TAMPA — First-year coach Brad Berry has quickly worked his way into the folklore of the University of North Dakota. Saturday, his Fighting Hawks earned their eighth national title and their first since 2000.
A tightly contested game in the early going turned into a 5–1 rout over the No. 1-ranked Quinnipiac Bobcats. North Dakota opened an early lead with a pair of goals that included a shorthanded tally by Brock Boeser, popped into a vacated net after Bobcats goaltender Michael Garteig failed to clear the zone and put the puck on Boeser’s stick.
It was a lead UND never relinquished, coming out of the first and second periods with a 2–1 advantage. It opened up the lead just 1:21 into the third when senior Drake Caggiula tallied his first of two.
Boeser and Caggiula’s goals came at key moments to shift the momentum in a game where, once again, the “CBS” line of Caggiula, Boeser and Nick Schmaltz proved to be the difference.
North Dakota’s speed killed Quinnipiac from start to finish. The Bobcats’ 1-1-3 has frequently been able to stifle the offensive attack of opponents. The neutral zone becomes a no-fly zone when Quinnipiac locks it up, like it did against Boston College in the semifinal.
But it didn’t work against North Dakota. Stretch passes and speedy exits took advantage of an aggressive Quinnipiac forecheck that had forwards playing low in the zone. North Dakota opened up the neutral zone, creating space and opportunities.
Once North Dakota was able to establish a forecheck, its offense became tough to control. Quinnipiac was briefly able to stifle it through the physical play of Devon Toews and Connor Clifton, but that wasn’t enough to stop the “CBS” line. Quinnipiac kept North Dakota’s depth in check, but that line skated all over them.
Sam Anas battled through some pain
Coming into the weekend, there wasn’t much doubt that Quinnipiac’s star forward Sam Anas would be playing with a wounded wing. He went through the quarterfinals with his injured shoulder, but was still able to make an impact. Two weeks between games was to his advantage, but it was clear that it wasn’t long enough to bring him to full health.
“He was struggling,” Quinnipiac coach Rand Pecknold said. “He was worse these two games than against Lowell and RIT.”
Battling through injuries, especially in big-game situations, is noble, but by the end of the second period Anas wasn’t anywhere remotely close to his normal self. Pecknold said he “was probably 50%.” He was skating with one hand on his stick, his arm held near his chest, veering away from contact and battles.
Lacking its top scorer being able to compete put Quinnipiac at a severe disadvantage, especially when North Dakota was putting up goals in bunches.
Welcome to free agency, Drake Caggiula
In this tournament, Drake Caggiula did his best to make sure that all 30 NHL teams are likely to pitch him on an entry-level contract. The undrafted forward put up 51 points in 38 games, and his 25 goals tied for fifth in the nation. He not only ranked highly and was a leader for the national champions, he proved that he can be a big-game player. He scored two goals in the semifinal and two in the championship, earning Most Outstanding Player of the 2016 NCAA tournament.
That’s going to make him even more highly sought after than he was. He’s not a big player, but he wouldn’t be the first 5'10" forward to find success at hockey’s top level. Maybe it was fortuitous that 5'8" Martin St. Louis, a University of Vermont alum, dropped the ceremonial opening puck Saturday.
Caggiula has basically earned a ticket to choose which NHL franchise he wants to join, but that wasn’t on his mind. “That’s all on the side,” he said. “I haven’t once all season long thought about where I want to sign.”
Instead he was focused on ending the school’s 16-year championship drought. The “CBS” line went out as champions before the three players move on to the next phase of their respective careers.
Even Pecknold had to acknowledge what a special tournament they had. “They’re really good,” he said. “That line is special. We haven’t played against a line like that all season.”