MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — North Dakota goalie Cam Johnson’s season has mirrored that of the defending NCAA national hockey champion Fighting Hawks: up and down.
Both were on top of their games Friday as Johnson made 21 saves to help North Dakota beat No. 1-ranked Denver 1-0 in the semifinals of the National Collegiate Hockey Conference semifinals.
After three straight semifinal losses at the Frozen Faceoff, the 11th-ranked Fighting Hawks will play Minnesota Duluth on Saturday in their first championship game appearance. The Bulldogs beat the defending national champions all four games in the regular season.
“Finally we ended that curse,” Johnson said. “The past couple years we haven’t done too well here. We’re playing well right now.”
The win likely clinched North Dakota’s 15th straight appearance in the upcoming national tournament, beginning next weekend at the West Regional in Fargo.
Denver goalie Tanner Jaillet was equally impressive. The only goal he allowed could be considered a fluke by Austin Poganski just 2:20 into the third period. Jaillet made 23 saves.
Poganski’s game-winner extended the Fighting Hawks’ (21-14-3) winning streak to a season-best five games and snapped the Pioneers’ (28-7-4) winning streak at 13 games.
UND also won five straight games to start the season.
“Our guys are playing the right way and we’re doing the right things and we’re getting rewarded,” Johnson said. “It’s guys buying in, guys doing what they’re good at, guys sticking to their roles. We’re just doing the little things.”
Defenses dominated throughout. Johnson made 21 saves, including a game-high nine in the third period. Jaillet had 10 stops in the second period.
UND was 0-for-4 on the power plays, while Denver went 0-for-3.
Poganski found himself in the right place at the right time early in the third period. Colton Poolman’s shot from the left point drew Jaillet to the side of the net. But the shot was wide left and careened off the boards to Poganski skating down the right side. Poganski had an open net and didn’t miss.
Earlier, Denver’s Henrik Borgstrom missed a wide-open net in the first period and teammate Dylan Gambrel clanked a shot off the crossbar in the second.
Johnson’s highlight-reel save with 11:11 to play preserved the Fighting Hawks’ one-goal lead.