Saturday, March 22, 2008

DU Wins Final Five Over Minnesota

(above) Senior Tom May scored the game winner Saturday night

From: Denver Post
by Mike Chambers

ST. PAUL, Minn. — When hockey's NCAA Tournament pairings are revealed this morning, the University of Denver Pioneers will be flying high, loaded with confidence no matter where they play or who they face.

The Pioneers, who will take a four-game winning streak into the national tournament, are playoff champions of America's toughest amateur conference. DU captured its record 15th WCHA Final Five championship Saturday night, defeating Minnesota 2-1 in the Broadmoor Trophy game before 17,907 partisan fans at the Xcel Energy Center.

An NCAA-record six teams from the Western Collegiate Hockey Association are pegged to make today's 16- team field.

DU coach George Gwozdecky said the victory proved his team can be a factor in the NCAA Tournament. The win proves "our ability to play big games on the big stage," he said. "It doesn't get any bigger than this."

Nothing seems to rattle senior goalie Peter Mannino, who as a freshman was named 2005 Frozen Four MVP. He has allowed just five goals in DU's four conference playoff games, all victories.

Mannino was brilliant Saturday, making 34 saves. Senior Tom May, from nearby Eagan, Minn., scored the winner on a semi-breakaway late in the second period.

In January, DU began a 5-9-1 slide. Now, the Pioneers appear as good as any team in the NCAA.

"We've faced a heck of a lot of adversity since the middle of the season, with injuries and departures and stuff like that, but hopefully we're hitting our stride," DU captain Andrew Thomas said.

The Pioneers (26-13-1) always play well in the Final Five since it moved to the Xcel Energy Center in 2001. And they have won the Broadmoor Trophy in four of the past nine years.

"We've had different type of teams that have won it different ways," said Gwozdecky, who previously guided DU to the 1999, 2002 and 2005 playoff crowns. "It's one of the events in every student-athlete's career that he remembers for a lifetime."

"Different guys, same hardware," Mannino said. "It's just as nice."

Minnesota, which was playing in its sixth playoff game in nine nights, was trying to become the first team to win the Final Five from the Thursday play-in game.

"Almost all weekend, we were running on adrenaline," Gophers forward Ben Gordon said.

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