TAMPA -- North Dakota sophomore forward Nick Schmaltz wasn't going to stay quiet forever, and the Chicago Blackhawks prospect decided to make his presence known when the Fighting Hawks needed it the most.
Schmaltz, selected by the Blackhawks in the first round (No. 20) of the 2014 NHL Draft, scored the game-winning goal with 56.8 seconds remaining in North Dakota's 4-2 win against Denver in the NCAA Frozen Four national semifinal.
The Fighting Hawks will play top-seeded Quinnipiac in the national championship game Saturday at Amalie Arena.
North Dakota's "CBS" line of Drake Caggiula, Brock Boeser and Schmaltz were responsible for three goals and six points Thursday. Caggiula scored two goals in the second period and Boeser had already recorded an assist.
With less than a minute remaining in a 2-2 game, Schmaltz found the right time to add his name to the score sheet and, not surprisingly, Caggiula and Boeser got the assists.
"Big-time players make big-time plays," Fighting Hawks coach Brad Berry said. "That's what they did. They executed on the play we drew up."
On the game-winning sequence, Boeser won the draw to set up Caggiula, who couldn't get off a clean shot at the top of the right circle. The puck ended up back on Boeser's stick, and he found Schmaltz with a backdoor pass in front of the net.
"In practice during [the] week, once or twice a week, we work on faceoff plays, offensive and defensive," Berry said. "It's guys executing, attention to detail of what we do every day in practice, and it reaped the rewards tonight because they were dialed in."
Boeser, a 19-year-old freshman from Burnsville, Minn., was selected by Vancouver in the first round (No. 23) of the 2015 NHL Draft. He again showed on Thursday why the Canucks are excited about his potential.
He has been a goal-scorer for much of the season, but in the NCAA Tournament he has become the line's primary set-up man.
"We always joke around and tell him to pass the puck because all he does is score," Caggiula said. "[But] a lot of people don't realize just how good his vision is and he can make plays all over the ice. He made a great play to me on my first goal, an awesome saucer pass behind the defensemen [and a] great play to Nick on the third one. He's a freshman, but he doesn't act like a freshman, very mature kid on and off the ice."
Boeser has 26 goals to lead the Fighting Hawks this season, but has scored one goal in the tournament. He has five assists in three tournament games.
"He's a fun player to play with," Schmaltz said. "He thinks the game the same way as me and Drake. We like to make plays, but we also like to play hard away from the puck. I think that's the staple of our success is how hard we play away from the puck and getting the pucks back and going and playing offense."
Caggiula went through the NHL Draft without being selected, but there should be plenty of suitors interested in him as a free agent after the championship game. He's listed at 5-foot-9, but plays a bigger game on the ice, and the pucks that touch his stick seem to find their way around the net.
On his second goal, he forced a turnover in the zone and buried a powerful wrist shot past Denver goalie Tanner Jaillet to give the Fighting Hawks a 2-0 lead.
"I was hiding behind some of the players in the high slot there and was able to pick a pocket out of a Denver player," Caggiula said. "[I] made a quick move around the guy and tried to get it in the net as quick as possible. I think it went under his glove."
Now, Caggiula is one step closer to the goal that has shaped not only his senior season, but his entire career at UND.
"I think the first step on the North Dakota campus, the first thing you talk about is winning a national championship. For the first three years, we came up short. As a senior class we wanted to leave this program with a National Championship," he said. "We're one step closer there. We're going to get ready … for Saturday and hopefully win the national championship that we've been working for four years for."