Denver outlasts Minnesota Duluth to win national championship
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Jarid Lukosevicius scored three goals in the second period to give Denver a 3-2 victory over Minnesota Duluth in the NCAA hockey championship on Saturday night at the United Center. It’s the program’s eighth title and first in 12 years.
The Pioneers lost to North Dakota in the semifinals of the Frozen Four last season. Captain Will Butcher said the team used that as motivation.
“After that loss, it seemed like everyone was focused from that day on to be committed to excellence and stick to the process,” Butcher said.
Lukosevicius lit the lamp three times in 7:39, the third-fastest three goals by a player in championship game history.
He scored his first just under five minutes into the period. Pioneers fans were still celebrating when Lukosevicius scored 16 seconds later.
The Bulldogs responded when Alex Iafallo tipped the puck in off a feed from Joey Anderson on the power play. But Lukosevicius answered, becoming the first player to score a hat trick in a championship game since his coach, Jim Montgomery, did it for Maine in 1993.
Lukosevicius said it was all about being in the right place. He also said he wasn’t aware that his coach did it 24 years ago and joked that he’s going to start following in Montgomery’s footsteps.
“Now I guess it’s my time to start balding,” Lukosevicius said.
But Pioneers fans’ excitement was tempered in the third period when Tariq Hammond was brutally checked into the boards behind Denver’s goal, leaving him down on the ice.
After a few minutes, Hammond was carried off the ice on a stretcher. But before he got to center ice, the Pioneers swarmed around him and told him they were going to win the game for him.
Hammond didn’t return to the ice until after the game with the help of his teammates so he could celebrate with everyone. Montgomery said he wasn’t surprised knowing the type of person Hammond is.
“I was overcome with emotion when I saw him come back on the ice,” Montgomery said. “It says a lot about his character. He’s an incredible teammate … He was really emotional, but he keeps saying, ‘We did it. We did it.’ … He’s going to be wearing a letter next year.”
Montgomery said he believes Hammond has a broken ankle and said it took three orthopedics to put it back in place.
Minnesota Duluth didn’t have a shot on goal until over six minutes into the game, but the Bulldogs outshot the Pioneers 40-28.
The Bulldogs gained momentum in the third period and kept the puck in Denver’s territory. The Pioneers were held to just three shots on goal in the period.
Avery Peterson’s shot rang off the post for the Bulldogs, but Riley Tufte scored on a rebound, pulling Minnesota Duluth within one.
Bulldogs coach Scott Sandelin said he was proud that his team played with resiliency.
“I thought our guys went out there and played the best they could,” Sandelin said. ‘‘The effort, you know, they went after it. I don’t know, maybe we lost all our puck luck with Harvard.’’
Minnesota Duluth will say its farewells to seven seniors, including Iafallo, who led the team with 21 goals and 52 points.
Denver also loses seven seniors, including Butcher, who is the No. 1 defenseman in the nation with 37 points and 82 blocked shots.
Follow me on Twitter @madkenney.