Frozen Four meltdown for Notre Dame hockey

Steve Lowe
Tribune Correspondent

CHICAGO — Denver showed why it's considered the best college hockey team in the country late Thursday night against Notre Dame in Chicago.

The Pioneers spoiled No. 4 seed Notre Dame's return to the Frozen Four with a dominating 6-1 win at the United Center to advance to Saturday's national championship game.

Dylan Gambrell scored twice and Tariq Hammond had a goal and two assists for the top-seeded Pioneers, who were in control from the outset. 

Denver scored five goals through the first two periods on the slower, shell-shocked Irish, and outshot ND by a whopping 42-17 margin.

"They seemed like a team on a mission," said Notre Dame coach Jeff Jackson. "You give them their due. They're a great team and I don't think we played as well as we're capable of playing."

Denver (32-7-4) will face Minnesota-Duluth, in search of its eighth national championship. The Bulldogs advanced with a 2-1 win over Harvard in the first semifinal, with the game-winning goal coming off the stick of Alex Iafallo with 26.6 seconds left.

Notre Dame (23-12-5) looked slow out of the gate, with Denver skating circles around the ND zone for extended periods before Emil Romig fired one in over Irish goalie Cal Petersen's left shoulder, just over eight minutes into the first period.

"We weren't making good plays coming out of our zone," Jackson said. "If you don't do that, you're going to be forced to play defense, and we did. We were chasing too much."

With 5:10 to go in the first, freshman phenom Henrik Borgstrom scored his 22nd goal of the year as the speedy Pioneers made 5-on-5 action look more like a power play.

Denver outshot Notre Dame, 13-3, in the first period, and none of those three Irish shots were real scoring chances.

"They're just really fast," Petersen said. "They use their speed. They were on us whenever somebody had the puck, when there was an outlet pass, they swarmed on us pretty good.

"It looks like they executed their game plan well and I think we were just a little bit overwhelmed by it."

Notre Dame's best highlights in the second period were a big hit early on by defenseman and Chicago Blackhawks prospect Dennis Gilbert, and a nice solo move by Anders Bjork to create a scoring chance. But that was Bjork's only shot on goal for the game as the Irish did little else, and it only got uglier from there.

With just under six minutes left in the second, defenseman Luke Ripley fell down, leading to a 2-on-1 Denver rush, which resulted in a Tariq Hammond goal and a 3-0 Pioneers lead.

"I felt we were turning a corner and then we had a defenseman fall down, and then everything changed," Jackson said. "That third goal was the killer."

Dylan Gambrell then scored on a wraparound two minutes later, Evan Ritt added a ringing top-shelf goal to make it 5-0, and the rout was on with still one more period to play.

The Irish finally broke through when Cam Morrison tipped in a Jordan Gross point shot on the power play with 8:36 to play.

Petersen, making his 90th consecutive start in net for Notre Dame, finished with 36 saves on 42 shots. The junior captain's starting streak is the fourth longest in NCAA Division I history, but there's a chance it was his last as the Buffalo Sabres are expected to make a hard push to sign their 2013 fifth round draft pick.

Petersen said after the loss he hasn't thought much yet about his next step.

Bjork, the Northeast Regional's Most Outstanding Player, may also have played his last game in an Irish uniform, and could soon be wearing Boston Bruins colors.

"It's something I'm going to have to think about," Bjork said. "I'm going to talk to my coaches and family and see their opinions and thoughts."

FIRST PERIOD

DU - Emil Romig, 9 (Colin Staub, Michael Davies) 8:18; DU - Henrik Borgstrom, 22 (Will Butcher, Liam Finlay) 14:50. Shots on goal: DU 13, ND 3; Penalties: None.

SECOND PERIOD

DU - Tariq Hammond, 3 (Evan Janssen, Logan O'Connor) 14:07; DU - Dylan Gambrell, 12 (Hammond, Troy Terry) 16:27; DU - Evan Ritt, 2 (Staub) 18:18. Shots: DU 16, ND 8; Penalties: None.

THIRD PERIOD

ND - Cam Morrison, 12 (Jordan Gross, Jake Evans) PP, 11:24; DU - Gambrell, 13 (Terry, Hammond) 16:42. Shots: DU 13, ND 6; Penalties: ND 2-4, ND 1-2.

DU 2 3 1 - 6

ND 0 0 1 - 1

Shots: DU 42, ND 17; Saves: ND 36 (Cal Petersen), DU 16 (Tanner Jaillet); Power plays: ND 1-1, DU 0-2; Penalties: ND 2-4, DU 1-2; Attendance: 19,626.

Notre Dame goalie Cal Petersen, left, gives up a goal to Denver's Tariq Hammond during the second period of an NCAA Frozen Four men's college hockey semifinal, Thursday, April 6, 2017, in Chicago. (AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh)