Denver in Frozen Four finale, beats Michigan in overtime

BOSTON — Denver defeated Michigan 3-2 in overtime in the Frozen Four men’s semifinal on Thursday, advancing to Saturday night’s ice hockey national championship game at Boston’s TD Garden.

Carter Savoie’s goal with 5:07 remaining in the first overtime won the game for the Pioneers.

The Pioneers will face the winner of the other semifinal between Minnesota and Minnesota State. It’s Denver’s first appearance in a championship game since 2018, when it won the title.

Denver, the No. 4 seed in the tournament, is seeking its ninth men’s hockey championship in program history, which would tie Michigan for the most in NCAA Division I history.

The overtime winner came as a result of a sloppy play by Michigan in their own zone. The Wolverines tried to transition on offense before securing the puck. Denver picked up the ball and leading scorer Bobby Brink’s pass from the right corner was converted by Savoie in front of the net, sending the Pioneers into a celebration and the top-seeded Wolverines home.

The game between the Pioneers and the Wolverines was not the offensive shootout that many expected. Instead, it was an intense battle between two talented, deep teams that stretched beyond regulation.

Denver took a 1-0 lead with 8:38 left in the first period on a goal by Brett Stapley, his 17th of the season. Defenseman Justin Lee fired the puck from the tip. With a Pioneers player at the gate, goalkeeper Erik Portillo deflected the shot into the slot. That’s where Stapley picked it up and with Portillo colliding with his center Matty Beniers, shoved into the open net for Denver’s lead.

The Pioneers scored a goal before Michigan recorded a shot on goal, with the Wolverines finally putting a puck on Denver goaltender Magnus Chrona with 3:56 remaining in the first.

Michigan coach Mel Pearson’s message to his players after Wednesday’s practice was “focus on the start and be ready.” The first period ended with Denver having the lead, and the Pioneers were 20-1-1 when scoring first and 15-0-1 when leading after the first period.

The Wolverines tied the game 1-1 with 15:57 remaining in the second period on a Jimmy Lambert goal. Right wing Nolan Moyle made a clever play to control the puck on a zone tackle, sparking a Michigan cycle with senior linemates Garrett Van Whye and Lambert. The puck eventually returned to Nolan behind the Denver net, and he fed Lambert up front for the tying goal, his sixth of the season.

Michigan pressed for the next few minutes of the period but struggled to execute, including four offside plays and an odd man run denied when Portillo lost his helmet after making a stop. Denver finished the period with a 16-9 shooting advantage as the Pioneers failed to capitalize on the teams only power play opportunity in the period.

The Pioneers took the lead with 14:24 remaining in the third period. The puck was returned to defender Mike Benning at the correct spot, who hit a wrist shot that Wright deflected and passed to Portillo. He was the senior winger’s 22nd goal of the season in 40 matches.

But Michigan tied the game 2-2 with 10:51 remaining in the third. The play began with a Mark Estapa block on a shot by Denver defenseman Antti Tuomisto. Michigan’s Michael Pastukhov sped down the wing. His pass to the middle of the ice was deflected, but second-year forward Thomas Bordeleau cleverly slowed his progress to hit the bouncing puck and tie it.

The Wolverines ended with a power play from Denver after forward Brendan Brisson’s tackle penalty. With 5:31 left in the game, freshman forward Mackie Samoskevich received a whistle for holding, prompting boos from the sizable number of Michigan fans in the stands. But the Wolverines killed that too.

The loss sends Michigan into an offseason of uncertainty. The Wolverines have seven players who were selected in the first round of the NHL draft, including four of the top five picks in the 2021 draft. Defenseman Owen Power, the first overall pick, is expected to sign with the Buffalo Sabers after of the NCAA tournament. Head coach Mel Pearson also has no contract beyond this season.

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