Jarid Lukosevicius’ hat trick was too much for Minnesota-Duluth, as the Denver Pioneers claimed their eighth national championship with Saturday night’s victory over the Bulldogs.
CHICAGO — Minnesota-Duluth made a habit of winning tight contests on its way to the Frozen Four National Championship Game.
Denver’s Jarid Lukosevicius had other ideas, though.
Lukosevicius’ hat trick was all Denver needed to one-up the Bulldogs, as the Pioneers held on for a 3-2 victory Saturday night following 60 minutes of grueling, physical, nail-biting hockey at the United Center in Chicago. Denver claimed its eighth national championship, which are the second-most in NCAA history behind the Michigan Wolverines’ nine.
Lukosevicius’ three-goal effort marked the first in a national title game since 1993, when current Denver head coach Jim Montgomery did it for Maine.
“Midget hockey,” Lukosevicius said when asked the last time he recorded a hat trick. “I didn’t get one in juniors. I wasn’t that good. I don’t know what [Montgomery] saw in me.”
Montgomery didn’t hesitate to respond.
“Obviously a lot,” he said.
Lukosevicius’ big game seemed inevitable. Denver began the contest with an 8-0 advantage in shots on goal as the Pioneers were able to pin UMD in their own end for extended periods of time, much like they were able to do against Notre Dame in Thursday’s 6-1 semifinal victory.
As the first period progressed, Minnesota-Duluth was able to collect themselves and turned to a physical style of play. It seemed as though anything wearing a Denver sweater had a bullseye on its back, and the Bulldogs were locked in. This led to some added puck possession for UMD and really helped level the ice surface as the first 20 minutes wore on.
But in the second period, the flood gates opened.
Just under five minutes into the period, Lukosevicius found the back of the net for the game’s first goal and his 14th goal of the year. Then just 16 seconds later, Lukosevicius cleaned up a rebound in the crease following a great rush to the net by Troy Terry for a 2-0 edge.
Minnesota-Duluth has been a resilient team all season long as evidenced by their numerous victories in close games, so it didn’t come as much of a surprise to see them battle back again. The Bulldogs won their previous four in either the final minute or overtime to reach the title game.
Just over two minutes after Lukosevicius scored his second goal, UMD’s Alex Iafallo put his team on the board with a powerplay goal to make it a 2-1 game.
“We’ve came back multiple times throughout the season. And obviously in regionals there we fought to come back just to get to this point,” Duluth’s Karson Kuhlman said. “I think we just learned lessons throughout the year and then almost paid off there.”
Lukosevicius wasn’t done yet, though. Roughly five minutes after the Bulldogs registered their first goal, Lukosevicius got his hat trick to put Denver ahead 3-1.
Early in the final frame, Denver’s Tariq Hammond crashed violently into the boards behind his team’s own net. Hammond stayed down on the ice as play continued for another 10-15 seconds before the whistle finally blew. Instant replay showed Hammond’s ankle bending awkwardly as it came into contact with the immovable boards, and a stretcher was needed to get him off the ice. He would not return to the game.
The lengthy stoppage in play to get Hammond off the ice seemed to allow Minnesota-Duluth ample time to regroup themselves and refocus for the remainder of the game.
“Our mentality was to just kind of stay after it and have a good shift after that. And I thought we did and we just kept building off that,” Minnesota-Duluth coach Scott Sandelin said. “It was a little bit of a rest for our guys, but it didn’t really change what we were trying to do.”
From that point on in the third period, the Bulldogs controlled the pace of play and had Denver pinned in their own end more often than not.
It wasn’t until the 14:39 mark of the period that UMD was finally able to get a second puck by Tanner Jaillet to make it a one-goal game. Riley Tufte parked himself in front of the net and was able to knock home a loose puck for his ninth goal of the season. It was now a 3-2 hockey game with just over five minutes left to play.
In the dying minutes of the game, the Bulldogs continued to pepper Jaillet, but could never get the equalizer. Jaillet finished with 38 saves.
“They were coming, obviously, but we practiced all year staying composed and closing out games in third periods,” Jaillet said. “And, I mean, I’ve got to give a lot of credit to my team. They were blocking shots, making plays, chipping pucks out. But obviously it was good. We were calm back there, and we got the job done.”
Calm is right. Despite the Bulldogs’ barrage of shots in the final period, Denver never seemed to panic and was able to hold onto the lead just long enough.
This year’s Hobey Baker Award winner and Denver captain, Will Butcher, had nothing but high praise for his team’s effort in pulling out the victory.
“Great for the university, great for our fans, great for the city of Denver,” he said. “It’s hard to put into words what this win means. I love each and every one of the guys on this team, and I’m so proud of them.”
And Butcher couldn’t contain his emotions as the Pioneers clinched the title.
“I was trying to get my helmet off – I couldn’t get my helmet off. I’m looking at T.J., and he’s like – he’s looking up, and I don’t know, it’s just something I can’t put into words, to be honest with you.”