TAMPA, Fla. — Drake Caggiula was determined to not leave the Frozen Four without North Dakota’s eighth national hockey title.
The senior forward scored two third-period goals in his final college game, and the Fighting Hawks got a short-handed goal and three assists from freshman Brock Boeser in a 5-1 victory over top-seeded Quinnipiac on Saturday night.
“I just played like it was my last weekend because it was, and I wanted to lay everything out there that I could for this university,” Caggiula said. “They’ve done so much for me, and I wanted to give everything I could back. There’s no better way to repay the university than by giving them a national championship.”
Cam Johnson had 32 saves for the Fighting Hawks (34-6-4). They won their first national title since 2000 and pulled within one of Michigan for the record.
Caggiula scored in each of North Dakota’s four postseason wins and was named the tournament’s most outstanding player. He also had two goals in a 4-2 victory over Denver that sent the Fighting Hawks into the Frozen Four final for the 13th time.
Quinnipiac (32-4-7) lost in the title game for the second time in four seasons. The Bobcats trailed 2-1 entering the third period, but their hopes for a first championship faded quickly when Caggiula beat goalie Michael Garteig twice in just over two minutes to break the game open before a crowd of 19,358.
“I thought they were outstanding tonight,” Quinnipiac coach Rand Pecknold said about North Dakota, one of the most talented in the nation with a roster that includes 12 players who are NHL draft picks, including Boeser — a 2015 first-round pick of the Vancouver Canucks,.
“They have the most talented team in the country, and they compete. That’s a really good formula for success,” Pecknold added. ” It’s pretty impressive. They gave us a lot and we just couldn’t handle it. “
Kelly green jerseys and t-shirts were prominent throughout the crowd at Amalie Arena, with some fans chanting “Go Sioux!” or “Sioux Forever!” — references to the nickname the university dropped for its athletic teams in 2012 after the NCAA deemed “Fighting Sioux” was “hostile and abusive” and said the school could not host playoff games if it kept the controversial moniker.
“This one’s for the fans,” Johnson said. “Our fans have been so unbelievable all year, and I’m just happy we could win one for them.”
Boeser is just the third freshman to lead North Dakota in scoring. After assisting on Shane Gersich’s first-period goal, he put North Dakota up to 2-0 with a short-handed goal set up when Garteig left Quinnipiac’s net unattended to try to clear a loose puck from the left circle.
Instead, the goalie wound up flicking the puck into Boeser’s body, and the right wing was left with an easy shot for his 27th goal of the season.
North Dakota coach Brad Berry became the only first-year head coach to win the NCAA title. Jeff Sauer led Wisconsin to the 1983 national championship in his first season with the Badgers, however he had previously spent 11 years at Colorado College.
“This is the pinnacle. The ultimate,” said Berry, a former North Dakota player who had a long NHL career before returning to his alma mater as an assistant coach. He was promoted to head coach when Dave Hakstol left last May to become coach of the Philadelphia Flyers.
“You always dream of winning the championship at whatever level, growing up as a kid winning the Stanley Cup or whatever cup you’re playing for,” Berry added. “I’m very happy about tonight. … We’re going to take this and enjoy it. We’re going to get ready and we’re going to try to do it again next year.”
Quinnipiac, the No. 1 overall seed in the tournament, advanced to the final for the second time with a 3-2 victory over Boston College on Thursday. The Bobcats also lost to Yale by four goals in the title game three years ago.
The Fighting Hawks won all three previous meetings between the teams, including a first-round victory in the 2015 NCAA tournament. They entered Saturday night with a nation-leading 33 victories, one more than Quinnipiac, which was trying to become the fourth consecutive team to leave the Frozen Four with its first national crown.
Providence took the 2015 title, Union won two years ago, and Yale claimed its first crown by beating Quinnipiac in the 2013 final in Pittsburgh. Throw in Minnesota Duluth’s title in 2011, and four of the past six winners have been first-time champions, an interesting trend considering before that stretch there had not been a first-time winner since Maine in 1993.
“I was really proud of our guys. They competed all year long Four losses in 43 games is phenomenal,” Pecknold said. “To do what we did this year was special. We over achieved so much (that) we achieved.”