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Pioneers reach first title game since 1973

BOSTON -- With an empty net and not a defender in sight,
Denver's Connor James had a chance for his first goal in five
weeks. But he passed the puck to Greg Keith, who's gone almost as
long without scoring -- without the handy excuse of a broken leg.

"That's what this team's like," James said. "We don't have
the one big gunner. We have 27 guys who go out and do it for each
other."

Denver pulled together and pushed past Minnesota Duluth with
four consecutive goals, beating the Bulldogs 5-3 at the Frozen Four
on Thursday and advancing to college hockey's championship game.
The Pioneers (26-12-5) will play for their first title since 1969
on Saturday against Maine, which beat Boston College 2-1 in the second game.

Lukas Dora scored with 11:35 left to give Denver a 4-3 lead, and
Keith added the clincher with 7.8 seconds to play. Adam Berkhoel
stopped 26 shots -- none bigger than when he turned Hobey Baker
finalist Junior Lessard away in the final minute of the second
period.
"He's the reason we're here," James said, referring to his
goalie. "That, and some pretty lucky bounces. The best team
doesn't always win, and we're proving that."

Denver's second leading scorer, James broke his right leg in the
regular-season finale March 5 and thought his season was over. It
would have been if his teammates hadn't extended the season until
the final weekend.

Denver coach George Gwozdecky thought the final goal was James'
way of saying "Thanks."

"A very classy play," Gwozdecky said. "A terrific message to
his teammates by one of our leaders, and one of our best players."

Denver trailed 2-0 and 3-1 before Gabe Gauthier and Ryan
Caldwell scored 34 seconds apart to tie it just 3:04 into the third
period. Five minutes later, Dora skated across the ice and fought
off a defender to slip the puck between Isaac Reichmuth's pads.

Lessard scored two power-play goals, and Reichmuth made 25 saves
for Duluth (28-13-4). He was pulled for the last 1:17; Duluth
knocked one in with 32.2 seconds left, but the goal was disallowed
because Tyler Brosz was in the crease before he barreled into the
goaltender and dislodged the puck.

Denver beat its Western Collegiate Hockey Association foe for
the first time in three tries this season.

The leading scorer in the nation with 32 goals and 63 points,
Lessard is the only one of the finalists for the award given to
college hockey's top player whose team reached the Frozen Four. The
winner will be announced Friday.

Lessard opened the scoring 1:09 into the game when he took a
pass from behind the net and -- with one skate on the goal line --
two-handed the puck into the upper corner. Brosz made it 2-0 just
3:25 later when he wristed a pass under the leg of a defender, off
the post and into the net.

Denver didn't muster much offense until Luke Fulgham poked a
rebound through Reichmuth's pads with 8:20 left in the second
period to make it 2-1.

But Lessard made it a two-goal game again after Tim Stapleton
stole the puck at center ice and fed it to Brian Schwabe. He
brought it down the left side before sending it across the ice to
Lessard, who beat Berkhoel with 4:25 left in the second period.

Then Denver came back.

Brett Skinner took a pass off a faceoff and slid over to his
right before wristing the puck toward the net. It hit Gauthier's
stick on the way into the goal.

Just 34 seconds later, Fulgham outraced Schwabe to a loose puck
that was rolling slowly toward the Duluth goal. He swatted it over
to Caldwell, who was all alone in front of the net and beat
Reichmuth to tie the game with 16:56 left in the third.