They had ice in their veins.
This past weekend Denver Pioneer athletes were all about clutch performances. Some performances were obvious while others may have run under the radar.
Let’s start with lacrosse as #2 DU traveled to #1 Notre Dame in South Bend, Indiana to take on the #2 Fighting Irish. Of course, Zach Miller’s OT strike with a perfect feed from Connor Cannizzaro was a classic clutch moment. But that moment could never have happened without Trevor Baptiste winning the OT faceoff and freshmen Alex Ready making critical saves all game long. Also, the Pioneers would never have even gotten out of regulation without a heart stopping assist from Colton Jackson and goal from Tyler Pace with 2:25 remaining to tie the game at 8 on Notre Dame soil.
What you might have missed – the diving ground ball scoop and dish in the offensive end that allowed Denver to retain ball possession in OT leading up to the Miller game winner. (It may have been by Austin French and Jack Bobzien – but it happened fast. If you know who it was, tell us and we’ll make the correction!)
During hockey’s NCHC playoff game against the Omaha Mavericks at Magness Arena, following Friday’s 5-2 victory, DU played the longest game in Magness Arena history. After regulation, the Pios and Mavs were tied 3-3. After one scoreless 20 minute overtime and midway through the second OT, another DU athlete took charge. Freshman Colin Staub skated to the net and pushed the game winning tally past the goaltender Evan Weninger at the 8:54 mark of the second overtime period with assists from Emil Romig and Gabe Levin.
What you might have missed – Tanner Jaillet made 51 saves as Omaha had the best of DU for the final two periods of play in regulation. Jaillet’s 51 saves were the seventh most in program history. Two of his most incredible saves were potential game ending shots at a wide open net in overtime from Mavs’ forwards that he somehow managed to stop – creating the final opportunity for the Staub game-winner.
In Steamboat Springs, the ski team captured their 23rd National NCAA Championship. In the alpine events (giant slalom and slalom), every skier completed their events mistake free and under pressure. The team championship requires a balance of error free skiing and speed. In slalom, CU and Utah men skied off course and hurt their team’s chances – but not DU. In giant slalom, DU’s Eric Read skied mistake free and finished 3rd while Kristine Haugen did the same and finished first.
What you may have missed, in women’s slalom, DU’s Tuva Norbye had a poor first run, 20th, but she posted a red-hot fifth place second run to move up to 13th place and secure 18 critical points for team DU. Her clutch second run put the Pioneers in the lead heading into the final day.
DU led by a slim 15.5 points heading into the final day of classical men’s and women’s events.
In the women’s and men’s 5k and 10k freestyle cross country, both squads placed two skiers in the top 10 to hold other squads at bay. Still, CU was closing the gap along with Utah.
DU’s seniorless nordic team put their stamp on the final two events of the NCAA Championships – the men’s 20k classical and women’s 15k classical. In the 20k men’s classical, DU’s Moritz Madlener refused to let CU’s Mads Stroem get off the hook and run away with the event. Madlener shadowed Stroem the entire distance as the duo finished 1-2. Madlener’s strong second place showing – only 1.7 seconds behind Stroem, limited any CU damage to the team points totals and protected DU’s position.
What you didn’t likely see in the men’s classical event was Dag Frode Trolleboe from DU finishing in 10th to add 21 more points to DU’s total. As important, Trolleboe finished along with another CU skier to limit any points damage.Pioneer Lars Hannah finished in 13th place, giving DU 18 more critical points. The DU’s men’s performances in the 20k classical gave DU women breathing room for the 15k classical final.
The most clutch DU athlete of the entire weekend may have been DU sophomore Linn Eriksen in the 15k classical. A desperate Utah squad sent Veronika Mayerhofer to the front of the pack to push the pace and break Eriksen. An equally desperate CU team sent three women to the front pack, needing a 1-2-3 finish to steal the championship. Eriksen and Utah’s Meyerhofer shared the lead for the first two laps with the trailing pack in hot pursuit.
As snow conditions deteriorated with rising temperatures, the pace slowed and the trailing pack started to close on the lead duo on the final lap. Spectators were left to question, did Erikson and Meyerhofer go out too fast and were they set to fade? Somehow, in the worst of conditions, Eriksen found another gear that only great athletes access – dusting Meyerhofer and the rest of her pursuers while building a 17 second lead on the final climb. She finished the effort on a downhill into the finishing area, crossing in 54:37.6 with her nearest rival nearly 20 seconds behind.
With DU as the hunted team, Erikson, skiing alone in deteriorating conditions, added the ultimate exclamation point to DU’s 23rd national championship victory.
DU athletes will continue to deliver clutch performances, but this past weekend may have been one of the greatest ever.