North Dakota defenseman Matt Jones (3), right, checks Minnesota defenseman Mike Vannelli (15) in the first period third Thursday, April 7, 2005, in Columbus, Ohio, during the NCAA Frozen Four.
AP Photo/Jay LaPrete
COLUMBUS, Ohio Erik Fabian is rounding into form, just in time for the North Dakota's final game.
Fabian scored two goals and goaltender Jordan Parise stopped 26 shots to lead North Dakota to a 4-2 win over Minnesota in an NCAA hockey semifinal on Thursday night. Senior Brian Canady, who is from Kenai, contributed an assist for the Fighting Sioux.
"He's playing well," Canady said of Fabian in a released statement after the game. "Our whole line has been playing well for about two months."
Travis Zajac added two third-period scores, including a short-handed goal, and Drew Stafford assisted on both for North Dakota.
Fabian, a fourth-line winger, nearly matched his season scoring output. He scored three goals this season and just six in his career. But he led the Fighting Sioux (25-14-5) to their 12th national title game. North Dakota has won seven national championships.
"Obviously, we're very excited," Canady said. "We have worked very hard and now we're 60 minutes from our goal.
"We're playing with good confidence right now and good team chemistry. Hopefully, we'll come away with a win on Saturday night."
Parise, who ran his unbeaten streak to 12 in a row (10-0-2) was almost unbeatable in net, making a number of acrobatic saves. He faltered briefly in the third period when the Golden Gophers scored two power-play goals through heavy traffic.
Parise lay on his back on the ice for more than a minute near the finish after being kneed in the head by Minnesota's Tyler Hirsch. Parise got up and finished the game.
Defending champion Denver beat Colorado College 6-2 in the other semifinal. The Pioneers (31-9-2) will meet the Fighting Sioux on Saturday night in the final at Ohio State's Value City Arena.
"We were hoping for this matchup," Canady said. "Denver is a very good team, very talented. We want a little payback.
"I thought we played them real well in the Final Five and didn't really come out with anything for it. That was our second game in two days and now we're going to have an even shot at them. Hopefully, we can come out with a victory."
Fabian scored his first goal unassisted, while Canady and Matt Jones assisted on Fabian's second goal.
"I heard him yelling," Canady said. "We practice that a lot. I pass backdoor to him behind the net and he walks right out in front. He was able to put his head down and bury it in. Kudos to him."
Minnesota made it interesting by scoring twice in a 90-second span midway through the final period, cutting the lead to 4-2. But Parise made several big stops the rest of the way making a huge save on Chris Harrington's hard one-timer with just over 9 minutes left.
It has been an incredible ride for North Dakota and first-year coach Dave Hakstol. The Fighting Sioux finished a distant fifth in the Western Collegiate Hockey Association during the regular season and fought their way into the Frozen Four, joining three other conference teams the first time that's happened in the tournament's 58-year history.
''We got off to the start we wanted and then through the third period, sometimes you get a comfy lead and you know it won't be that easy especially against a team as good as Minnesota,'' Hakstol said. ''We settled down and played with a lot of poise when they got it to 4-2.''
Fabian opened the scoring 5:34 in by stripping the puck from a defender with a quick move.
He swooped down the left wing on a break but his shot was stopped by Minnesota goaltender Kellen Briggs, with defenseman Judd Stevens collecting the loose puck and skating behind the goal cage. With Fabian and Stevens skating side by side, Fabian stole the puck just before the two reached the right circle, Fabian ripping a low shot from a hard angle that surprised Briggs.
''I don't think he (the defender) knew I was behind him and I reached out and got it real easy,'' Fabian said. ''When the puck was on my stick, I looked over and saw that Briggs wasn't quite right. So I fired one on net and it went in.''
Parise was as good as ever. The NCAA playoff career leader in goals-against average (1.00) and save percentage (.961) was brilliant for the Fighting Sioux. He turned away three shots in a 10-second span at the start of the second period.
Later in the period, Minnesota's Garrett Smaagaard had the puck all alone just a few feet in front of the net. He took the time to tee it up, then tried to go high over Parise, who caught the puck and sprawled to the ice.
Fabian then made another big play for the Fighting Sioux.
He dug the puck out along the back boards midway through the period, carried it to the edge of the crease and scored high over Briggs on the stick side.
In the teams' three meetings this season, Fabian got off just one shot.
Zajac made it 3-0 in the opening minute of the third period, pounding in a rebound after Stafford's shot was blocked by Briggs, the puck bouncing out to the slot where Zajac was waiting.
Zajac then added his 19th goal of the year, scoring short-handed on a shot from the high slot.
Minnesota finally got on the board on Mike Howe's power-play goal with 13:43 remaining, before Gino Guyer added another goal with a man advantage a minute and a half later to narrow the lead to 4-2.
''When ND can play with a lead, they're that much better of a team,'' Lucia said. ''They'll box you out and play physical. That's why the first goal is so important.''
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