Denver Clinches Frozen Faceoff Berth in Double Overtime Thriller

Photo Credit: Andy Cross, The Denver Post

Just less than 9 minutes into the second overtime, freshman Colin Staub wrapped around the net and slid the puck past Nebraska-Omaha’s goalie to punch the University of Denver’s ticket to the NCHC Frozen Faceoff for a 4-3 double overtime victory.

The double overtime thriller initially didn’t seem like it would happen early in the affair. Denver started fast and erased any memory of the poor play from the night before in game one of the NCHC Tournament. Even though both teams were playing fast, Denver dominated play for the first 20 minutes.

At the 5:29 mark of the opening period, senior defenseman Nolan Zajac found fellow senior Quentin Shore on UNO goalie Evan Weninger’s back door. Shore tapped the puck over the line and DU was up 1-0 early.

“I thought Nolan Zajac and Quentin Shore were phenomenal tonight,’ DU head coach Jim Montgomery said. “Zajac took over the game in the first period in my mind.”

Denver had all of the momentum after that goal. Time after time Denver entered the zone with numbers, but Weninger stood tall in the crease. At the 17:14 mark of the first, Zajac made an incredible move to get around a diving UNO defender and found Troy Terry backdoor to double DU’s lead, 2-0.

“You saw the poise [of Zajac], especially on the Terry goal,” Montgomery said. “He had to go step around someone and then find him on the backdoor.”

Denver seemed to regress almost instantly when the puck dropped in the second period. The Pioneers weren’t sharp and they made a lot of mistakes in every zone. But it wasn’t until UNO had a 5 on 3 chance that the Mavericks were able to pull back within 1.

After a questionable five-minute major was issued to Grant Arnold for kneeing and Zajac was whistled for tripping on a goal-saving penalty, Jake Guentzel took a pass from Austin Ortega and blasted the puck past DU Goalie Tanner Jaillet’s outstretched glove, 2-1.

About five minutes later, UNO struck again. While DU was on a power play after Mason Morelli was whistled for goaltender interference, Ortega found the puck down low in the right circle. He turned and shot the puck on net. Jaillet wasn’t ready for the shot, and the puck found the back of the net, surprising all 3,580 in attendance.

Thanks to added offensive pressure in the last minute of the second, Denver was able to regain the momentum heading into the break. This was important because, just 1:31 into the final frame, Evan Janssen found Danton Heinen with a beautiful stretch pass to spring the Boston Bruins prospect on a breakaway. Heinen didn’t miss. He sent the puck high over Weninger’s glove to put the Pios up 1 again, 3-2.

Just two and a half minutes later, after a questionable penalty against Blake Hillman for interference, Austin Ortega scored his second goal of the night after a missed defensive assignment down low. Ortega slowly worked his way to the left of the crease and Guentzel, who had the puck at the point, found him. The game was tied yet again. This time, the tie wouldn’t be broken for over 45 minutes.

Throughout both overtimes, both the Pioneers and Mavericks were able to create chances, but the goalies had the upper hand every time. Weninger seemed to come up with a highlight reel save just before Jaillet would return the favor on the other end.

This continued through the entire first overtime and well into the second. Twice Jaillet seemed to get beat on a backdoor play that had him out of position, but both times, he came up with an incredible save to keep the game tied.

The first one happened midway through the first overtime. UNO seemed to be on the doorstep for a long time. Somehow, Denver didn’t see a black sweater enter the open ice to Jaillet’s back door. The UNO shot looked like it would beat Jaillet, but the goalie’s glove somehow got over in time to keep the puck out of the net.

The second one came on a very similar play early in the second overtime. Omaha was on an odd-man rush and DU had a forward back playing defense. UNO found the open man down low with an open net to shoot at, but Jaillet came up with the incredible kick save to keep the puck out of the net yet again.

“Tanner Jaillet. Wow,” Montgomery said. “51 saves, but some incredible saves. The rebound in the first overtime, we all thought the game was over.”

These saves seemed to energize the team as they generated serious scoring chances on the other end both times. Unfortunately for DU, Weninger was on top of his game as well and kept Denver off the overtime scoreboard.

