The Frozen Four was an unlikely quartet to begin with, because all of the finalists were from the Western Collegiate Hockey Association. But the teams that will meet for the NCAA championship tonight -- Denver and North Dakota -- make an especially rare pair in contrast.
Denver, which defeated Colorado College by 6-2 on Thursday night, is the defending national champion and the current conference tournament champion. The Pioneers finished the regular season tied for first place in the standings, and they are 31-9-2 over all.
North Dakota, which defeated Minnesota by 4-2 in the second semifinal at the Schottenstein Center, finished a mediocre fifth place in the WCHA, one game above .500. The Fighting Sioux are 25-14-4 overall.
But North Dakota is 9-1-2 in its past 12 games, the only defeat a 2-1 loss to Denver in overtime in the semifinal of the league playoffs. Although the Sioux also lost their other two games against Denver this season, they are on the kind of late-season surge that could end in an unlikely championship.
"I think we are due for something," said Jordan Parise, the North Dakota goalie who stopped 26 shots and survived a bump on the head in a collision late in the game with Tyler Hirsch of the Golden Gophers (28-15-1).
Referring to the rivalry with Denver, Parise said: "I think we're due for a win. It was tough at midseason. There were plenty of doubts. There was a point we weren't in the playoffs. We just persevered."
Parise is the son of J.P. Parise, a former NHL player who was a playoff hero with the Islanders 30 years ago when his goal eliminated the Rangers. He is also the brother of Zach Parise, a first-round draft choice of the Devils who is playing in the minor leagues.
Although garrulous after the game and in good spirits, Parise also looked glassy-eyed and was asked how he felt after lying on the ice for a couple minutes after his collision. "Um, I'm pretty good," he said, allowing that he suffered from a headache.
Erik Fabian and Travis Zajac each scored twice for the Sioux. Fabian scored one in each of the first two periods at even strength, and Zajac made the lead 4-0 in the third period on a power-play goal and a short-handed goal. Mike Howe and Gino Guyer scored on power plays for Minnesota to cut the lead in half.
In the first game, every goal was on the power play, including two each for Luke Fulghum and Gabe Gauthier of the Pioneers. Scott Owens, the coach of Colorado College, noted that his team took 14 minor penalties despite being "one of the least-penalized teams in the country," until now.
"We were dumb on a lot of penalties," he said. "We got frustrated with everything and lost our composure a little bit."
Also scoring for Denver were Matt Carle and Adrian Veideman. Colorado College (31-9-3) had a goal from Brian Salcido to cut the Denver lead to 3-1 at nine minutes 49 seconds of the second period, and one by James Brannigan, to cut the lead to 5-2 at 13:02 of the third.
Peter Mannino, Denver's freshman goalie, made 41 saves. Denver coach George Gwozdecky said he did not know whether Mannino would start the championship game. The coach has disrupted the regular goalie rotation with Glenn Fisher, a sophomore. "We'll have time to make that decision," Gwozdecky said.
Fulghum's two goals opened the scoring at 13:54 and 15:26 of the first period. The first was a classic; he took a pass near the blue line, raced down the slot, faked a defenseman, Lee Sweatt, off his skates and beat Curtis McElhinney cleanly between the skates with a wrist shot.
On the second, Bret Skinner took a wrist shot from the puck from the top of the right-wing circle and Fulghum said, "it hit right off my behind and went in." Gauthier's second goal, from the slot to McElhinney's stick side, came at 5:42 of the third period on a two-man advantage and gave Denver a 5-1 lead.
Gauthier grew up in Southern California but played three years with the Chilliwack Chiefs of the British Columbia Hockey League before going to college. He said he pronounced his family name "GOTH-ee-ay" or "GOTH-ee-ur" until a Canadian announcer asked him about it.
"I didn't understand," Gauthier said. "He told me the French way was `GO-tee-ay,' and I said, `You know, that's more of a hockey name, so let's go with it.'"
Daniel Alfredsson tied a playoff record with his 11th goal, helping Frolunda beat Farjestad 4-1 Thursday in the Swedish Elite League finals.
Frolunda leads the best-of-seven series 2-1 and can wrap up the final on home ice in Goteborg, where Games 4 and 5 are scheduled for Saturday and Monday.
