Pioneers Hold Off Late Omaha Comeback Bid, Complete Sweep

With 19 seconds left, the University of Nebraska-Omaha pulled goalie, Kirk Thompson for the extra skater. Fortunately for the University of Denver Pioneers, the Mavericks couldn’t convert with the extra skater on the ice and were able to hold onto a tight 4-3 victory.

If one were to ask DU Coach Jim Montgomery, chances are he’d say that the game probably shouldn’t have been that close.

After a fairly uneventful first period with no scoring, DU scored two goals just 35 seconds apart at the 12:19 and 12:54 marks of the 2nd period. The first was scored by Evan Janssen on a great, gutsy goal down low when he snuck the puck past Thompson’s pad.

Gabe Levin scored the 2nd in that sequence on a great shot that beat Thompson high to the glove side. The goal was set up by a great pass from freshman Colin Staub to Levin low in the slot. All Gabe had to do was snap a quick wrister and the Pios were up 2-0.

The two teams went to the locker rooms with DU up 2-0, but there was certainly a feeling that DU was up by at least 5 or 6. DU was dominating play through the first 40 minutes and Tanner Jaillet continued his stellar form from the night before as he stopped all 18 shots he faced.

With 6:36 left in the 2nd period, Logan O’Connor was whistled for a 5 minute major for kneeing. To add to the predicament, Trevor Moore was caught cross-checking, so UNO had a 5 on 3 advantage for 2 minutes with another 1:30 of 5 on 4 after Moore’s penalty ended.

The Pioneers killed off both penalties to maintain the 2-0 lead. Even at that point, the feeling on the ice was that DU had already won. UNO couldn’t convert with a huge advantage. It seemed that Maverick players were asking themselves, “How are we supposed to win this game?”

The Pios seemed to pick up right where they left off at the end of the 2nd period when Danton Heinen buried a wrist shot from low in the slot for his 6th goal of the season. At that point, DU had the 3-0 lead and UNO seemed down and out. Their body language was terrible, the crowd was silent, and DU was buzzing.

Just 1:13 after Heinen’s goal, Justin Parizek received a pass from Fredrick Olofsson in the slot and buried his screened shot high to Jaillet’s glove side to cut the lead to 3-1. There was a lot of traffic in front of the net, so it’s no surprise that Jaillet never saw the puck. Just 39 seconds later, lighting struck again for UNO. Jake Randolph beat Jaillet and cut DU’s lead in half, 3-2.

At that point, Montgomery made the decision to use his timeout. It seemed like he wanted to calm everything down on both sides of the ice. That decision paid off. DU calmed down and regained control of the game.

At the 8:37 mark of the period, Dylan Gambrell scored a much needed insurance goal on one of the best power play sequences DU has executed all year. After UNO cleared the puck, the Pioneers skated the puck past center ice, dropped the puck to Danton Heinen who was streaking down the center of the ice. Heinen entered the zone with a lot of speed, shot the puck low and the rebound went to Trevor Moore. Moore shot the puck high, but Thompson was in the way. Finally Gambrell scored on the rebound from Moore’s shot. That gave DU a bit of breathing room at 4-2.

After that goal, DU took on a very defensive mindset. They stopped trying to advance the puck into UNO’s zone and focused on stopping the Mavericks’ potent attack.

That strategy nearly backfired. At the 15:50 mark of the 3rd period, Mason Morelli found the puck on his stick on a rebound surrendered by Jaillet and buried it over Jaillet’s outstretched glove.

The next 4:10 was certainly dominated by the Mavericks, but DU held on and thwarted everything else UNO tried to throw at the net to earn an important road sweep.

While this was an important victory for DU, this was a key weekend for the Pioneers. In their last 6 games, (North Dakota, St. Cloud State, Notre Dame), DU was unable to earn a victory. Going on the road to play a very good team in a new, loud building, the deck seemed to stacked against the Pioneers.

Instead, coming off of a frustrating weekend in which DU was stonewalled by Notre Dame goalie Cal Petersen (.971 SV% over the weekend), Denver gave UNO their first two losses in brand new Baxter Arena.

Even though DU nearly let game two slip away, the Pioneers came out of the weekend with two victories, 6 conference standings points, and a huge confidence boost going forward. It is extremely difficult to earn a sweep in any NCHC matchup, albeit on the road. The Pioneers did just that this weekend.

DU fans might be coming back to this weekend as an important turning point in the 2015-16 campaign.

Notes

Dylan Gambrell had three points in the victory (1G, 2A); Danton Heinen broke his 12 game goal-less streak; Janssen’s goal was his third on the season; After a stellar two weeks, Tanner Jaillet has raised his SV% to .922 and lowered his GAA to 2.36; This was DU’s first time playing in brand new Baxter Arena and are now 2-0 in that building; All 7 goals in this game were scored by different players; This weekend was the first chance to see the away team wear white on the road in the NCHC; With the sweep, Denver moved up to #4 in the NCHC standings and all the way to #14 (top 16 get into the NCAA Tournament) in the all-important PairWise Rankings.

What’s Next: Returning Home

Friday, 1/15 & Saturday, 1/16
vs. Western Michigan (7-11-2, 4-6-0 NCHC)
Magness Arena
7:36 PM & 7:06 PM
Watch: ASN (Friday)
Listen: 104.3 FM both nights
Tickets