Pioneers blow 3-0 lead, show little life after first period in 5-4 loss to North Dakota

Photo credit: Jesse Trelstad/Grand Forks Herald

It was about as perfect a start as the top-ranked University of Denver Pioneers could have asked for. They were skating hard, passing well, and crashing the net at every turn. As such, the Pios were dominating play at Magness Arena against the #3 North Dakota Fighting Hawks. Denver looked every bit the best team in the country and North Dakota…well they didn’t.

DU had a 2-0 lead by the end of the first period thanks to a fluky goal from freshman forward Jake Durflinger and a finesse power play goal from senior forward Jarid Lukosevicius. But the most telling statistic after the opening 20 minutes was shots on goal: Denver had 21 while North Dakota had 12. In every sense, Denver had a stranglehold on this game and it looked like they’d skate away with a surprisingly easy victory over their archrival.

North Dakota came out with a lot more jump in the second period, but Denver still had control of the game. That was evident when Logan O’Connor broke away from the Hawks’ defense on the penalty kill and beat Hawks goalie Peter Thome on a tough angle shot. All of a sudden it was 3-0 and Denver was in cruise control…which, in hindsight, was probably not the best strategy.

“It’s kind of been the story of our team so far,” Troy Terry said. “It’s something that we need to change. The ownership has to start going on the leaders of this team, myself included. We can’t start letting up once we get a lead.”

About seven minutes after O’Connor’s shorthanded goal, Zach Yon skated down the left side and sent a seemingly harmless shot at DU goaltender Tanner Jaillet’s blocker side. His blocker missed and the puck found the back of the net for the first of four straight North Dakota goals.

North Dakota skated Denver out of Magness Arena for the rest of the second period and well into the third as Joel Janatuinen, Colton Poolman, and Christian Wolanin all scored to make it 4-3 in favor of the green sweaters.

“I thought they played more responsibly and faster,” Montgomery said when asked about North Dakota’s effort in the second and third period. “They won more battles than us. That’s what turned the game. It was them being more tenacious than us.”

Denver called a timeout after Wolanin’s power play goal and it seemed to make an immediate difference for the Pioneers. DU dominated play for the middle part of the final frame and their heightened effort finally produced the equalizer on a power play wrist shot snipe off of American Hero Troy Terry’s stick. Denver had clawed their way back into the game and it at least seemed that maybe this game would go to overtime.

However, North Dakota’s Johnny Simonson had other ideas with a little over two minutes left. Defenseman Hayden Shaw gathered the puck above the left circle and sent a wrist shot towards the net. Simonson was perfectly placed and he deflected the puck past a helpless Jaillet. The roughly 2,000 North Dakota fans (maybe 200 fans of a real team) went berserk and the Fighting Hawks regained control of the game.

Montgomery pulled Jaillet with about two minutes left, but the writing was on the wall. The Pioneers were going to leave Magness Arena with a gut-wrenching loss to their archrival on Friday night.

While it’s only November and losses this time of year mean next to nothing, the Pioneers have shown a troubling penchant for blowing leads. They blew leads in their wins against Lake Superior State and Boston University and again in both losses to Western Michigan. Whether it’s a lack of dedication to the process or still early-season jitters, these blown leads are starting to become a trend.

“We have a serious lack of commitment to a team-first attitude right now,” Montgomery added. “We have lapses that are ‘oh my god’ bad. It’s happening primarily by returning players that have won championships. We’re not getting led the right way right now.”

The Pioneers have a chance to get rid of this nasty taste in their mouths tomorrow night if they can play like they did in tonight’s first period for a full 60 minutes. If they do that, they’ll skate North Dakota out of the building and out of the state. Tomorrow is a new day and a new opportunity to put a beating on a rival.

11 thoughts on “Pioneers blow 3-0 lead, show little life after first period in 5-4 loss to North Dakota”

  1. We gave up five goals to a rather average looking team. There are big problems on D. And Jailett was brilliant in the first half, and crap in the second half. He should be leading this team. He did not. Inconsistency is a killer when it matters. Tonight doesn’t matter, but it will matter in March and April.


