Denver’s unbeaten streak ends at the paws of the Bulldogs

Photo courtesy DU Athletics

After going 15 straight games without a loss, the #2 University of Denver Pioneers lost tonight to the #1 University of Minnesota Duluth Bulldogs by a score of 3-1. Despite the loss, it’s hard for any Pioneers fan to feel disappointed about where this team is going into the holiday break.

The Bulldogs were the better team at Magness Arena from opening puck drop to the final buzzer. They won most of the one-on-one battles in key areas of the ice and essentially kept DU from doing anything that they wanted to do.

The game started fast as DU kept the puck in UMD’s zone for much of the opening few minutes, but after withstanding an early Pioneer barrage, the Bulldogs settled in, took control of the game, and took advantage of DU’s mistakes. After the early DU pressure, it didn’t take long for UMD to capitalize on DU’s sluggish defense as Kyle Osterberg got the scoring started for the Bulldogs at the 4:01 mark of the first period.

From that point, UMD continued to press the puck hard and keep DU on their heels, but DU goalie Tanner Jaillet stood tall for most of the game and kept the puck out of the back of the net.

In the middle of the second period, the Pioneers had their best chance of the game to tie the game at 1. They were at the end of a power play and the shot went just wide. UMD recovered and caught the Pios napping as Willie Raskob released from the penalty box. On the ensuing rush, Billy Exell beat Jaillet on a great pass from Sammy Spurrell to double the lead. UMD’s goal amounted to a two-goal swing. Instead of being tied on the power play chance, they were down by 2 because of poor defense in front of Jaillet.

A few minutes later Evan Janssen pulled the Pios back within 1 with a great reaction to the rebound off of Logan O’Connor’s shot, but that was all the offense the Pios could muster this evening. UMD’s Joey Anderson added an empty-net goal with about a minute left, icing DU’s comeback hopes.

“I really liked the way we played the entire weekend,” DU head coach Jim Montgomery said. “[But] this is the NCHC. You can’t afford for your power play not to be successful. It was abysmal.”

Despite the loss and the fact that one of the longest unbeaten streaks in program history came to an end, the Pioneers feel good about where they are heading into the holiday break. They feel good about it, but they also recognize that they can’t get complacent.

Championships are not won or lost in December. In the grand scheme of things, the first half of the season matters very little compared to the magnitude of games in February and March. Don’t get me wrong, sitting at 12-3-3 before the holidays is a good thing. It’s a great foundation moving forward, but nothing has been won yet. This is when a team has a tendency to get complacent and overconfident.

“We have to have a good break here,” Montgomery said. “Last year we were embarrassed and came back hungry after losing four in a row and we went on a great run [in the second half]. We got to have that same hunger to do something special. I looked at it. Omaha was 14-3-3 last year [at the break] and missed the tournament.”

That was a fun unbeaten streak for fans of the Pioneers. It was fun to watch them take the ice knowing they’d have a shot at winning every game they played. But it’s over now. The Pioneers’ eyes are on the ultimate prize, the one that’ll be awarded in Chicago in early April.

Henrik Borgström update: he remains out of action for the time being. The Pios’ top-scoring forward missed the CC series and this series against UMD with a serious sickness, but it appears he should be back soon. Said Montgomery: “I think he’s getting better. I think his health issues are close to being over and hopefully he’s going to have a really good World Juniors tournament for Finland, then come back and lead us in the second half.