The number-1 ranked Quinnipiac University Bobcats came up a game short in its quest for a first NCAA Div. 1 hockey title.
After a thrilling 3-2 victory over Boston College in the semifinal on Thursday, Quinnipiac advanced to the final against third-ranked North Dakota but could not keep up the pace falling to the Fighting Hawks 5-1 on Saturday.
“I think what North Dakota showed tonight is they were the better team,” said Quinnipiac coach Rand Pecknold on the USCHO website. “It doesn’t mean we couldn’t beat them. But that’s the best team in college hockey. They are just loaded with talent, they backcheck, the goalie was great, [Cam] Johnson was excellent.”
Former Trail Smoke Eater centerman Travis St. Denis assisted on two of the three goals against BC in the semifinal, including Landon Smith’s game winner 4:32 into the second period to give Quinnipiac a 3-1 lead. The Bobcats then held on in the third as Prince George native Michael Garteig stopped 34 of 36 shots for the win and the team’s second berth in the Frozen Four final in four years.
But North Dakota came out strong, jumping out to a 2-0 lead on goals from Shane Gersich and the eventual winner on a short-handed marker by Brock Boeser. The Fighting Hawks’ centerman picked up an errant clearing attempt by Garteig and slid it into the open net with less than six minutes to play in the opening period. Boeser counted a goal and added three assists on the night as his line of Drake Caggiula and Nick Schmaltz were dominant accounting for three of the five ND goals and seven points on the night.
The Bobcats cut the lead to one on the power play. With the face off deep in the North Dakota zone, St. Denis won it cleanly sending it back to Tim Clifton who fed a perfect pass to brother Conner at the far hash mark, and the New Jersey native one-timed the pass top shelf on Johnson with 1:07 to play in the first frame.
Neither team got on the board in the second, although each had chances. Caggiula was stopped on a breakaway for North Dakota at 4:22, while Bobcats leading scorer Sam Anas beat North Dakota goaltender Cam Johnson (32 saves) but rang his shot off the right post at 7:13. Anas was hindered by a shoulder injury throughout the championship run, and the ND players took shots at the injury on every occasion.
With the Fighting Hawks clinging to a 2-1 lead after 40 minutes, Caggiula, the tournament’s Most Outstanding Player, took the game over early in the third, scoring twice in 2:20 to blow the game open.
“During the [second] intermission, we talked about keeping the foot on the gas,” Caggiula told a USCHO reporter after the game. “We came out and I think we put the gas full throttle there. We wanted to get the next goal. We wanted to push back and make it as hard for them as possible.
“We got two early goals there. From there, we just kept rolling and rolling; we had the momentum.”
Austin Poganski closed out the scoring mid-way through the third period, while the North Dakota faithful cheered wildly.
St. Denis, in his senior year, was hoping to go out with an NCAA championship, but for the 23-year-old Trail native the experience at Quinnipiac and the Bobcats’ unprecedented success is one he’ll treasure for a life time.
“The past four years has been the best four years of my life,” said St. Denis at the post-game news conference. “And you have to give credit to the coaching staff, and all past and present players. They created a culture, and it’s our job to maintain it. The culture in our dressing room is just unbelievable.”
“In the end I was really proud of our guys and how hard they competed all year long,” said Pecknold. “Four losses in 43 games is phenomenal, I think it’s been about 19 – 20 years since a team’s done that. It’s a real credit to our locker room … to do what we did this year is special.”