Denver, Berkhoel blank Maine for title

Updated: April 11, 2004, 12:58 AM ET
Associated Press

BOSTON -- Adam Berkhoel looked out at the ice and felt as if he was alone on an island.

With less than a minute to play and the Denver goalie's team clinging to the narrowest of leads, the Maine blue and white shirts outnumbered the red and gold of his Pioneers teammates by a 2-to-1 margin.

"Obviously when they pulled their goalie I got a little nervous back there,'' said Berkhoel, who made 24 saves in the Pioneers' 1-0 victory over Maine to win the NCAA championship Saturday night. "It was pretty scary seeing that late in the game.''

But Berkhoel came up with his two biggest of his 24 saves when the Black Bears had a 6-on-3 advantage, and Denver (27-12-5) won its first national championship since 1969.

Matt Laatsch was sent to the penalty box for hooking with 2:09 to play. Then Gabe Gauthier, who scored the game's only goal, was called with 1:34 left after closing his hand on the puck.

When Jimmy Howard left the Maine net with 1:13 remaining, the Black Bears (33-8-3) had a three-man advantage for more than a minute.

"I can't ever remember having to defend a 6-on-3,'' Denver coach George Gwozdecky said. "You're just trying to get in the shooting lanes, and in that last minute, anything goes.''

Berkhoel, selected the Frozen Four's MVP, stopped two blistering slap shots by Maine's top scorer, Colin Shields.

"Berkhoel was phenomenal in that last minute,'' said Howard, who came in with a national-best 1.19 goals against average and made 19 saves in the championship game.

Denver won five national titles in a 12-year span in the 1950s and '60s, but none since 1969.

Gauthier scored the only goal of the game on the power play at 12:26 of the first period. Connor James won the puck in the corner and passed in front to an unmarked Gauthier, who one-timed a shot between Howard's pads.

Berkhoel did his part to secure the win for Denver, but his defense came through too, clogging the lanes, poking at the puck and throwing bodies to the ice to block 27 of Maine's 67 attempted shots on goal. The Black Bears blocked five of 37 Denver attempts.

"That's the statistic that jumps out at me,'' said Maine coach Tim Whitehead.

The Black Bears thought they took the lead earlier in the first period when Derek Damon put the puck in the net after Shields' shot from the point squirted to the right of the Denver goal. An uncovered Damon poked the puck past a lunging Berkhoel, but after a review the goal was disallowed because Mike Hamilton's skate was barely in the crease.

Denver played without third-leading scorer Lukas Dora. Dora, who had 14 goals and 21 assists, was suspended for what team officials called a violation of team rules.

The Black Bears, who had won eight straight one-goal games, had their best chances in the second period while on the power play. But Berkhoel made three saves within a minute to preserve the narrow lead.

It was another bitter ending for Maine, which was less than a minute from the title two years ago, then allowed Minnesota to tie it with 52 seconds to play and win it in overtime. Maine won titles in 1993 and '99.

"Obviously our goal was to win a national championship,'' said forward Todd Jackson, one of six Black Bears who played in the 2002 title game. "It is disappointing. We did a lot of good things this season, but this one stings a lot right now.''

Notes: Presumptive Democratic presidential nominee John Kerry attended the game. ... The teams combined for 10 shots in the first period to tie the record for the second lowest in the first period of a championship game. The record is eight in 1996 when Michigan and Colorado College played. ... The announced crowd of 18,597 was the largest to watch a hockey game at the FleetCenter, home of the NHL's Boston Bruins. It was also the third-largest crowd for an NCAA championship game. ... This was the fifth consecutive year a Hockey East school faced a Western Collegiate Hockey Association team in the championship game. ... The game was just the third shutout in championship game history, the second involving the Pioneers, who beat North Dakota 4-0 in 1968. Boston University beat Cornell 4-0 in 1972.

Copyright 2004 by The Associated Press