Just two wild and crazy nights in Kalamazoo for the Pioneers

Photo courtesy DU Hockey

It was an…interesting weekend for the top-ranked University of Denver Pioneers when they traveled to Kalamazoo, Michigan to take on the #14 Western Michigan Broncos. There was some good, some bad, and a very disappointing bit of news. However, overall, earning a split with a vastly improved WMU team on their ice is a good result for DU as the stretch run draws ever closer.

Friday: Denver 0 Western Michigan 3

To say Friday night didn’t go quite as planned for the Pioneers would be the understatement of the century. Nothing went well for DU in game one. From the opening faceoff, Western Michigan seemed to have an extra step on the Pioneers. When you combine that with their clear size advantage, the Pios were in for a long night.

Fortunately for the Pios, goalie Tanner Jaillet kept them in the game all night long. DU’s best chances to take the lead came in the second period when DU finally seemed to tilt the ice in their favor. In fact, over the course of the middle frame, Denver outshot Western Michigan 14-5, but they couldn’t find the back of the net.

WMU returned the favor in the final frame thanks in large part to a checking from behind penalty that earned defenseman Adam Plant a five-minute major and a 10-minute game misconduct. In other words, because he didn’t let up when a Bronco’s back was turned to him, Plant was ejected from the game and gave the 9th-best power play team in the country a long power play.

The Broncos didn’t waste the opportunity either. Three minutes into the power play, Frederik Tiffels picked up the puck below the goal line, skated into the slot and backhanded the puck over Jaillet’s glove and into the top right corner.

To compound the Pios’ third period misery, Troy Terry sustained a freak upper body injury during the frame and the word is that he’ll be out indefinitely. The good news is, he’ll likely be back before the NCHC Tournament starts.

Tiffels’ goal was the only one the Broncos would need, but they added two empty-net goals for good measure and kept DU from getting back into the game late. They skated off with all the confidence in the world and head coach Andy Murray felt that his team was the better team all night saying, “We didn’t steal a hockey game here tonight. Usually, in life, you get what you deserve and we deserved a victory here tonight.”

Ok, Andy.

Saturday: Denver 7 Western Michigan 2

If Friday night didn’t go as planned, Saturday couldn’t have gone any better for Denver. DU didn’t have the services of Terry, but that wasn’t an issue as the Pioneers rode the Broncos out of the building with a 7-goal explosion.

We’ll never know what head coach Jim Montgomery said to his players before Saturday’s game, but whatever it was, it worked. The Pios looked like a completely different hockey team from the night before as soon as the puck dropped. Denver used their speed to their advantage and was playing the type of hockey Montgomery has consistently preached since taking the reins of the Pioneers.

There have been certain people who have claimed that Denver’s lack of balanced scoring would be a problem as they come down the stretch of the season. It seemed like Montgomery decided to throw that on the bulletin board and the message got through as the Pios had seven different goal-scorers in the rout, including Evan Ritt who scored his first career collegiate goal.

It was the first time since November 14, 2014, against CC that DU had seven different goal-scorers in a game. That game? An 8-1 pounding that kicked off the Pios’ current 10-game winning streak against the Kittens.

interestingly enough, it was DU’s special teams that showed up to play on Saturday night. The power play went 3/8(!) and Logan O’Connor tallied a shorthanded goal in the final minute of the second period. If you’re not too good at math, DU’s special teams accounted for four of the Pios’ seven goals on Saturday.

The Pioneers traveled to Kalamazoo looking for a sweep, per usual, but against a team like Western Michigan, a road sweep was always going to be a tall task. Earning a split and finishing the season series against the Broncos at 3-1 is an excellent result, especially considering the pounding they delivered on Saturday.

As a result of the split (and losses by Harvard and UMD on Friday), Denver has risen to #2 in the Pairwise Rankings. It’s becoming increasingly likely that the Pios will have another pretty high seed come NCAA Tournament time (*vigorously knocks on wood*).

The Pioneers will continue their two-week road trip next weekend as they travel to St. Cloud, Minnesota to take on the inconsistent SCSU Huskies. They split with UMD this weekend.