Photo courtesy DU Athletics
Following two straight road splits in NCHC play against Western Michigan and St. Cloud State, the #3 Denver Pioneers returned to Denver and Magness Arena to host the #18 Omaha Mavericks. The Pioneers enjoyed the friendly confines as they rode a 4-goal effort in the second period to a resounding 5-2 victory over the Mavs.
Of course, it wouldn’t be a normal second-half Friday night if the Pios didn’t at least make it interesting, right?
What do I mean by that? Well, after the first period, the Pios were down 2-0 against what looked like a potentially upstart Mavericks squad. Denver was playing good hockey and outshot the Mavs 11-9 in the opening frame and led in most statistics, but the Pios were shut out in the first period.
The second period was a completely different story. From the moment the puck dropped, the Pios had an extra step on the Mavs. It took less than four minutes for Tyson McLellan to get the Pioneers on the board with his third goal of the year, but first with his dad, Edmonton Oilers head coach Todd McLellan, in attendance.
“It felt good,” the younger McLellan said of playing in front of his dad. “I don’t get to play in front of him very often so it felt good to kind of get the monkey off my back. It felt good to get the win.”
The Pioneers were far from done after McLellan buried Tariq Hammond’s beautiful dish early in the middle frame. In fact, that goal was just the beginning of the Pios’ five-goal onslaught.
One of the keys to the game for DU was to stay out of the box as Omaha has the third-best power play unit in the country (35-of-138, 25.36%). However, despite giving up a power play goal to the Mavs in the first period, it was Denver’s power play that won the special teams battle on this night.
It was Henrik Borgström who got things started for DU’s power play with an incredible snipe to Omaha goalie Kris Oldham’s glove side just before the Pios’ 4th extra-man opportunity ended. Pioneer captain added another power play goal in the third period to ice the game with Denver’s 5th goal.
“The kid is special,” DU head coach Jim Montgomery said of Borgström’s effort. “When he wants to take over a game, he can do it. You don’t see that too often at this level.”
Goals from Dylan Gambrell (assisted by Borgström) and Liam Finlay in the second period in addition to Butcher’s third period marker capped DU’s stretch of five straight unanswered goals. Mason Morelli added a third goal for the Mavs with less than five minutes left, but the game had already been decided.
If there were any questions whether DU had made the needed adjustments after the past two weekends, they were answered. The Pioneers played 60 minutes of excellent hockey on Friday night and came away with a dominant 5-3 victory over a good Omaha team.
“It was right around this time last year that we went on that 11-game win streak,” Montgomery recalled thinking about using the Omaha series as a springboard to second-half dominance. “This year’s much different. We were completely healthy last year. That hasn’t happened much this year. I just hope we continue to progress and get better.”
The weekend isn’t over and anything but a sweep would be a disappointment for one of the best teams in the country, but tonight sent an important second half statement with the stretch run on its way:
The Pioneers aren’t going away.