Boston – Denver defeated Michigan 3-2 in overtime of the men’s Frozen Four semifinals on Thursday, to advance to the National Ice Hockey Championship game Saturday night at TD Garden in Boston.
Carter Savoy’s goal with 5:07 left in the first overtime won the Pioneers match.
The Pioneers will face the winner of another semi-final between Minnesota and Minnesota State. It’s Denver’s first championship match since 2018, when she won the title.
Denver, ranked No. 4 in the tournament, is seeking a ninth men’s hockey championship in program history, which would tie Michigan in NCAA Division I history.
The overtime winner came as a result of a sloppy play by Michigan in its own district. Wolverines tried to go on the attack before the disk was locked. Denver collected turnover, and top scorer Bobby Brink’s pass was converted from the right corner by Savoy at the front of the net, sending the Pioneers into a celebration for the top-ranked Wolverine.
The match between the Pioneers and the Wolverines was not the offensive penalty shootout many expected. Instead, it was an intense battle between two talented and profound teams that spilled over into the previous regulations.
Denver led 1-0 with 8:38 left in the first half on Brett Stapley’s goal, his 17th of the season. Defender Justin Lee fired the puck off point. With a Pioneers player on his doorstep, goalkeeper Erik Portillo turned the shot into the hole. That’s where Stable collected, Portillo hit his quarterback Mattie Penners, and poked into the open net for Denver’s lead.
The Pioneers scored before Michigan scored a shot on target, as the Wolverines finally put a disc on Denver goalkeeper Magnus Crona with 3:56 left.
Michigan coach Mel Pearson’s message to his players after training on Wednesday was to “focus on starting and preparing.” The first half ended with Denver’s advantage, and the pioneers were 20-1-1 when they scored the first goal and 15-0-1 in the lead after the first half.
The Wolverines team held the match with a 1-1 draw, leaving the time at 15:57 in the second half with a goal by Jimmy Lambert. Right winger Nolan Muyl put on a superb display of discus control as he entered the area, igniting the Michigan tournament with fellow seniors Garrett Van Way and Lambert. The disc eventually returned to Nolan behind the Denver net, and fired Lambert in front to score the equalizer, his sixth of the season.
Michigan pressed in the next few minutes of the period but struggled with execution, including four offside games and a one-on-one rush that was invalidated when Portillo lost his helmet after a save. Denver finished the period with a 16-9 shot advantage, as the pioneers didn’t take advantage of the teams’ only playing opportunity in that period.
The Pioneers took the lead with 14:24 remaining in the third game. The ball was returned to defender Mike Benning at the correct point, whose wrist shot deflected Wright past Portillo. This was the 22nd goal of the first winger this season in 40 games.
But Michigan tied 2-2 with 10:51 remaining in the third set. The play began with a sprawling shot by Marc Estapa with a shot from Denver defender Ante Tomsto. Michael Pastogov of Michigan sprinted toward the ward. His pass veered into the middle of the ice, but his sophomore striker Thomas Bordello cleverly slowed his lead in order to take advantage of the rebounding puck for an equaliser.
The Wolverines killed a power game in Denver after forward Brendan Bryson’s penalty kick was on board. With 5:31 left, new striker Maki Samoskevic was left with a whistle for his comment and boos from a large number of Michigan fans in the stands. But the Wolverines killed that, too.
The loss sends Michigan into off-season uncertainty. The Wolverines have seven players selected in the first round of the NHL draft, including four of the first five selections in the 2021 draft. Defensesman Owen Power, ranked No. 1 overall, is expected to sign the Buffalo Sabers after the NCAA Championship. Pearson also does not have a contract beyond this season.