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College men's hockey: North Dakota upsets Denver, clinches NCAA berth

MINNEAPOLIS — No need to scoreboard watch the rest of the weekend.

No need to crunch those Pairwise formulas.

North Dakota not only marched to the NCHC Frozen Faceoff championship game by knocking off No. 1 Denver 1-0 on Friday night, it also solidified a spot in the NCAA Division I tournament for a 15th consecutive season.

Austin Poganski scored the game's only goal 2 minutes, 30 seconds into the third period and the defense and goalie Cam Johnson (21 saves) did the rest.

The win sets up a showdown against Minnesota Duluth at 7:38 p.m. today in the Target Center for the league's playoff championship.

"We're fighting for our lives and our guys played like it," North Dakota coach Brad Berry said. "We're looking forward to tomorrow."

North Dakota entered the weekend knowing that it needed at least one win to clinch a spot in the West Regional in Fargo next weekend.

It took care of that right away against a Denver team that rolled through the regular season and hadn't lost since Jan. 20.

"I definitely didn't want to scoreboard watch," Johnson said. "I had faith in our group. It's our own fate. We're in control of our own fate."

The lone goal came early in the third period.

Freshman forward Tyson Jost sent a pass back to rookie defenseman Colton Poolman, who stepped into a slap shot from the point. Poolman's shot went wide of the net, but it took a long rebound that Poganski one-timed into the open side of the net before Denver goalie Tanner Jaillet could move over.

"I was just driving the net to see if I could get a rebound and it came out to me," Poganski said.

North Dakota went 0-3 in its first three NCHC semifinals in the Target Center, losing games to Miami, St. Cloud State and Minnesota Duluth the last three years.

Although Denver entered the game with the nation's top-scoring offense since Jan. 1, North Dakota's defensive corps slowed down the Pioneers' top players.

Johnson made a few key saves, too, on the way to his fourth shutout of the season.

"We were playing the right way, doing the little things like boxing out and blocking shots," Johnson said. "Guys were buying in. I didn't have to do too much work tonight. My team made it a little easier on me. It was a group effort. We played well."

Berry said he's pleased with the progression of his team.

"Early in the season, we were playing hard and the right way, but we weren't getting results," Berry said. "Now, we're starting to battle. Tonight, there was not a lot of room on the ice, but we found a way to score and make a difference."

Johnson added: "This season's been up and down all year. We've played well at times. We haven't played great at times. It's the end of the season. We've been playing playoff hockey the past few weekends, because our lives have been on the ice. This is huge for us, our group and our confidence."

Brad Elliott Schlossman

Schlossman is in his 13th year covering college hockey for the Herald. In 2016 and 2018, he was named the top beat writer in the country by the Associated Press Sports Editors. He also was the NCHC's inaugural Media Excellence Award winner in 2018. Schlossman has voted in the national college hockey poll since 2007 and has served as a member of the Hobey Baker and Patty Kazmaier Award committees.

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