Photo courtesy DU Athletics
It wasn’t exactly the start to the first playoff game of the year that the top-ranked University of Denver Pioneers had envisioned this week. However, as they’ve done so many times before this year, they used the first intermission to make some much-needed adjustments and they didn’t look back as they topped the Colorado College Tigers 4-1. With the win, the Pioneers take a 1-0 lead in the best-of-three first round NCHC Tournament series.
The first period was anything but a thing of beauty for the Pios. They played cautious, tight, and apprehensive. Instead of shooting, they’d hold the puck and look for the pass. They did outshoot the Tigers 12-6 in the opening frame, but it was ugly…and they probably caught a major break.
About at the midpoint of the opening frame, CC scored…but they didn’t. Westin Michaud grabbed the puck below the net and attempted a wraparound. DU goalie Tanner Jaillet was slow to react and got his pad over just in time to make the save…in the ref’s eyes. The call on the ice was no goal and after a lengthy review, the call on the ice was upheld because of a lack of evidence. Apparently, they just couldn’t see the entire puck cross the goal line.
“I didn’t think so. I thought we were playing well,” DU head coach Jim Montgomery answered, discussing whether the no-goal call gave his team a lift. “People tell me logically, [the puck] went in, but there’s no video evidence of it crossing the line. We got a break.”
The no-goal call didn’t really change the rest of the first. Things kept crawling along at a disjointed pace with a lot of whistles and neither team was able to get anything going.
“I like the way we played,” Montgomery said. “Even in the first period, it was very discombobulated, pucks were bouncing all over, there were a lot of whistles. I thought our effort and execution were good. I thought in the second period, with less whistles, we could really play at our pace.”
Montgomery was absolutely right. After killing off the remainder of a late first period penalty, the Pios were off and running. Barely a minute and a half into the middle frame and right after Dylan Gambrell hit the crossbar, Troy Terry picked up the rebound off of his own shot and found twine to open the scoring for the Pios and notch the first of his three points on the night.
“I thought he gave us a lift,” Montgomery said of Terry’s effort. “I thought he was attacking, making plays, I thought he was great all night long.”
Liam Finlay and Blake Hillman both added goals over the next eight minutes (both on Terry assists) and the Pioneers were pouring it on, as they’ve done so often in the second period this year.
CC got on the board just past the halfway point of the game, but for all intents and purposes, Denver had the game in the bag. CC had no interest in playing competitive hockey and Denver was not about to give the Tigers any life.
The Pioneers added another goal on the power play off the stick of Matt Marcinew, but the game was already decided. They had to withstand a few cheap shots from CC in the waning minutes of the game, but in the end, the Pioneers emerged from Magness Arena this evening unscathed with a 1-0 lead on the Tigers and one win away from a berth in their fourth straight Frozen Faceoff.
The Pioneers and Tigers face off again tomorrow night at Magness Arena. The Tigers will be playing for their season, so there are sure to be more fireworks from both sides. The rivalry may be dormant, but the hate still runs deep.