Denver Tops North Dakota in Game for the Ages, 6-4

Photo Credit: Sasha Kandrach

In one of the best games in the history of the storied rivalry between the University of Denver and the University of North Dakota, the No. 13 Pioneers held on to beat the No. 2 Fighting Hawks 6-4. It took a game-winning shorthanded goal from Quentin Shore and a game-sealing empty net goal from Danton Heinen, but the Denver Pioneers won one of the best games of the 2015-16 College Hockey season.

“It was just an unbelievable game to be a part of,” DU head coach Jim Montgomery said after the final buzzer.

Game one of the DU-UND rivalry game started with the Fighting Hawks dictating much of the play. North Dakota had the first 3 shots of the game and it took an incredible effort on a shorthanded chance by Trevor Moore to notch the Pioneers’ first two. Just after DU killed off an early Dylan Gambrell hooking penalty, Christian Wolanin found the puck low in the slot at the 5:39 mark of the game and fired a wrister past Tanner Jaillet to open the scoring and give UND the early 1-0 lead.

The North Dakota faithful erupted and the Pios seemed to be on their heels. However, right after Wolanin gave the Hawks the lead, the Pioneers woke up and took over the game. They began dictating the physical battle, they started to control the puck and they kept North Dakota from generating any significant offensive offense.

“It took about seven minutes into the game for [our guys] to realize they could play with [North Dakota],” Montgomery said.

At the 12:44 mark of the opening period, that hard offensive work paid off as senior captain Grant Arnold tipped a Nolan Zajac shot past Fighting Hawk goalie Cam Johnson to tie the game at 1. Yet again, it was the hard work of the energetic and physical 4th line that got DU going.

After North Dakota killed off a penalty that straddled the first intermission, Denver seemed to be sitting back a bit defensively and letting North Dakota get pucks deep into the zone. But true to DU’s defensive form, they bent but they didn’t break.

At the 6:08 mark of the 2nd period, after Dylan Gambrell won the faceoff to Cam Johnson’s left, Heinen worked his way past the North Dakota defense, found the puck, passed the puck back across the crease where Moore was waiting to tap the puck over the goal line to give DU its first lead of the night, 2-1. Moore’s tie breaking goal was just the first of several highlight-reel goals for both teams.

“[The top line] was great tonight,” Montgomery explained. “You need them to be when you’re playing the top level teams.”

After DU took the lead, the Pios were buzzing. North Dakota struggled to get anything going offensively, but after a defensive breakdown, at the 11:48 mark of the middle frame, Troy Stecher took a pass from Nick Schmaltz from across the slot and wristed the puck past Jaillet’s right shoulder to tie the game at 2.

Less than two minutes later, at the 13:37 mark of the 2nd, DU answered. After Moore and Heinen played a little game of keep away in the corner with UND’s defense, Adam Plant quietly worked his way into the low slot. Moore found him with a great pass through the crease and Plant didn’t miss to retake the lead 3-2.

The third period started flat for both teams. The crowd didn’t seem ready for the regulation period to start and North Dakota quickly capitalized on the lack of energy. Just 1:36 into the 3rd, Stecher found Brock Boeser low to Jaillet’s right and didn’t miss the wide open net. 3-3.

Just like the first period, it took a third period North Dakota goal to wake the Pioneers up. For the next 7 minutes Denver controlled play again and at the 7:44 mark of the final frame, DU retook the lead. Heinen led the rush into the UND zone, passed to Moore on his left while working his way into the slot past the Hawk defense. Moore then passed the puck back to Heinen who hit both posts as the puck went in to give DU its 3rd lead of the night. 4-3.

North Dakota wasn’t immediately desperate, but slowly, the sense of urgency grew on the Fighting Hawks’ bench. At the 16:16 mark of the 3rd, thanks to a bad UND turnover on a power play, Heinen found Quentin Shore alone in the slot who went bar down to double DU’s lead.

The crowd erupted and was louder than it had been all night. DU was relishing in that for too long and just 30 seconds later, Nick Schmaltz beat Jaillet after a bad defensive breakdown after North Dakota had pulled its goalie to pull the Hawks back within one.

Fortunately for DU, its defensive “bend but don’t break” mentality served them well in the final three and a half minutes when North Dakota just wouldn’t let Denver clear the puck. After DU finally got the puck out of the zone, Heinen put the game away with his empty-net goal to preserve the 6-4 victory.

“That was nerve-racking because North Dakota does a great job in the offensive zone,” Montgomery said. “When you’re playing what I think is the best team in the country, there are a lot of nerve-racking moments.”

This was, without a doubt, one of the best games in the long and storied history of the DU-UND rivalry. It took a DU comeback, 3 ties and 3 different answering goals for DU to finally put the Hawks away.

“It was the first time where as a coach, in the last ten minutes, I was just able to sit back and say ‘this is so much fun. What a great game for anyone to be a part of,'” Montgomery said.

If you didn’t see the game either in person or on TV, it wouldn’t be possible to believe what took place at Magness Arena. The #13 team in the country punched the #2 team in the mouth tonight.

This was only game one. Who knows what might happen in game two on Saturday.

Notes

The top lines for both teams combined for 17 points tonight; Heinen had 5 points (2G, 3A) while Moore had 4 (1G, 3A); Gambrell had 2 assists to bring his season total to 21; Moore’s 3 assists give him 23 on the year; Jaillet made 41 saves on 45 shots while Johnson made 25 on 30; Shore’s shorthanded goal was his 9th of the season; 5 goals were scored in the 3rd period; DU’s victory moves them up to 10th in the PairWise Rankings while North Dakota falls to 3rd behind Quinnipiac (1) and St. Cloud State (2); Announced attendance was 6,064, a sellout, but there were many empty seats at Magness.

What’s Next

Tomorrow
2/13
vs. North Dakota
Magness Arena
7:06 PM MT
Watch: Root Sports RM
Listen: 104.3 FM
Tickets