Pioneers split with Huskies, maintain Pairwise positioning

Photo courtesy DU Hockey

Over the weekend, the #1 University of Denver Pioneers traveled to St. Cloud, Minnesota to take on the St. Cloud State Huskies, a team that has had the Pios’ number over the year or so. Coming into the weekend, the Huskies had won 4 straight against Denver, including a win in Minneapolis during the NCHC Frozen Faceoff last year.

Friday night: Denver 2 SCSU 3, OT

Friday night’s game was one of the Pioneers’ worst of the year. It was clear from the opening faceoff, or rather 6 seconds after the opening faceoff, that it was going to be a rough night for Denver. Just after the puck dropped, Emil Romig committed a hooking penalty, giving SCSU a very early power play opportunity.

The power play gave the Huskies the chance to take control of the game early on and that’s exactly what they did as Robby Jackson beat DU goalie Tanner Jaillet just 51 seconds into the game. The tone for the game was set and the Pioneers were forced to chase the Huskies for most of the night.

Just a couple minutes later, though, Henrik Borgström kept the Pioneers in the game with an incredible shot from the slot that beat SCSU goalie Jeff Smith glove side to tie the game at 1.

Borgström’s goal gave Denver some life, but the Huskies quickly recovered and continued to dictate play. By the end of the first period, DU was being outshot 14-8.

Liam Finlay gave the Pioneers the lead early in the second period with his second goal of the year, but it felt more like a fluke than a tide-turning play. And in the grand scheme of things, that’s exactly what it was. The Pioneers have dominated the second period all year, but on Friday night, despite scoring first, the Pioneers just couldn’t sustain any kind of pressure.

Jaillet wasn’t sharp throughout most of the game, but he played just well enough to keep the Pioneers in the game. That is, until the end of the 2nd period. On a 3-on-2 rush for the Huskies, Jack Poehling flipped a harmless shot on net after a defensive breakdown by the Pios, but Jaillet misread it and the puck found his five-hole and then the back of the net with just 27 seconds left in the period. Instead of heading into the 2nd intermission with a 2-1 lead, it was tied at 2 and it felt like DU was already out of it.

Evan Cowley replaced Jaillet to start the third period, but it didn’t give the Pios the jump that they needed to win the game in regulation. Fortunately, Cowley made all 12 saves in the period and forced the game into overtime.

The Pios looked like a different team in overtime as they pressed hard and nearly scored a few different times in the first couple minutes. It took herculean efforts by Smith and his teammates to keep the Pioneers from scoring, but they did keep the puck out of the net.

Just after the Pios were stoned on a great chance, the Huskies scored on the ensuing rush. Mikey Eyssimont shot the puck toward the net and Ryan Poehling tipped the puck past Cowley to give the Huskies the overtime victory.

DU head coach Jim Montgomery was none too happy about the loss, so it made sense that the Pioneers made the needed adjustments before Saturday’s game.

Saturday night: Denver 3 SCSU 1

Saturday night’s game was a perfect example of how any team should respond to a disappointing loss. Denver controlled most of the 60 minutes. They were able to set up their offense consistently and they kept SCSU from doing much at all on offense.

The opening period on Saturday was, in a word, wild. By the end, SCSU had a 1-0 lead, but the consensus was that it could have been 4-3 in favor of either team at the end of the first 20 minutes. Smith was the biggest reason why SCSU had a lead after the first period. The Pioneers dominated most of the period, but Smith stood on his head to keep the Pios from scoring.

The Pios continued dominating play in the 2nd period, only this time, they actually found the back of the net a couple times. Dylan Gambrell got the Pios on the board with a nice (lucky) shot from the low slot. Then, just a couple minutes later, Jarid Lukosevicius gave the Pioneers the lead after Smith couldn’t find the loose puck in front of the net.

Instead of surrendering a last minute goal at the end of the middle frame, the Pioneers maintained the lead and entered the third period with a lead, something they could have used the night before. However, a one-goal lead seemed precarious against a talented Huskies squad.Enter number 21,

Enter number 21, Joey LaLeggia Michael Davies.

After a tripping penalty against Ben Storm in the neutral zone, the Pios did a masterful job of setting up their offense and cycled the puck extremely well. Finally, Adam Plant found Davies above the right circle. Davies wristed a shot high glove side past Smith to double the DU lead. Simply put, it was nothing short of a snipe.

Denver then settled in defensively and ran out the rest of the clock in the third period, When you have a defense as talented as the Pioneers do, it’s reasonable to sit back and defend like they did. The Huskies had a couple chances to pull within 1 goal, but both Jaillet, with the help of his defense, stood tall and clinched the 3-1 victory.

The second straight weekend road split might give some fans a reason to be a bit concerned about Denver. After such a successful first half, many wanted that success to continue into the second half. While it’s unreasonable to believe that the Pioneers are beginning to fade, two splits in a row is a  reason to look at what’s happening and wonder if a bit of a lineup shakeup is needed.

The bottom line though is the Pioneers are still #2 in the pairwise rankings and are in a very good position moving forward. They’re still within striking distance of first place in the NCHC and at #2, they control their own destiny for NCAA Tournament seeding. With Omaha coming to Denver next weekend, the Pioneers have a chance to build on the split this weekend and put themselves in a good position coming down the stretch.