Pioneers ride rock-solid defense to take 4 points in Grand Forks

Photo Credit: Reinhold Matay, USA TODAY Sports

The #2 University of Denver Pioneers only scored 4 goals over the course of their two games at The Ralph this weekend, but those 4 goals were just enough to take four of the six possible points from the #6 North Dakota Fighting Hawks. With a 2-1 loss in 3-on-3 overtime Friday night, which will go down as a tie for NCAA purposes, and a 3-2 victory on Saturday, the Pioneers come home feeling good about where they are at this early juncture of the season.

Friday night’s game was all about incredible defense. The Hawks had the Pios on their heels throughout much of the first period, but thanks to a strong performance by goalie Tanner Jaillet and great play in front of him, the Pios were able to keep the Hawks off the scoreboard. By the end of the opening frame, the Pios had started to even out the game and closed the SOG gap to 10-8 by the first intermission.

The second and third periods saw more of the same from both teams. Denver had more high-quality scoring chances than North Dakota, but both Jaillet and UND goalie Cam Johnson stood tall in net.

It was Johnson who made the “better” saves though. Throughout the final two regulation frames, the Pios generated chance after chance, but Johnson, oft-criticized as overrated by this writer, wouldn’t let anything into his net.

After North Dakota got a goal from Cole Smith early in the third period thanks to poor defensive play in front of Jaillet, the Pioneers started pushing harder. It wasn’t until the 14:47 mark of the final period that they were able to tie the game. On a perfectly drawn up power play sequence, Dylan Gambrell found Will Butcher at the point, who then found Henrik Borgström at the top of the right circle. Without wasting a second, Borgström sent the puck past Johnson’s glove and into the top right corner to tie the game at 1.

The teams played a scoreless 5-on-5 overtime to earn a point each for NCHC purposes and a tie for NCAA purposes, but they still had to play 5 minutes of 3-on-3 hockey to determine who gets the other NCHC point.

Denver continued to dominate possession throughout the first part of the overtime, but about 3 and a half minutes into the 3-on-3 period, Shane Gersich ended the game with nothing short of a highlight reel goal:

Saturday night started much differently than Friday night did. Just 33 seconds into the game, there was a score other than 0-0. Shane Gersich picked up right where he left off the night before scoring the first goal of the game. Before 10 minutes had passed, though, Denver had taken the 2-1 lead and looked to pile on and make it a laugher. However, after Adam Plant’s goal at the 9:20 mark, both teams dug in their heels and played great defense.

It wasn’t until the second period that North Dakota became just the second team to score more than 1 goal against DU since BU scored 3 a month ago (WMU scored two a couple weeks ago). Shane Gersich kept doing Shane Gersich things and tied the game at 2 during a UND power play.

While Shane Gersich was doing Shane Gersich things, Henrik Borgström kept doing Henrik Borgström things. Less than a minute after Gersich tied the game, the fabulous Finn gave DU the lead right back with a rocket of a wrister from the right circle:

After a scoreless third period which featured more great Pioneer defense (and a stroke of luck by way of Jaillet’s crossbar), Denver left The Ralphs with 4 points and a potential #1 ranking, though November rankings are, in a word, irrelevant.

One thing that a casual observer, or someone who couldn’t watch the game because this DU-UND series was inexplicably not televised nationally may not have noticed was how well-officiated this series was. This weekend was a very far cry from what transpired during the DU-WMU series at Magness Arena two weeks ago, during which 26 combined minor penalties were called.

This weekend, however, Geno Binda and Joe Sullivan officiated two very good games. There were one or two penalties that could have gone either way against North Dakota Friday night, but aside from those, there were absolutely no complaints from either side this weekend.

Todd Anderson could learn a thing or two from this weekend’s DU-UND series.