Denver beats Sioux for national title

Posted: Sunday, April 10, 2005

COLUMBUS, Ohio — Denver made sure the biggest celebration was the last one.

Freshman Paul Stastny scored two goals and Peter Mannino made them stand up with an almost flawless performance in goal to help Denver successfully defend its national title with a 4-1 victory over North Dakota on Saturday night.

Kenai's Brian Canady skated in the game for North Dakota and recorded a shot, but did not register a goal or an assist.

After coach George Gwozdecky won his 400th game the last time Denver beat North Dakota, last month in the conference semifinals, he stopped the celebration to address his team.

''I told them, 'Thank you very much. But it sure would be a lot sweeter to celebrate after No. 405,''' Gwozdecky said.

It was the seventh national title for Denver (32-9-2), which was ranked No. 1 for most of the season.

Stastny, the son of Hall of Famer Peter Stastny, also had an assist on Gabe Gauthier's empty-netter. Jeff Drummond scored the Pioneers' first goal, Kevin Ulanski had two assists and Gauthier had an assist to go with his 26th goal of the year.

Mannino, who was selected the most outstanding player of the Frozen Four, had a career-high 44 saves two nights after stopping 41 shots in a 6-2 win over Colorado College in the semifinals.

''My team allowed me to see the puck,'' Mannino said. ''When there were rebounds, they cleaned them right away. I just wanted to keep them (the Fighting Sioux) off the board, and it worked out.''

With the score tied 1-1 midway through the second period, Denver scored on a power play. The Pioneers had six power-play goals in their win in the semis after scoring on just three of their 45 power-play chances leading into the Frozen Four.

Ulanski's hard slap shot from the top of the right circle sliced through heavy traffic in the slot, and appeared to glance off Stastny's stick. Stastny redirected it high over the right shoulder of goaltender Jordan Parise, who could do nothing but watch the puck settle into the net.

Only it didn't glance off Stastny's stick.

''It hit me right in the butt,'' he said with a laugh.

Stastny added his 17th goal in the third period to give Mannino and the Pioneers' defense a cushion.

Again on the power play, defenseman Carle faked a defender to the ice and then sidestepped him, throwing a blind pass back to the right where Stastny converted with a hard one-timer.

''That was the second time that Matty had danced past a defender in the game,'' Stastny said. ''He didn't even look. He just threw it right onto my tape.''

Mannino did the rest. The Fighting Sioux (25-15-5) pulled their goalie for a man advantage for most of the last 2 minutes but couldn't get the puck past him.

He ran his record to 3-0-0 in NCAA play and has been at his best when the games mean the most, surrendering just five goals in his last six games.

''He made an awful lot of good saves,'' said rookie North Dakota coach Dave Hakstol, who led his team to the title game despite a fifth-place finish in the league. ''That's one factor you can't control in a hockey game — how the guy wearing the pads at the other end is going to play.''

Denver improved to 7-2 in NCAA title games while sweeping all four meetings with the Fighting Sioux this season. The Pioneers' seventh title tied them with North Dakota for second place behind Michigan's nine.

The Western Collegiate Hockey Association — which became the first conference to have all the NCAA semifinalists — has produced the last four national champions.

Denver, 26-1-1 this year when scoring first, used a fluky goal to open the scoring.

Gauthier struggled to control a loose puck in the offensive zone, tapping the puck to Ulanski. Ulanski found it on his stick as he skated past the goal line. Almost as an afterthought, he threw the puck at the crease and it ricocheted off the left skate of North Dakota defenseman Matt Smaby into the net.

Smaby hung his head when the goal light went on, while the Pioneers' fans danced and sang in celebration.

''They got the bounces,'' North Dakota defenseman Matt Greene said. ''Tonight just wasn't our night.''

The Fighting Sioux tied it when defenseman Nick Fuher took a soft shot from the point and teammate Travis Zajac reached out with his stick and redirected the puck — with his back to the goal — and the puck slipped between Mannino's leg pads.

Parise, the son of former NHL star J.P. Parise, was at his best late in the second period, stopping five shots on one Denver power play.

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