LOVELAND — Four-of-six is an impressive percentage in sports, a gaudy statistic.
Consider the University of Denver hockey team beyond proud to have advanced to four of the last six NCAA Frozen Fours, the latest milestone coming here Saturday before a raucous crowd at the sold-out Budweiser Events Center.
The No. 1-seeded Pioneers used a late goal from sophomore Carter Savoie to defeat No. 2 seed Minnesota-Duluth, 2-1, in the West Regional final to punch their ticket to the Frozen Four in Boston April 7-9.
DU, the No. 4 overall seed in the 16-team tournament, will play the winner of No. 1 Michigan or No. 8 Quinnipiac on April 7 at TD Garden. The Wolverines and Bobcats play in the Allentown, Pa., regional championship on Sunday.
“Going to Boston is going to be awesome,” said senior captain Cole Guttman, who was a freshman in 2019 when DU lost in overtime at the Frozen Four in Buffalo.
It was Guttman who broke the ice in the first period against seemingly unbeatable Bulldogs goalie Ryan Fanti.
“It was a heavyweight bout and we’re very proud of the effort of our guys to come on the positive end of it,” DU coach David Carle said. “I don’t think there was a passenger amongst our group and that was the most exciting thing to see.
“Excited to be going to Boston. We’ll be ready to go.”
The Pioneers broke a 1-1 tie at 13:44 of the third period. Avalanche 2021 second-round draft pick Sean Behrens ripped a high shot over Fanti, but the puck landed on the goalie’s back and fell near the goal line in the crease. Savoie nudged it forward for the winning goal.
“It came down to a bounce. There’s things in a game you can control and things you can’t,” UMD coach Scott Sandelin said. “They got the break and that was the difference.”
Fanti entered the game having not allowed a goal in 207 minutes, 17 seconds of play, with shutouts in the Bulldogs’ previous three games, including a 2-0 stoning of DU at last week’s NCHC Frozen Faceoff semifinals in St. Paul.
The win marked the second time in the modern era DU will play at Boston’s TD Garden after winning the West Regional in Colorado. The Pioneers went on to win the 2004 national title after upsetting No. 1 North Dakota at the West Regional in Colorado Springs.
“Our guys were very energized, very excited, and I thought the crowd was a big part of that as well,” said Carle, whose team outshot Duluth 10-2 in the first period and forced the Bulldogs to block 10 shots.
“We were locked in and ready to go,” Carle said. “We didn’t get down when they scored the first one. We responded and obviously Gutter gets a big goal to break the snide on Fanti. So loved our first period.”
Both teams registered 11 shots in the second period during which DU killed off a 5-on-3 disadvantage for 48 seconds. The Pioneers extended their perfect penalty kill stretch to 20.
Despite DU’s dominance in the first period, the Bulldogs took a 1-0 lead on their second shot, a long drive through traffic from defenseman Darian Gotz at 14:41. DU goalie Magnus Chrona didn’t appear to see the puck. The Pioneers tied it at 17:24 with a wrist shot from between the circles by Guttman, who ended Fanti’s shutout streak at 224:43.
“Going into the game, we definitely wanted to get shots on this guy early,” Guttman said. “We did that really well all the way up (to the first goal) but pucks weren’t going in. I just wanted to throw it on net. Nice to see it go through.”
Denver (29-9-1) also advanced to the Frozen Four in 2016 and 2017, winning it all in ’17 by beating Minnesota-Duluth, 3-2, in Chicago. There was no Frozen Four in 2000 after the NCAA canceled its season because of the pandemic.
Footnotes. Guttman was named MVP of the regional and was joined on the all-tournament team by Savoie and Behrens. … Fifth-year senior Ryan Barrow played in his 166th career game with DU, one shy of the program record held by Ed Cristofoli (1985-89). … DU is now 3-0 against Minnesota-Duluth in the NCAA Tournament. In addition to the 2017 victory for the national title, the Pioneers rallied to beat the Bulldogs 5-3 in the 2004 Frozen Four semifinals.