ST. PAUL, Minn. — Ben Winnett’s first-period goal gave defensive-minded Michigan an early edge and Shawn Hunwick made 40 saves for his fourth shutout this season, leading Michigan to a 2-0 victory over North Dakota on Thursday night in the NCAA semifinals.
Scooter Vaughan added an empty-netter with 35.8 seconds left to lift the Wolverines (29-10-4) to the national championship game. They will meet Minnesota Duluth on Saturday night. The Bulldogs beat Notre Dame 4-3 in the other semifinal at Xcel Energy Center, the home of the NHL’s Minnesota Wild.
The game was extra-physical, particularly in the first period while the Wolverines used their rugged, disciplined defense to set a sharp tone that persisted throughout the night.
They didn’t budge in front of the net, shutting down North Dakota star Matt Frattin and his high-scoring friends despite being outshot 40-20. The Fighting Sioux (32-9-3) saw their 15-game unbeaten streak end in crushing fashion.
The tight group of seniors who stuck together for four years instead of turning pro saw their college careers come to a sudden end after a dominant performance in the regional that made the Sioux the popular pick to win it all. North Dakota beat Rensselaer and Denver by a combined 12-1 score last weekend.
With two-dozen NHL draft picks between the teams, this was a classic matchup of college hockey powers. Michigan’s 34 NCAA tournament appearances, 24 Frozen Four trips and nine national championships are the most of any school. North Dakota has seven titles, tied with Denver for second place.
Though both teams made it to the Frozen Four in 2008 and coach Dave Hakstol has led the Fighting Sioux to the national semifinals five times in seven seasons, the success in the last decade hasn’t been as frequent — at least by their standards — for either side.
Michigan’s last title was 1998. North Dakota’s was 2000.
The crowd — announced as an overflow sellout of 19,139 customers — was awash in bright green and white shirts and jerseys to give North Dakota a noisy advantage with a steady serenade of pro-Sioux chants. The campus in Grand Forks is a five-hour drive from St. Paul, where North Dakota won the Western Collegiate Hockey Association playoff championship last month.
The only remaining No. 1 seed in the tournament and the second-highest scoring team in the nation at 4.14 goals per game, the star-studded Sioux lines generated plenty of quality chances to score but were out of control at times, particularly on the power play. Hunwick made huge save after huge save, seeming to frustrate the North Dakota skaters.
There were plenty of loud groans from the green-clad fans, sharing that angst.
Winnett gave the Wolverines the lead when he grabbed a rebound in the slot and zipped it past North Dakota goalie Aaron Dell from the right circle just 6:34 into the game, Winnett’s first goal since late December. Jon Merrill’s slap shot, denied by Dell but uncovered, started the flurry.
Hunwick, who took over as the starter on Dec. 11, has anchored a stout back-end unit. The Wolverines led the Central Collegiate Hockey Association in scoring defense, and Hunwick’s goals-against average was 1.95 in league play. He had a run of 43 straight saves in the regional last weekend and is 20-5 this season.
There was a scary moment midway through the opening frame when Fighting Sioux freshman forward Brock Nelson slammed back-first into the boards after a clean-but-hard hit check by Michigan captain Luke Glendening. Nelson was taken away on a stretcher and to a hospital as a precaution with what North Dakota called an upper-body injury.
In the first game,J.T. Brown had a goal and an assist to help Minnesota-Duluth beat Notre Dame 4-3, propelling the Bulldogs to their second national title game in school history.
Mike Connolly, Jack Connolly and Kyle Schmidt also scored and the Bulldogs (25-10-6) survived being outshot 15-2 in the third period to get past Notre Dame (25-14-5). Ken Reiter overcame a shaky start to make 31 saves.
Jeff Costello, T.J. Tynan and Calle Ridderwall scored for the Fighting Irish, with Ridderwall connecting short-handed early in the third period to cut it to one. But the Irish couldn’t come up with the tying goal in a furious final 2 minutes and went 0 for 5 on the power play.
Justin Faulk and Justin Fontaine each had three assists for slick-passing UMD, which lost a four-overtime thriller to Bowling Green in the 1984 final.
The game got off to a blistering start, with both goaltenders giving up fairly soft goals. Notre Dame was on the board in less than 20 seconds when Costello easily beat Reiter on the short side.
The Bulldogs got back in the game with superior puck movement on the power play, with Brown sweeping a pass from Faulk past Mike Johnson, who made 17 saves.
Tynan scored when the puck took a wicked bounce off the boards behind Reiter, but UMD scored the final two goals of the period — one by Schmidt and another by Mike Connolly on the power play — to take a 3-2 lead into the first break.
Reiter appeared to settle down a bit as the game went on, stopping Tynan on a breakaway at the end of the first period and then benefiting from smothering defense in the second.
The Bulldogs held Notre Dame to just four shots in the second period, including none on two power plays to keep the heat off their streaky goalie.
The bigger, younger Irish were having difficulty keeping the smaller, quicker Bulldogs in front of them, and they took six penalties while chasing them around the ice. Jack Connolly scored UMD’s third power-play goal of the game on a beautiful cross-ice feed from Brown to make it 4-2.
Ridderwall’s short-handed goal just over 2 minutes into the final period gave Notre Dame new life, and the Irish peppered Reiter for the rest of the game, but only at even strength. They had another power play with under 9 minutes to play, but once again failed to register a shot.
They used six skaters for the final minute, but Reiter came up with just enough to keep the puck out of the net.