Boston, MA – The Denver Pioneers vanquished the nation’s #1 seed Michigan Wolverines in overtime on Carter Savoie‘s rebound strike at 14:53 to send the Pioneers to their first NCAA Championship since winning it all in 2017.
“I think they turned the puck over at the top, near the blue line. I tried passing it down to Bob (Brink) and it hit a skate. He ended up getting it back,” said Savoie of the lead up to his game-winning goal. “Then obviously that pass Bob made was pretty unbelievable. Right through that guy’s legs. Got the first shot. Then got the rebound there.”
“No words to describe it. Best feeling ever,” said the 5’-10″ sophomore from St. Albert, Alberta.
The expected track meet between two of the nation’s top offensive teams never materialized as the Pioneers limited the Wolverines to just 21 shots through almost 75 minutes of action. Magnus Chrona (19 saves) didn’t have a ton of work to do but when he did, the Denver goalie made sure to shut the door on Michigan.
“It was a really good hockey game. I thought both teams checked really well. There wasn’t a lot of ice, it didn’t seem. And it was an entertaining game,” said Denver head coach David Carle. “We’re obviously excited to be on the positive end. Give Michigan credit. I thought they adjusted well throughout the game. Made it harder on us.”
“I give our players a ton of credit for, again, sticking with it, winning another one-goal hockey game,” added the fourth-year coach. “We tied in the third period. It took us a little longer tonight than it did in Loveland, but our guys stuck with it and got the job done and we’re still in Boston through Saturday.”
The Pioneers carried play for the majority of the first period. Denver took advantage of that momentum and earned the 1-0 lead at 11:22 of the period when Brett Stapley backhanded a rebound past Erik Portillo (30 saves) for his 17th. Stapley gathered a Justin Lee shot attempt and deposited it past an outstretched Portillo to kick off the Frozen Four scoring.
The Wolverines did not get their first shot on goal until the 3:53 mark of the opening period.
“I thought we handled them very well. I loved the team defense,” said Carle of the Pioneers’ pressure. “Everybody, to a man, was up. They were angling, taking away time and space. Making life hard on them. And obviously when mistakes did happen, Magnus was there to shut the door and make a couple really big saves.”
“The first period, they had the third guy back all the time. And we tried to carry the puck through that. They created too many turnovers, especially in the danger zones, the blue line, the top of the circles,” said Michigan coach Mel Pearson. “As the game wore on, we got a little better with our puck possession, started to make some plays, got a little more comfortable. But they played desperately. And with the layers and the blocking of the shots, they took a lot away from us. And we just would dump it back in the corner and reload and grind.”
“They’re just structurally really good defensively. Everybody thought this might be a high-scoring game. But both teams played solid defensively. And the goaltending was great,too. They check. That’s their MO. And everything starts off their defense offensively and they worked hard tonight. They really made it difficult on us,” said Pearson.
The Wolverines found their mojo in the second period as they controlled the play the way Denver did in the first. Michigan tied the game 1-1 at 4:03 when Jimmy Lambert deposited a Nolan Moyle feed from the goal line past Chrona. Moyle made the play happen after taking the puck to the net where Chrona made the stop, but Moyle outhustled Pioneers defenseman Sean Behrens for the puck to set up Lambert’s sixth.
Denver pulled ahead again on a Cameron Wright tip-in on Mike Benning‘s shot from the blue line in the third period. Wright’s 22nd at 5:36 briefly gave the Pioneers a push as Michigan has recently struggled in the third period.
The Wolverines answered at 9:09 when Thomas Bordeleau banged in a rebound of a Michael Pastujov bid in front of the Pioneers’ goal. A blocked shot at the Michigan blue line by Wolverines forward Mark Estapa sent Pastujov off to the races before Bordeleau scooped the rebound into the Denver net for his 12th.
“We only needed one shot. It’s one shot. We were in the game. We hadn’t played our best. As the game wore on, I thought we got better and better versus some games recently that we got worse as the game went on,” said Pearson of Michigan’s third-period play. “But we were right there, one goal. The message was to keep playing, play our game and get everything to the net. There’s no bad shot in overtime. And we had it. I thought the first five minutes there especially, or maybe the first ten, that we were the better team. We couldn’t get pucks through them or to the net or get a bounce or a break.”
The overtime momentum swing was in the Wolverines’ favor through the first half of extra time, when Chrona shined brightest for the Pioneers.
“I thought Magnus was unbelievable in that overtime,” said senior forward Ryan Barrow. “He kind of let us get our feet settled there.”
Carle agreed that his last line of defense was tremendous all night but extra special in overtime.
“Obviously the (Brendan) Brisson save in overtime and the (Luke) Hughes save in overtime were exceptional and kept us in the hockey game,” said Carle. “It allowed Sav (Carter Savoie) to put one in the back of the net for us and send us to the championship game.”
Barrow concurred with his coach adding, “our best players made a play.”
That’s when Savoie and Brink connected to advance the Pioneers into the promised land.
— PuckingOff™ (Jason Scales) (@PuckingOff) April 8, 2022
“His game is continuing to develop and improve to where we can put him out in really big moments,” said Carle of Savoie and his play. “The goal-scoring, he’s been doing that for a long time. It’s a God-given ability that he has, and he’s impacted the program 23 times this year with that. So that’s exciting. But his whole game continues to round out as he becomes a more complete player.”
“A lot has been made of the symmetries between this team and the ’03 and ’04 team, being backmhere in Boston. And there’s no doubt about it, when we talk about what we want to do at Denver, it’s about winning championships and getting opportunities to hang banners,” said Carle. “And to have this opportunity is very special. To do it against Michigan, who is at 9 and we’re at 8, is even sweeter. And hopefully we can tie them and close the gap and reach our goal to getting to 10 first.”
Stay tuned. Denver awaits the Minnesota and Minnesota St. winner for a shot at banner number nine on Saturday night.