcats could not topple the perennial power.

North Dakota defeated Quinnipiac 5-1 en route to its eighth national title. While the Fighting Hawks flung their gloves into the air and raced onto the ice to celebrate their championship, the Bobcats watched from the bench as they fell to 0-2 in national championship games.

“We needed some breaks, and we just didn’t get them,” Quinnipiac head coach Rand Pecknold said. “But in the end, I’m just really proud of our guys and how hard they compete all year long. Four losses in 43 games is phenomenal.”

North Dakota got on the board 11:56 into the game as Shane Gersich knocked in a backhanded rebound past Quinnipiac goaltender Michael Garteig.

Quinnipiac got its first power play of the game with 6:41 left in the period. The Bobcats entered the game with the fourth-best power play in the country (27.5 percent), but it was the Fighting Hawks that struck on the opportunity. Garteig left the crease to clear a puck but sent it right into Brock Boeser, North Dakota’s leading scorer. The Vancouver Canucks draft pick sent the puck into the wide-open net and gave the Fighting Hawks a 2-0 lead with 5:44 left in the first.

The play marked North Dakota’s third shorthanded goal against Quinnipiac over the last two seasons after scoring two in last season’s NCAA West Regional matchup.

The Bobcats salvaged a goal in the period after cross-checking penalties on North Dakota’s Drake Caggiula and Troy Stecher. Travis St. Denis kicked a faceoff out to Connor Clifton and he sent it to the other side of the net to brother Tim Clifton. Tim blasted a one-timer over North Dakota’s Cam Johnson for his tenth power-play goal of the season and brought the game to 2-1 with 1:07 left in the period.

The two teams played to a scoreless second period. North Dakota nearly doubled its lead when Cagguila came out of the penalty box, plowed through an official and started a breakaway chance on Garteig. However, Garteig stymied Cagguila and kept the game at 2-1 going into the third period.

“I thought we played a strong second period,” Garteig said. “And, I mean, I guess maybe after that save, yeah, maybe a little bit of momentum shift, but in reality I thought we had a really strong second.”

Drake Caggiula, who entered Saturday night’s championship with a 12-game point streak, capped off North Dakota’s victory with two goals in the third period.

He scored his first goal of the night 1:21 into the period when took a cross-ice pass from Nick Schmaltz and got a fluttering one-timer past Garteig.

Caggiula struck against just 2:20 later. Boeser led a rush up the ice and left a pass for Caggiula, who flicks a bullet past Garteig for his 25th goal of the season.

The two-goal performance helped Caggiula earn the Most Outstanding player on the Frozen Four All-Tournament Team. Yet, the senior forward said the individual award would be nothing without Boeser and Schmaltz, his peers on the daunting “CBS line”, and the rest of the North Dakota program.

“To win that award, it is a special thing for me,” Cagguila said. “But I couldn’t be there without my teammates, my coaches, family and all my friends and whoever supports me.”

Austin Poganski iced North Dakota’s championship cake by wristing a rebound past Garteig with 9:11 left in the game.

Pecknold opted not to pull Garteig as the clock bled on Quinnipiac’s title hopes. “Sioux Forever” chants filled Amalie Arena as time wound down and North Dakota claimed its first national title since 2000.

“It feels great. We openly talk about winning championships and trying to be the best that we could be every single night,” North Dakota head coach Brad Berry said. “To finally complete that and do that, it’s an accolade or team award that we’ll cherish for a long time.”

Quinnipiac’s senior class exits the team with 109 wins, second-most in the NCAA since 2012-2013 to North Dakota’s 110. After reaching a lone NCAA Tournament in 2002, Quinnipiac has made it in each of the last four seasons.

Those numbers have built the Quinnipiac program as a nationwide name. When Quinnipiac played North Dakota last March, ESPN put “(CT)” next to the school’s name.

On Thursday night, Quinnipiac was a trending topic on Facebook. Senior captain Soren Jonzzon says that he and the rest of the seniors take pride in the legacy they have left for the program and the school.

“I think when we came in, the seniors were fantastic and they really started the culture and showed us, kind of showed us the ropes, and just kind of come our role to pass that culture on,” Jonzzon said. “You see the way that we play and the way that guys battle and compete for each other, and I think that it’s a special thing and we’re so proud of it.”

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