photo credit: Maddie MacFarlane
While the No. 6 Denver Pioneers return winless from the NCHC Frozen Faceoff, the team walks away having faced adversity and greatly challenged by its opponents in the tournament to aid in overall progress moving forward.
Friday night’s matchup against the St. Cloud State Huskies served as a necessary reality check for Denver buzzing off of an eleven game winning streak. While losing is not ideal in any circumstance, Friday’s loss relieved the growing pressure Denver’s roll was creating heading into the NCAA tournament.
The Pioneers were tested by the Huskies who bottled up Denver’s passing and shooting lanes and tested DU goaltender Tanner Jaillet for the full sixty minutes. Denver’s reoccurring apathetic energy during the first two periods assisted in the Huskies’ 3-1 lead during the third period. The lack of intensity from the third and fourth line, generally notorious for tenacity and passion, reflected by the Pacific Rim Line and defense, further stressed the importance of those two lines.
Down by two in the third period, Denver finally awoke and dictated play returning to the recognizable Denver hockey demonstrated in 2016. Unfortunately, their efforts weren’t enough as the Huskies sealed the victory with an empty net goal. Too many missed opportunities cost Denver the chance to advance to the Frozen Faceoff championship.
Denver’s consistent first period lagging, provided insight to the team that continuing that trend won’t always result in a win the way the Pioneers were able to formulate in past games. Further, St. Cloud restricted Denver’s ability to move the puck and the Pioneers struggled to react to the Huskies high pressure.
The consolation game of the tournament concluding in a 1-1 draw against No. 1 North Dakota, allowed Denver to showcase players who rarely receive (if any) ice time. Coach Montgomery benched all of the seniors but Nolan Zajac, who captained the Pioneers for the evening. The reconstructed fourth line consisted of Rudy Junda who skated in his third game of the season, Evan Ritt who played in his second game, and freshman Logan O’Connor. Defensively, Sean Mostrom made his NCAA debut replacing Matt VanVoorhis, while forward Brad Hawkinson took Will Butcher’s position for the night. Florida Panthers prospect Evan Cowley replaced Jaillet between the pipes.
“It really adds to our depth that we could play three guys who haven’t skated since the winning streak,” said Coach Montgomery. “Coach Berry [UND] matched them up against the CBS line where they gave up one goal. However, the other four shifts they really handled themselves well defensively.”
The drastic line changes provided rest and safety for players greatly needed next weekend, while fashioning a bold statement on Coach Montgomery’s behalf. Captain Grant Arnold, assistant captain Gabe Levin, along with Quentin Shore’s absence on the ice, during their last NCHC game as Pioneers, demonstrated the serious intent Denver has to claim a National Championship this season.
While the weekend didn’t end as expected, Denver returns having been tested by the No. 2 and No. 3 teams in the nation and by no means failed in either encounter. If anything, the Pioneers will benefit from blatantly identifying their weaknesses and receiving a much-needed reality check to propel them into a hopeful, successful national tournament run in the coming weeks.