Pioneers bounce back from Western nightmare, beat top-ranked St. Cloud State

Photo courtesy DU Athletics

After nothing short of a disastrous weekend a week ago that saw the then top-ranked University of Denver Pioneers get swept by the Western Michigan Broncos, the #3 Pioneers bounced back in a huge way handing the now top-ranked St. Cloud State Huskies their first loss of the year, 4-2. It was as much a statement game as a team can have in November and gave fans a glimpse of who this team is.

From the moment the puck dropped, it was clear that SCSU was the best team Denver has faced to this point. They were fast, aggressive, and strong on the puck. DU matched the intensity though and showed a serious commitment to a better team game, especially in the defensive zone.

“I thought our effort was fantastic,” DU head coach Jim Montgomery said. “I thought we were relentless. I still don’t think we’re even close to a finished product, which is good. It’s that time of year. But when you have an effort like that, you’re going to win hockey games.”

DU had to withstand an early 1st period Husky barrage, but goalie Tanner Jaillet stook strong and kept the game scoreless until Troy Terry and Henrik Borgström made their presences felt at the 12:31 mark. As he entered the offensive zone and skated into the high slot, Terry found Borgström streaking down the left side with a beauty of a pass. Borgström fielded and, well, did Borgström things. He toe-dragged across the slot and around Husky goalie Jeff Smith’s stick and after showing incredible patience, tossed the puck past Smith and into twine.

Borgström’s goal was the only one of the opening frame, but it was indicative of the type of period it was. The Huskies had the majority of the shots, but Denver dictated much of the play, especially in the second half of the period. After the first period, though, both teams settled in and started playing even, fun hockey.

The Huskies tied it up at 1 early in the second period as senior defenseman Mika Ilovnen notched his first career goal on his own rebound. His initial shot from the high slot was stopped by Jaillet, but he couldn’t control the rebound and a crashing Ilvonen found the puck and tapped it into the back of the net.

A few minutes later, though, Jarid Lukosevicius scored the first of his two goals on the night to restore the Pioneers’ lead. Dylan Gambrell found Lukosevicius down low and all he had to do was tap the puck past Smith and into the net.

The score would remain 2-1 for the rest of the period, but the Pioneers’ penalty kill, led by Logan O’Connor, was on full display as they killed off the third and fourth Husky power plays of the night. The penalties may have been borderline, but it didn’t matter to the Pioneers as they wouldn’t let the Huskies breathe with the man-advantage.

“Penalty kill was spectacular,” Montgomery said. “Coach [David] Carle did a fantastic job. That’s a great power play team. We cannot give them as many power plays as we did. We have to be a little bit better in our discipline.”

Just 40 seconds into the final frame, Lukosevicius notched his second of the night on another tip-in, this time on the power play. Freshman defenseman Ian Mitchell took a shot through traffic from above the left circle and found Lukosevicius’ stick. Next thing the 5,899 on hand at Magness Arena knew, the puck was in the back of the net and the Pioneers had a two-goal lead.

Over the course of the rest of the game, the teams skated very evenly with the Huskies playing increasingly more desperate. Past the halfway point of the period, Mikey Eyssimont found the back of the net, but it was waved off because of goalie interference after a lengthy review.

“The forward, the other forward, not Eyssimont, was leaning on the goaltender’s arm which was inhibiting him from playing his position,” Montgomery explained when asked what he was told by the officials.

Blake Winiecki would close the gap to 3-2 with a power play goal with about a minute left and his own net empty but Borgström notched his second goal of the night on an empty-net goal to seal the 4-2 victory for the Pioneers.

While Denver still has a ways to go to get to where they want to be, this was an important step forward for a young team. The Pioneers played much better hockey tonight and looked a lot more like the Pioneers than they did last weekend. Back to front, they looked like a good hockey team, finally. If they can play like this again tomorrow night, there’s a good chance they’ll come away with a big early-season NCHC sweep, which are very difficult to come by.