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Denver advances to Frozen Four title game after Carter Savoie's OT goal against Michigan

Denver played the defensive game it needed to play in the NCAA Frozen Four semifinals, limiting powerful Michigan's offense and holding off the Wolverines long enough to win in overtime and advance to the national title game.

2022 Frozen Four - Michigan vs. Denver
Carter Savoie (8) buries the puck past Michigan goaltender Erik Portillo and defenseman Luke Hughes (43) in overtime to lift the Denver Pioneers past the Wolverines in a 2022 Division I Men’s Frozen Four semifinal game Thursday, April 7, 2022, at TD Garden in Boston.
Jim Rosvold / The Rink Live

BOSTON – Prior to taking on top-seeded Michigan in the NCAA Frozen Four semifinals, Denver coach Matt Carle joked that he wanted a 9-8 win in a festival of offense. The reality was the Pioneers would need stout defense if they were to slow the high-powered Wolverines.

Then the Pioneers went out and played the game they needed to win.

Denver left winger Carter Savoie scored on his own rebound late in the first overtime, lifting the Pioneers to a 3-2 upset victory and a trip to Saturday’s national championship game.

"I thought we handled them very well. I loved our team defense. Everyone, to a man, was up, angling, taking away time and space, making life hard on them," Carle said.

Denver never trailed in the game, playing precisely the style needed to keep the dangerous Wolverines offense from doing many of the things that got them to the Frozen Four.

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Star forward Bobby Brink dug the puck out of the corner and found Savoie in front of the net. Michigan goalie Erik Portillo stopped Savoie’s initial shot, but the rebound found the back of the net.

Savoie joked that on the list of goals he has scored, this one jumped to the top.

Goalie Magnus Chrona needed to make 19 saves for Denver (30-9-1), moving the Pioneers into the national championship game for the first time since 2017 when they beat Minnesota Duluth in Chicago for the most recent of their eight previous college hockey crowns.

Brett Stapley and Cameron Wright scored in the first and third periods, respectively, for Denver, which won a share of the NCHA regular season title.

2022 Frozen Four - Michigan vs Denver
Michigan Wolverines forward Mark Estapa unloads a hit on Denver Pioneers defenseman Sean Behrens in a 2022 Division I Men’s Frozen Four semifinal game Thursday, April 7, 2022, at TD Garden in Boston.
Jim Rosvold / The Rink Live

Michigan, which finished the season 31-10-1, got goals from Jimmy Lambert and Thomas Bordeleau, and killed three penalties in the game, but saw their season end two wins shy of their ultimate goal. Their coach, Mel Person, wrestled with some emotion at the postgame podium, saying it was the most fun he had had in his 40 years of college hockey. The future is uncertain for Michigan, with several players likely to depart for the NHL, and Pearson with an expiring contract that has not yet been renewed.

In a game where they were predicted to run their offensive show, Denver’s defenders had other plans.

"When it comes down to it, we got a late start," said Michigan defenseman Garrett Van Wyhe. "Mel harped on us all week that it was all about the start...In that aspect we kind of have to take accountability."

Coming into the Frozen Four, much was made about whether Denver could stay with Michigan offensively, or if the Pioneers would use the opening 20 minutes to establish defense to slow the high-powered Wolverines offense. Portillo had 30 saves in the loss.

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The first 17 minutes went about as well as Pioneers fans could dream of, as they held Michigan without so much as a shot on goal for much of the period, and took the early lead when Stapley used a pretty backhand shot to clean up the rebound of a long-range puck by Justin Lee that got through to the goalmouth.

After Lambert tied it in the second, Denver took a lead into the final 10 minutes of regulation when Wright deflected a Mike Benning shot past Portillo and just inside the left goal post. But a blocked shot in one end of the rink sparked a 2-on-1 rush by the Wolverines in the other end, and Bordeleau’s goal forced the extra session.

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The Pioneers will face either Minnesota or Minnesota State Mankato in Saturday's championship game.

Savoie had eight shots on goal in the game, including the final two.

"That's what he does. He scores big goals, as we all know so far," said Pioneers winger Ryan Barrow. "Just an unbelievable play by that top line to get her done and moving us on to Saturday."

Denver 3, Michigan 2, OT

Michigan 0-1-1-0—2

Denver 1-0-1-1—3

First period — 1. DU, Brett Stapley 17 (Justin Lee, Jack Devine), 11:22. Penalties — None.

Second period — 2. UM, Jimmy Lambert 6 (Nolan Moyle, Garrett Van Wyhe), 4:03. Penalties — Moyle, UM (holding), 6:09.

Third period — 3. DU, Cameron Wright 22 (Mike Benning, Massimo Rizzo), 5:36. 4. UM, Thomas Bordeleau 12 (Michael Pastujov, Mark Estapa), 9:09. Penalties — Brendan Brisson, UM (boarding), 9:56; Mackie Samoskevich, UM (holding), 14:29.

Overtime — 5. DU, Carter Savoie 23 (Bobby Brink, Benning), 14:53. Penalties — None.

Shots on goal — UM 4-5-5-7—21; DU 7-9-10-7—33. Goalies — Erik Portillo, UM (33 shots-30 saves); Magnus Chrona, DU (21-19). Power plays — UM 0-of-0, DU 0-of-3. Referees — Joe Carusone, CJ Hanafin. Linesmen — Ryan Knapp, Brian Oliver. Att. — NA.

Jess Myers covers college hockey, as well as outdoors, general sports and travel, for The Rink Live and the Forum Communications family of publications. He came to FCC in 2018 after three decades of covering sports as a freelancer for a variety of publications, while working full time in politics and media relations. A native of Warroad, Minn. (the real Hockeytown USA), Myers has a degree in journalism/communications from the University of Minnesota Duluth. He lives in the Twin Cities. Contact Jess via email at jrmyers@forumcomm.com, or find him on Twitter via @JessRMyers. English speaker.
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