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Canadians Prevail for Pioneers in Dramatic NCAA Frozen Four Final

By Randy Lucenti on April 21, 2017

Frozen Four MVP Jarid Lukosevicius from Squamish, B.C. scored three goals in a span of seven and a half minutes when the Denver Pioneers downed the Minnesota-Duluth Bulldogs 3-2 in the NCAA Division 1 men's hockey final. (Larry Radloff photo)

An amazing performance from an unlikely source and a rink silencing injury were just two of the many storylines involving Canadians at the 2017 NCAA Division 1 men's hockey championship finals which wrapped up April 8 at the United Centre in Chicago.

Affectionately known as the Frozen Four, the top-seeded University of Denver Pioneers prevailed to capture their eighth national crown with a 3-2 victory over the University of Minnesota-Duluth Bulldogs, but it wasn't without plenty of drama.

First off was the hero of the final. Sophomore forward Jarid Lukosevicius from Squamish, B.C. scored three goals in a span of seven and a half minutes, including a pair just 16 seconds apart, in the second period to power the Pioneers to a 3-1 lead after 40 minutes.

The 22-year-old, who toiled for the Powell River Kings of the BCHL for three seasons prior to heading south of the border, had scored just 20 goals and tallied 42 points during his first two seasons with Denver before his breakout game on the biggest stage leading to him being named tournament MVP.

Ironically, the last player to record a hat-trick and earn MVP honours in the Frozen Four final was Denver coach Jim Montgomery who accomplished the feat back in 1993 as a member of the champion University of Maine Black Bears squad. Montgomery, a native of Montreal, Que., was also named NCAA coach-of-the-year prior to the final game.

"I did not know that's the first hat trick (since mine)," said Montgomery in the postgame press conference. "But I'm glad I'm part of both, and I'm glad we won the championship on both nights."

In just four seasons as the bench boss, Montgomery has guided the team to four straight NCAA tournament berths, losing in the quarterfinals in 2014-15 and reaching the semifinals last year before losing to the eventual champion University of North Dakota Fighting Hawks.

Through two periods of the final contest at the United Center, it looked like it would be a cake walk for Denver, but the momentum took a dramatic twist early in the final frame when junior defenceman Tariq Hammond from Calgary, Alta. got tangled up awkwardly along the boards and was carted off the ice with a suspected fractured ankle.

Prior to his injury, Hammond was a force for the Pioneers both in his own zone and in the offensive zone. He had a goal and two helpers in the Pioneers’ 6-1 semifinal victory over the Notre Dame Fighting Irish and was a plus-6 in the tournament.

The shocked Pioneers seemed to lose focus while the Bulldogs gained life, but junior goaltender Tanner Jaillet from Red Deer, Alta., despite giving up a goal to cut the gap, made 16 saves in the final frame to preserve the victory and give the Pioneers their eighth national crown, and their first since 2005.

Jaillet, who stopped 38 of 40 shots in the final, also picked up a major award earlier in the Frozen Four when he was selected winner of the fourth annual Mike Richter Award as top netminder in the NCAA.

Starting all but six games this past season, Jaillet finished with a record of 24-5-4 for the National Collegiate Hockey Conference (NCHC) regular season champions. In three seasons in Denver, Jaillet has appeared in 96 games and has a record of 60-18-9.

The 23-year-old goaltender was also between the pipes in the Pioneers victory over Notre Dame, stopping 16 of 17 shots he faced. The Bulldogs edged Harvard Crimson 2-1 with a late marker in the other semi, advancing the two NCHC squads to the title match.

The 2017 national championship game was the 208th meeting between the longtime NCHC rivals. During the regular season, the clubs split a pair of games in Denver with the Pioneers taking the opener 4-3 and the Bulldogs winning the other 3-1.

A total of 14 Canadians, seven on each squad, were listed on the rosters of the championship game combatants.

The other Canucks on the winning Denver squad were: freshman forward Liam Finlay, Kelowna, B.C.; senior forward Matt Marcinew, Calgary, Alta.; sophomore forward Logan O'Connor, Calgary, Alta.; and junior defenceman Adam Plant, Penticton, B.C.

The Canadian members of the Bulldogs were: senior defenceman Carson Soucy, Imma, Alta.; cousin of Soucy, sophomore forward Parker Mackay, Imma, Alta.; junior forward Sammy Spurrell, Sherwood, Alta.; junior forward Blake Young, Battleford, Sask.; sophomore forward Billy Exell, Thunder Bay, Ont.; freshman defenceman Jarod Hilderman, Kamsack, Sask.; and senior defenceman Brenden Kotyk, Regina, Sask.

Fourteen other Canadians were on the two semifinal losers at the Frozen Four, nine with Harvard and five with the Fighting Irish.

With the victory, the Pioneers trail just the University of Michigan Wolverines (nine) by just one for most NCAA crowns.

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By Randy Lucenti| April 21, 2017
Categories:  College
Keywords:  NCAA

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