Finally, at the 8:54 mark of the second overtime, after Energizer Bunny Emil Romig sped his way past the UNO defense for what seemed like the 10th time in overtime, he found Staub behind the net. Staub then wrapped the puck around the net and beat Weninger low with a very dirty, gritty goal to clinch the series sweep and send the Pioneers to the Frozen Faceoff in Minneapolis next weekend.

“I don’t know how it went in,” Staub said of his game winning goal after the game. “I’m just glad it did and that we were able to get the win.”

The unsung hero of the game, especially in overtime was, once again, Emil Romig. His speed was the difference on nearly all of DU’s overtime scoring chances and that held true on Staub’s game winning goal. He paced the Pioneers all evening and DU fed off of his energy.

“I’m really proud of Emil,” Montgomery said. “He’s become a consistent player in the second half after two and a half years of being inconsistent. He’s worked at his game. He’s an incredible young man who loves his teammates and loves being a Pioneer.”

Yet again, the officiating of the game was suspect, to say the least. Time after time Timm Walsh and Todd Anderson missed calls and called phantom penalties on both teams. If it wasn’t for the strong defensive play from both the Pioneers and Mavericks, their officiating could have cost the game for one of these two teams.

Regardless, Denver was able to win two games without playing their best hockey while recovering from a mentally draining finals week. That in itself should give any Pioneer fan hope for the coming weeks. Nebraska-Omaha is a very good team and Denver gutted out two incredibly important victories to keep their winning streak alive and extend it to 11.

“Hats off to UNO. They played great hockey,” Montgomery said. “They competed at an incredible level and it’s a reflection of their legendary coach. It’s hard to eliminate a team when their season’s on the line.”

Notes

Zajac’s two assists were his 15th and 16th on the season; Members of the Pacific Rim Line only accounted for two points tonight: Trevor Moore assist on Terry’s goal and Heinen’s breakaway goal; Staub’s goal was his 5th of the season; Official attendance for game 2 was 3,580; Denver remains tied for 6th in the PairWise with Michigan, but the RPI gap between DU and #5 Boston College has closed to .006; This was the longest game in Magness Arena history as Staub’s goal came 4:29 later than the winning goal in the second game ever played at Magness.

What’s Next

NCHC Frozen Faceoff
Friday, March 18th
vs. St. Cloud State
Target Center
Minneapolis, Minnesota
Time: TBD
Watch: NCHCtv (Maybe CBS Sports)
Listen: 104.3 FM or 1600 AM

4 thoughts on “Denver Clinches Frozen Faceoff Berth in Double Overtime Thriller”

  1. It was sad to see Zajac, Levin, Shore and Arnold play their final game in Magness Arena, but at least they all made a big impact and went out in historic fashion. I also hope that gorgeous breakaway goal by Danton Heinen wasn’t his last one in Magness in case the Bruins sign him in the offseason. He’s a special talent, and I hope he comes back for his junior year. All in all, an excellent season of hockey in Denver this year, especially the second half of the year…

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  2. I can’t understand why there were not more people in attendance this weekend. I know about the students and finals, but I mean…general hockey fans in the area. The Avs were out of town, good weather……it’s been like that the past few playoff years I’ve been to…….lots of emptiness. I blame it on the marketing by DU. I mean, it’s not like people don’t go because they think it will suck and DU will lose……that was probably the most exciting game all year on Saturday.

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  3. My fiancé and I attended the Saturday night game and were surprised how empty Magness Arena was, especially considering there were over 35,000 fans in attendance for the outdoor game just a few weeks prior. We are CC season ticket holders but considering they were on the road, we wanted to see some college hockey so we drove up from Monument. DU and Omaha did not disappoint-that was one of the most entertaining college hockey games we’ve ever seen. Congrats to both teams for leaving it all out on the ice.

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  4. These games were held over DU spring break, which reduces home attendance by about 40% each year on this weekend. There is Similar low attendance in many cities for these first round games. Additionally, we’d just played Omaha the week before, so a lot of people were not up for a repeat weekend. Finally, people in Denver have little emotional connection to the NCHC playoffs, since they live too far to watch it live, unlike most of the rest of the league, where Minneapolis is driving distance. Most people here see it as a league money vehicle, and interest is low.

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