Photo courtesy DU Athletics
It appears the #3 University of Denver Pioneers may have turned the page on their struggles in the third quarter in 2016. Today, against the #17 Air Force Falcons, the Pios scored five goals in the third quarter, including three in the final 17 seconds, to take control of a surprisingly close game. They didn’t look back as they coasted to a dominant 14-6 victory.
The biggest story coming into the season opener was the debut of freshman wunderkind Ethan Walker. From the moment he stepped on campus, expectations were out of this world and he didn’t disappoint, notching five points on three goals and two assists.
Senior attack Connor Cannizzaro wouldn’t be outdone by his freshman teammate though, notching six points on four goals and two helpers. The chemistry between Walker and Cannizzaro was evident immediately this afternoon. Both of Walker’s assists were on goals scored by Cannizzaro and one of Cannizzaro’s assists was on a goal scored by Walker.
“Right when [Walker] stepped on campus, it’s been great playing with him,” Cannizzaro said after the game. “I wish he could have been here the past couple of years.”
“I didn’t expect too much coming in here, I didn’t even expect to start,” Walker added. “Playing with Connor all fall and all preseason, it’s been great being a freshman starting with senior guys. [Cannizzaro] is a huge leader out there on the offense, which is nice to see.”
While Cannizzaro’s and Walker’s heroics stole the show today, goalie Alex Ready was the one who kept the Falcons from getting back into the game, making ten saves in a little less than 58 minutes of the game. Ready had a very good freshman campaign last year, but today, it looked like he took it to another level.
Without Ready’s incredible brick wall imitation, today’s game would have been much closer and Air Force might have been looking to pull off their second big upset in as many weeks.
“It’s all about Alex’s feet,” DU head coach Bill Tierney said. “If his feet are set, he’s really hard to score on. He was seeing the ball, he didn’t get upset when they scored. They scored three man-up goals and then two goals at the end. For all intents and purposes, that’s a heck of a game. If he can keep playing like that, it’s going to be a good year for him.”
Today’s victory showed fans a lot about how Denver is going to respond to the heartbreak of last year’s loss to Towson in the NCAA Tournament. It’s clear that they’ve already put that disappointment behind them and they have their eyes fully focused on this year.
“The way last year ended, we were obviously pretty disappointed,” Cannizzaro recalled. “Coming back, we were missing a couple guys, but we have some of the most talented guys in the country and any one of them can step in and step up.”
If today’s victory was any indication, there are so many reasons to be excited about the 2017 Pioneers. They have the talent. They have the drive. And now, it appears they have what it takes to get the wins. This is a team you’re going to want to keep a very close eye on between now and Memorial Day weekend.