Denver scored five goals in the first two periods and never looked back as the Pioneers dominated Notre Dame 6-1 Thursday night to reach the championship game of the Frozen Four college hockey playoffs.
Dylan Gambrell scored twice and Tariq Hammond added a goal and two assists to pace Denver.
In front of a crowd of nearly 20,000 fans at the United Center, senior Emil Romig got the Pioneers’ offensive momentum started with his top-shelf goal in the first period.
Freshman Henrik Borgstrom recorded Denver’s second goal off of senior Will Butcher’s wrap-around attempt. Notre Dame trailed 2-0 after the first period and couldn’t bounce back.
The Fighting Irish’s main issue was their lack of puck pressure. Notre Dame had only three shots on goal in the first period and 17 overall.
Junior Anders Bjork, who leads the Irish with 52 points, noted that the team struggled to find its rhythm.
“We just didn’t find our niche there. We didn’t really play our game,” Bjork said. “Honestly, I think we beat ourselves there by not playing the right way and getting a little timid.”
Denver took advantage of Notre Dame’s struggling offense and pushed the tempo. The Pioneers, who had five different goal scorers, more than doubled the Fighting Irish’s shots on goal, blasting 42.
Notre Dame relied heavily on its senior captain Cal Peterson, who did the best he could in the crease given the circumstances. Peterson had 36 saves, but was rattled in the second period, allowing three Denver goals in four minutes.
For Denver, junior goaltender Tanner Jaillet had a dull night, saving 16 shots.
The Fighting Irish had a slight spark of life in the third period when junior Jordan Gross took a desperate shot from the blue line, which ended with freshman Cam Morrison tipping it in past Jaillet.
But any type of hope Notre Dame might have had was quickly extinguished when sophomore Gambrell scored his second goal.
The Pioneers, who are seeking their program’s eighth national title, will play Minnesota-Duluth for the championship on Saturday. Puck drops at the United Center at 8:30 p.m.
The Pioneers split a two-game series against their National Collegiate Hockey Conference foes, the Bulldogs, back in December.
Denver coach Jim Montgomery said he believes his team is in a good place entering the title game.
“I think all four lines I have confidence in, and they have confidence in each other. And the support they have and trust they have in the communication on the ice allows all lines to play well,” Montgomery said. “But that depth that we talk about has been really pronounced here in the tournament.”
Notre Dame goes home empty-handed for the program’s third time. The Fighting Irish have a fairly young team with just two seniors.