Photo Credit: Ann Heisenfelt, AP
For the first time in eleven years, the University of Denver Pioneers are going to the Frozen Four. Thanks to an impressive performance from the vaunted Pacific Rim Line and a gritty finish to the game by the entire team, the Pioneers have punched their ticket to Tampa and will play bitter rival North Dakota in the national semifinal.
“It’s an amazing feeling, especially as a senior” captain Grant Arnold said. “I think about the tough losses that our class has had, I think about the seniors from last year and all the alumni from around the country. It’s an awesome accomplishment.”
Through the first period, though, the final result wasn’t so sure. Despite outshooting Ferris State 15-3 in the opening frame, the score was tied at 2 going into the first intermission. Denver had much of the better play through the first twenty minutes as Danton Heinen and Dylan Gambrell got the Pacific Rim Line going, but the issue for the Pioneers was defensive mistakes.
On the Bulldogs’ first goal, defenseman Tariq Hammond fell down as star forward Gerald Mayhew entered the zone. Hammond’s fall sprung Mayhew on a breakaway and he didn’t miss his shot as he beat DU goaltender Tanner Jaillet high to tie the game at 1.
Just 60 seconds after Gambrell broke the 1-1 tie with a snipe off the right post off of a faceoff, Corey Mackin scored a power play goal on an unfortunate bounce off of Hammond’s stick in the crease to tie the game back up. Mackin had the puck low to Jaillet’s left, he centered the puck across the crease where the puck met Hammond’s stick and went into the empty net back door.
After a four goal opening period, just one goal was scored in the second. Trevor Moore got the puck just inside the zone after an incredible stretch pass from Blake Hillman and Moore didn’t miss as he shot the puck high, short side over Ferris State goaltender Jared Smith’s right shoulder.
“You know, the score may not reflect how we wanted it after the first period,” Quentin Shore said. “But we stuck to the process. As long as we do that, good things will happen.”
Denver held a slim 3-2 lead heading into the final period of play, but it certainly seemed like Ferris State was just one bad bounce away from tying the game back up.
Denver dominated the early part of the third period but they couldn’t find the back of the net. Smith made a number of impressive saves, but the Pioneers couldn’t break through.
After the Bulldogs gained a bit of momentum in DU’s zone, Hammond took a possibly goal-saving tripping penalty. Less than a minute and a half into the power play, Ferris State pulled even for the third time in the game. Mackin found the puck down low behind the net thanks to a pass from Mayhew. Mackin then sent a pass through three Pioneers in the slot to find Kyle Schempp. Schempp then sent the puck past Jaillet’s outstretched blocker for the Bulldogs’ third goal and the third tie of the game.
The tying goal was nothing more than a bump in the road for the Pioneers, though. Leading up to Hammond’s penalty, DU was dominating play, and on the ensuing faceoff, Denver got right back to work. They cycled the puck well in the zone, they weren’t afraid to take the body, and they were peppering Smith with shots.
Finally, at the 15:28 mark of the final period, the hard work paid off. After a great cycle, Heinen, who had the puck in the right circle, pass the puck across the ice to a crashing Hillman. Once the puck reached him, Hillman walked in between the circles and fired the puck past Smith to give Denver the 4-3 lead.
The Pioneers didn’t look back.
Just 25 seconds later, Denver struck again to put the game all but out of reach. This time, it was Nolan Zajac who found the back of the net on the power play. At this point, the game was all but over and the fans at The Pioneer were ready to start booking their flights to Tampa.
But the Pioneers weren’t done. At the 17:33 mark of the third period, Quentin Shore got in on the action. After an Evan Janssen shot went off of Smith’s pad, Shore was rapidly crashing to tap in the rebound and extend the Pioneers’ lead to 3 at 6-3.
Just two and a half minutes later, the final buzzer sounded and the Pioneers rushed the ice to celebrate their long-awaited return to the Frozen Four.
“[I’m] really proud of our group and the commitment that they had to each other,” DU head coach Jim Montgomery said. “It’s a credit in the fact that we have two seniors up here because they led us along with Nolan Zajac and Gabe Levin.”
The Pioneers will have one week off before they head to Tampa to take on the North Dakota Fighting Hawks for the 6th time this year. So far the Pioneers and Hawks have split the season series 2-2-1.
“North Dakota is going to have to deal with the 100 degree weather difference,” Montgomery said. “We don’t have to. We’re going to be a lot better hydrated than they are.”