Photo Credit: The Target Center
After all the talk was about how good the No. 6 University of Denver Pioneers had been in 2016, DU came onto the ice against the No. 4 St. Cloud State Huskies with little purpose and seemed to try too hard to make the perfect play. The Huskies capitalized and left the Target Center with an important 4-2 victory over the Pioneers.
Early in the first period, Denver struggled to play their brand of hockey. St. Cloud’s defense forced DU to dump the puck in and chase it down low. The Huskies capitalized on that and had the better play for much of the opening period.
“[SCSU] bottled us up pretty good,” DU head coach Jim Montgomery said. “We have to learn from this and be a little more desperate. I didn’t think we were desperate in the first two periods.”
After Quentin Shore was caught hooking for DU’s first penalty of the night, SCSU capitalized on their first shot of the night. After Hobey Baker Finalist Ethan Prow entered the zone with the puck, found Joey Benik across the ice alone in the left circle. DU missed an assignment as Benik was able walk in and beat DU goalie Tanner Jaillet high to his glove side. 1-0 Huskies.
Unlike in prior games where the opening goal woke the Pioneers up, Denver stayed down. They continued to struggle to break the puck out, and they weren’t able to get anything set up in the offensive zone. By the end of the opening period, it was clear DU was playing for a buzzer and needed to get to the locker room and hit the reset button.
Apparently something clicked during the first intermission. DU came out swinging to start the second period. Time after time, the Pios were able to enter the zone with little Husky resistance, but SCSU goalie Charlie Lindgren stood strong making highlight reel save after highlight reel save.
SCSU got their first chance of the period after Adam Plant was called for tripping at the 4:22 mark of the second period, but thanks to an impressive, dominant penalty kill, the Huskies weren’t able to score.
Just seven seconds after the penalty expired and DU was back to full strength, Troy Terry, alone in the slot, took a great feed from Tariq Hammond and beat Lindgren high to tie the game at 1.
The tie lasted for just five minutes, though as David Morley scored on a play that fooled Jaillet. Benik skated the puck down low, acted as if he was going to wrap around, but instead passed it back behind himself to Morley where he had a wide open net to shoot into as Jaillet was covering the far side post ready for the wraparound. 2-1 Huskies.
The Pioneers were down, but they knew they weren’t out. On the ensuing faceoff, the Pioneers went back to work pushing the SCSU defense and nearly scoring multiple times. Each time, Lindgren was there with the save.
“They have great sticks on their team,” Senior captain Grant Arnold said. “They’re not the most physical team, but they have great sticks and they make it hard for guys to make plays behind the goal line.”
Just 1:41 into the third period, the Huskies doubled their lead on a weird bound off of Colorado native, Mikey Eyssimont’s stick. Kalle Kossila had the puck down low, found Eyssimont in the left circle where he put the puck on net. Thanks to a weird bounce off of a defenseman the puck bounced over Jaillet and into the back of the net 3-1.
Just 32 seconds later, DU pulled back within 1 thanks to a great effort by Terry to find Evan Janssen crashing on the far side of the crease. Terry skated the puck down into the left circle while under duress from the Huskies defense before he tapped the puck across the slot to a crashing Janssen who tapped the puck past Lindgren to cut the Husky lead in half.
Over the next 16 minutes, Denver was by far the better team. They played desperate hockey and they consistently were the first team to loose pucks. In short, SCSU didn’t have an answer. There were a few times when even Lindgren couldn’t bail out the Huskies, but the open chances were missed.
With just over five minutes left, after an uncharacteristic Lindgren rebound, the bouncing puck was in Danton Heinen’s wheelhouse below the right circle with a wide open net. Heinen swung at the puck…and missed as the puck bounced over his stick. He tried again, but Lindgren was back in position on the second effort and the score remained 3-2.
“I thought we were going to get the equalizer to be honest,” Montgomery said. “That’s a bad bounce. The puck just bounced over his stick.”
Just a minute or two later, Tariq Hammond nearly tied the game himself with an incredible individual effort. He entered the zone thanks to a great pass from Trevor Moore, skated down into the slot past Lindgren, shot the puck with a backhand effort, and hit both the crossbar and right post before the puck found its way to a Husky stick. He beat Lindgren, but he couldn’t beat the post and SCSU remained up by 1.
With 1:40 left, DU pulled Jaillet, but it was to no avail as the Huskies’ Jimmy Schuldt sent a shot the length of the ice at the 18:43 mark of the final period to ice the game and clinch the victory for the Huskies.
Denver was the better team for most of the game tonight, though the scoreboard didn’t show it. A poor showing in the first period and a number of missed chances late in the third period were the difference at the Target Center in Minneapolis.
“We didn’t get the puck to the net enough tonight,” Arnold said. “They did a great job bottling us up.”
The Pioneers will play No. 1 North Dakota for the fifth time this year in the 3rd place game at 3:30 central time tomorrow.
DU and SCSU combined for just 35 (official) shots on the evening with DU winning the SOG battle 19-16; SCSU blocked 23 shots over the course of the game; SCSU scored the only power play goal of the night; Heinen extended his point streak to 14 with an assist on Terry’s goal; Denver stays at #6 in the PWR with the loss tonight; Total attendance for the semifinal games was 10,926.