Alfredsson, the Ottawa Senators captain and an NHL all-star, made it 3-1 late in the first period. His 11th goal in 12 playoff games tied the record set by Rickard Wallin in 2001 when Farjestad lost the final to Djurgarden.
"But the win is more important than the record," Alfredsson said. "It's nice when you win and contribute. We were rewarded for all the hard work tonight. But now we have to recharge the batteries. We have two important games coming up. They have some experienced veterans and can still come back."
Alfredsson set up the first goal for Christian Backman just 1:04 in after skating away from Montreal Canadiens defenseman Sheldon Souray and feeding Backman in front of the goal.
Martin Gerber, a Swiss who's considered one of Europe's best goalies, had to chance on Backman's close-range one-timer.
Jesper Mattsson tied it at 7:31 with a rare penalty shot, beating Sweden national team goalie Henrik Lundqvist with a shot low to the glove side.
Tomio Kallio put Frolunda ahead midway through the period after sloppy play along the boards by Ottawa's big defenseman Zdeno Chara.
Samuel Pahlsson ended scoring late in the third period, knocking in a rebound past Gerber after Alfredsson's hard work behind the goal.
Lundqvist, a New York Rangers draft pick and named the top goalie at the 2003 World Championships despite giving up five goals by Canada in the final, stopped 24 shots.
Frolunda, which topped the regular-season standings, has won only two Swedish titles, the last in 2003. Farjestad, which finished fourth in the regular-season standings, won its sixth and last title in 2002.
Joe Thornton, Rick Nash and Niklas Hagman finished a frustrating season on a high on Thursday after helping HC Davos lift the Swiss league title.
Prevented from playing in North America by the NHL lockout, the three forwards have instead been making a strong impression on Switzerland's top division and were all present on Thursday as Davos came from behind to beat the Zurich Lions 3-2.
The win, which completed a 4-1 series triumph, was sealed with an overtime goal from the club's fourth foreign player, former Chicago Blackhawks' center Josef Marha.
The 28-year-old Czech latched onto a Laurent Mueller assist to end the match -- and the series -- after 8:24 of overtime.
Thornton, a 25-year-old center who can normally be found captaining the Boston Bruins, finished the season as the playoffs' joint top points scorer with four goals and 20 assists.
The Canadian international's 20th assist came on Thursday when he and Nash combined to set up Swiss international Michel Riesen for the night's fourth goal.
Nash, a 20-year-old winger for the Columbus Blue Jackets, scored nine goals for Davos during the playoffs with Florida Panthers winger Hagman getting 10.
"It feels great, I've never really won anything in my life," Nash told Swiss television on Thursday.
"Hopefully the Stanley Cup will be next, but now I just want to celebrate the Swiss championship."
One of Switzerland's most traditional clubs, Davos have now won 27 national league titles.
All but six of those wins date back to the first half of the last century, however, when Davos were the dominant force in Swiss hockey.
Thursday's victory was the club's second league title in the past 20 years.
Davos coach Arno Del Curto took an early gamble that the NHL lockout would not be resolved in time to rescue the North American season, provisionally signing up Thornton, Nash and Hagman during the summer.
If the NHL dispute, predominantly over players' salaries, had been settled, the club from east Switzerland would have instantly been deprived of their three top players.
Former Atlanta Thrashers team mates Randy Robitaille and Andy Sutton were on the losing side for Zurich.
Czech Republic defender Pavel Kubina was fined a record 200,000 koruna (6,700 euros) and banned for 15 games Wednesday for criticizing a referee.
Kubina, a former NHL player who led Vitkovice to the Czech Elite league playoffs, said referee Petr Bolina was bribed and put on an unprofessional performance when officiating the seventh game of the semifinals between Vitkovice and Zlin.
Vitkovice, 3-1 up in the series before losing three straight games, conceded several goals during power plays in the decisive match. Kubina disputed the power plays and said Bolina was to blame for his team's elimination.
The fine was a record in Czech ice hockey, and the head of the Elite League said he would ask the Czech ice hockey association not to include Kubina in the team for the upcoming world championships in Austria.
"We have never dealt with a similar case," Stanislav Sulc was quoted by the CTK news agency as saying.
Kubina, who won the Stanley Cup with the Tampa Bay Lightning last year, has three days to appeal the decission.
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