COLUMBUS, Ohio (Ticker) - The future of the Denver Pioneers helped make the present historic.
Paul Stastny scored a pair of goals and fellow freshman Peter Mannino made a career-high 44 saves Saturday as Denver became the first team to win consecutive NCAA championships three different times with a 4-1 triumph over the North Dakota Fighting Sioux.
The Pioneers (32-9-2), who captured the sixth championship in school history last season, became the seventh team to win consecutive titles, a feat they also accomplished from 1960-61 and 1968-69. Michigan also had repeated as champion in two different instances.
"I think it's a long shot," Denver coach George Gwozdecky said of repeating. "It's a great feeling right now. A great feeling of satisfaction, of relief, of joy. A little bit different than it did this time last year, but very special, and I'm so proud."
At Value City Arena at the Schottenstein Center, Denver - which also won the previous three meetings with North Dakota this season - turned to a pair of first-year players to lead it to victory.
With the game tied, 1-1, Stastny deflected a shot by Kevin Ulanski past goaltender Jordan Parise while on the power play midway through the second period to give the Pioneers the lead.
"I was just tied up in front with one of their 'D' and I didn't even know it hit me," Stastny said. "Ully's shot just went right off me and in, hit me in my butt."
The son of NHL Hall of Famer Peter Stastny, Paul Stastny converted a pass from sophomore defenseman Matt Carle at 8:19 of the third for another tally with the man advantage for a 3-1 bulge.
"Matty danced through like three guys and Parise challenged him and he was getting hooked, so I just yelled across and he didn't even look, he knew right where I was," Paul Stastny said. "He threw it across, right on my tape, and Parise was trying to get across and it just went right in."
In its 6-2 Frozen Four semifinal win over Colorado College, Denver netted all six of its goals on the power play.
Making his third consecutive start after alternating with sophomore Glenn Fisher all season, Mannino was superb, withstanding a late push and making 23 saves in the third period en route to his seventh straight win. But his best stop was a controversial one.
A native of Farmington Hills, Michigan, Mannino snared Erik Fabian's backhanded flip as the puck appeared to cross the goal line with 4 1/2 minutes to go in the first period. But after video review, the play stood, keeping the game even.
"From my angle, it looked like it was in," Fabian said. "But I was behind the net. Obviously, they looked at it over and over and they said it wasn't in, so it wasn't in."
"Personally, I didn't think it went in," said Mannino, who was named the tournament's Most Outstanding Player. "I did think it was very close and I thought it should have been reviewed. It was just a quick reaction, they shot it high and I went up and grabbed it. ... I'm just glad of the outcome."
Gwozdecky said he has nothing but confidence in his freshmen.
"Look at our starting lineup and we had (Ryan) Dingle and Stastny and (Andrew) Thomas and Mannino out there," he said. "Four of the six guys to start the game. That should tell you how highly we as a coaching staff think of our freshmen and what we're willing to put them in positions for in order to be able to show people what they can do."
Jeff Drummond opened the scoring for Denver at 6:15 of the opening period and Gabe Gauthier, the tournament's leading scorer with 11 points, sealed the win with an empty-net goal in the final minute.
"It was definitely harder to win it all this season because everybody knew what we could do," Gauthier said. "To win the title again this season is better than winning it last year because this time around, it was a lot tougher. Last season, we snuck up on some people, but this season, we had to prove that we could win with everybody gunning for us."
Drummond's tally originally was credited to Ulanski, who gathered a loose puck in the slot and skated to the left side of the net before throwing it into the crease. The puck caromed off North Dakota defenseman Matt Smaby's left skate and headed toward the goal line before Drummond stuffed it in for a 1-0 Denver lead.
Denver, which ended the season with nine straight wins and a 30-0-1 mark when leading after two periods, matched North Dakota's total of seven national titles. Michigan leads the NCAA with nine championships.
Travis Zajac netted a power-play tally on a perfect redirection and Parise stopped 20 shots for the Fighting Sioux (25-15-5), who have lost three of four meetings with the Pioneers in the championship game.
"I thought we came out and did everything that we wanted to do in tonight's hockey game," said North Dakota coach Dave Hakstol, who failed to become the first rookie coach in Division I history to win a championship. "At the end of the night, the difference was some bounces of the puck and some good plays on Denver's part. ... It wasn't our night tonight."
Denver's victory secured the Western Collegiate Hockey Association its record 35th national title since being founded in 1951.