  2. Deflating and disheartening loss last night. Up 3-0, riding the momentum of a beautiful short handed goal, and seemingly in control, DU instead looked disorganized, flat, and lacking confidence for much of the second half of the game. Pios had poor puck management and were outworked and outcompeted by UND as the game went on. Credit the Sioux–they forced turnovers, won more puck battles, and were certainly the better defensive team in the second half of the game.

    Monty’s post game comments speak volumes. Not enough guys playing team hockey = poor results, especially against a high quality opponent such as UND.

    DU has lost 3 games this season, all against league opponents, and in those game has scored 13 goals. Scoring is not a problem. In those losses, DU has given up 18 goals and had the lead in all three games. Goaltending and team defense have been problems. This team has to learn to play with the lead, not get complacent, and put teams away.

    I expect a much better all around effort tonight.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. It’s easy to slip into “playing the score” when a team has a nice lead. In a spirited game like college hockey that is dangerous.


  4. After watching the tape this morning, all I can say is this was a game should have been a win, that became a loss because DU did not maintain the consistency of effort to close it out properly.

    Sure, DU’s defense is not at full strength right now, and Tanner’s performance was not fabulous, but bottom line is DU got outworked when the game was on the line, and that’s on everyone. When this DU team outworks the other team, it’s excellent, and when they don’t, they’ll lose.

    While you can say its only November, what we’re seeing is a DU team that has some issues with mentality, leadership and intestinal fortitude later in games, and there needs to be some changes made.

    Let’s hope they quickly learn how to grow together and fix it…


  5. Frustrating loss, and I’m glad that Monty is pissed about it. Borgstrom didn’t seem like his usual self out there, and Jaillett must play better than that. Hope we see a different result tonight. But if you waste a 3 goal lead in game 1, you will probably get swept. Let’s go Pioneers, play with some fire tonight!


  6. Was this a home game? Didn’t look or sound like it.. What do we need to do to get any support? I know hockey is always last in Denver, but this is embarrassing coming off a national championship. Almost refreshing to see some passion from UND, at their apparent second home rink..


  7. As a UND fan, my only problem with DU is their fans. It’s quite embarrassing to be honest. Defending a Natty in an empty barn on a nightly basis is a joke. Those players deserve better, as does college hockey in general. As a rival fan, I support DU hockey, but something is seriously wrong here.


  8. First, DU does not play hockey in an empty barn. DU was in the top 10 in national attendance last season out of 60 D-I programs, with about 5300 fans per game in a 6,000 seat arena attending. That’s 90% of capacity with one of the highest ticket costs in the country, in a very highly saturated sports marketplace. The DU program generates millions in revenue, and outpaced far larger hockey schools last year, including Ohio State, Boston College, Michigan State and Boston University in terms of game attendence.

    Is it North Dakota? No. And it never will be, either. UND is a state flagship university with little local competition in its market and is the largest athletic attraction in its state, while DU is a private school competing with seven pro teams in Denver that outdraw it as well as 4 larger public D-I colleges within an hour of its campus,

    Therefore attendence wise, DU Hockey is about team #13 in the Colorado market, behind pro teams like the Broncos (NFL 76,000+ per game), Rockies (MLB) 36,000 per game, Avalanche (NHL 14,700 per game), Nuggets (NBA 14,000 per game), Rapids (MLS 16,000 per game), Mammoth (NLL 14,000 per game), and Outlaws (MLL 12,000 per game) and behind major public D-I college teams such as CU football (38,000 per game) and CU basketball (7,700 per game), CSU football (19,000 per game) and Air Force football (33,000) and Colorado College Hockey (6,200 per game). DU Hockey at 5,300 per game is #14, ahead of Colorado Eagles (ECHL- 4,977 per game), CSU basketball (3,800 per game) and Air Force Basketball (1,500 per game).

    DU must also contend with all kinds of other recreation and entertainment options in the Colorado as well.


  9. What kind of a moron refers to a full stadium as an empty barn. DUs attendance was been great this year. Fact is, north Dakota looks upon playing Denver like their super bowl, but people in Denver don’t care much about north Dakota hockey like north Dakota cares about Denver. Kinda wish it were otherwise, but it’s not. Student turnout last night was weak, but I guess they have finals. Go DU, get the Big W tonight!!!

    Liked by 1 person

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