Denver drops close defensive battle to North Dakota in Frozen Faceoff semifinal

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There’s always one constant anytime the top-ranked University of Denver Pioneers and the North Dakota Fighting Hawks take the ice together: it’s going to be a close game. Tonight’s game between the two teams at the Frozen Faceoff in Minneapolis was no different as the Fighting Hawks skated out of the building with a hard-fought 1-0 victory over the Pioneers.

It wasn’t a pretty game. It wasn’t an offensive game. For all intents and purposes, it was an uneventful but tense game. It was tight-checking and the game never really opened up until the third period. Through the first two periods, the two teams combined for just 28 shots.

“We hadn’t faced a tight checking team like that in a while,” DU head coach Jim Montgomery said. “They’re long and they have great sticks. We refused to use walls, we didn’t put pucks in behind them and we didn’t have good support coming to the puck. That’s why we spent more time in our defensive zone than we have all year.”

The game’s only goal came at the 2:30 mark of the final frame as Austin Poganski shot the puck into a wide open net after Colton Poolman’s shot bounced off the boards behind DU’s net. It was a dose of puck luck for the Hawks and they didn’t squander it.

It wasn’t like Denver didn’t have their chances as well. Dylan Gambrell hit a post in the second period after a great pass across the slot from Henrik Borgström and Evan Janssen had a breakaway chance taken away by a questionable penalty called against Matt Marcinew.

In retrospect, this loss was a bit predictable. Over the past couple of weeks, Montgomery vocalized his concern about Denver’s strength of schedule over the final two months of the season…and he had reason to worry as the Pioneers hadn’t played a Frozen Faceoff team since mid-January at Western Michigan.

“It was good for us to see that,” Montgomery said of Denver’s first matchup against a Frozen Faceoff team since January. “We hadn’t seen it in a while and North Dakota was great tonight. I thought they played with more desperation and they deserved the victory.”

All is not lost for the Pioneers, though. Any loss to the Fighting Hawks hurts, but there is a lot to take from this game moving forward. A loss tonight may not be the worst thing in the world for the Pios. They had won 13 straight games coming into the Frozen Faceoff and a loss to a team like North Dakota can be a perfect reality check for a team with National Title aspirations.

“Just the pace and knowing how to play against a team that’s this good,” Montgomery said explaining what DU can take away from the loss. “It’s what we’re going to see in the NCAA Tournament. I’ve thought for a while our practices haven’t been at the pace we need to be, but we’ve been successful so it’s hard to really get mad at your players when you keep having success.

“The only silver lining out of this is we’re going to get back to practicing with pace and using walls and having great puck support.”

This loss will sting for a little while and render the third-place game tomorrow afternoon between Denver and Western Michigan completely meaningless for a second straight year, but this loss offers a good chance for the Pioneers to refocus and right the ship before starting the national tournament next weekend.

“It’s going to give us motivation,” Will Butcher said of the loss. “Our offensive game wasn’t there tonight. Our offense is going to have a bit more attitude going into the NCAA Tournament.”

Denver and Western Michigan hit the ice tomorrow afternoon in the third place game at 2:30 PM MT. The game will not be televised, but it will be on

13 thoughts on “Denver drops close defensive battle to North Dakota in Frozen Faceoff semifinal”

  1. This game will be a turning point one way or another for the Pios.

    Let’s hope they use it to motivate/fuel their playoff run. Right now, I am seeing a DU team that could often win on their talent level and perhaps got a bit complacent while feasting on the bottom half of rhe NCHC for the last month. They let themselves get outworked by a UND team playing with more desperation. UND won more puck battles and didn’t give the Pios much room to operate. The Pios didn’t help themselves by missing some sitters, too – Borgstrom whiffed on an open net and Gambrell’s post shot were both fustrating, but that’s hockey.

    Right now, the Seniors need to step up and show the way. They need to find another gear – if they play like tonight, they won’t get out of Fargo…

  2. Tomorrow’s game has at least some meaning. If we win, we get overall #1 seed. If we lose and UMD wins, we are 2nd overall #1seed. A crazy scenario could even drop us to 3rd overall #1 seed.
    No, I did not figure out what happens if we tie tomorrow.

    1. I think DU needs to treat the NCHC third place game like it’s more than a meaningless game. I think DU can perhaps avoid getting sent to the Fargo regional if it can retain the #1 overall seed in the NCAA tournament, as it helps force the NCAA committee to think about rewarding/protecting a top seed from a poor assignment. Our fans are too far from any regional to go on short notice so it does us no good to stay “west”. Nobody wants to face UND in Fargo, as it’s Yost all over again. We just saw what happened playing UND in Minneapolis – does anyone think it would be much different in Fargo? I’d like to play them again in Chicago for all the marbles, but not in Fargo…

      1. Agree Puck. Also, we need #1 overall for last line change.
        Question, iwould UMD bus to Fargo? If yes, it eliminates 1 flight perhaps.
        Play around with Pairwise calculator on

    1. Last year 3rd place game against UND 1-1 was worse. Neither team had anything to play for and it showed.

  3. Play like that in the NCAA Tournament and the season will be over.

    UND brought the physical play, as they always do. DU didn’t look comfortable.

    As the article mentioned, DU had been feasting on CC, Miami, SCSU & UNO cruising to easy wins & compiling a massive winning streak.

    To win an NCAA Championship you have to know how to buckle down when behind on the scoreboard. It takes a special kind to grit & will-power to win on night’s when its not going your way. Last night was a perfect example.

    This was a great wake-up call.

  4. Disappointing game last night. In the grand scheme of things, DU has much bigger fish to fry, but still, it’s a postseason game, it’s positioning for the national tournament, and it’s against a bitter rival. The Pios just didn’t work hard enough and play with enough urgency against a high quality opponent. Not many puck battles were won and UND did a good job taking away space. It didn’t help that DU didn’t have any puck luck. Losing to UND in the postseason is getting very very old.

    In my mind, the game this afternoon against Western is far from meaningless. Every game this time of year has significance. Regardless of who is in the lineup, the Pios need to come out flying.

  5. Does Denver have a radio network? I see 104.3 The Fan but it’s not on iHeartRadio. I’m in he car and would like to listen.

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