Michigan earns title-game berth
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 against North Dakota on Thursday night in the Frozen Four 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 (7 p.m. ET, ESPN). 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.
Frattin made a nifty wrist pass to captain Chad Genoway in the second period, but his slot shot was swatted away by Hunwick, one of seven Wolverines seniors who actually started their college careers on this same ice in October 2007 when they played in a mini-tournament hosted by Minnesota.
Then Danny Kristo had another chance from close range that couldn't get past Hunwick, yet another missed opportunity for the Sioux, who outshot the Wolverines 11-3 in the middle frame.
North Dakota had a fourth power play midway through the third period, managing only one shot, and that was from the blue line. Michigan has killed 16 of 17 penalties in the NCAA tournament so far.
Dell was pulled with 1:12 left, giving the Sioux an extra skater, but they couldn't punch one in and Vaughan sealed it a few seconds later.