PHOTO COURTESY OF THE DENVER POST
Denver’s defensive efforts required adjustments. After losing a 3-0 lead to the University of North Dakota Fighting Hawks the DU Pioneers needed to reevaluate the tactics of the back-end corp. With senior captain Tariq Hammond returning to the lineup for his second game of the 2017-18 season and senior assistant captain Adam Plant debuting in the first game of the series (missed the Friday night, Nov. 17 due to injury), the Pioneers’ blueline has relied heavily on the fresh legs of incomers and returners with little previous experience. This has provided the newer defensemen the opportunity to excel to the level of expectations and play big minutes in big matchups.
Freshman defenseman Ian Mitchell has capitalized on his chance in Denver’s lineup playing in all of the Pioneers’ 12 games of the 2017-18 season. The Calhoo, Alberta native has registered an assist in Denver’s last seven games. Selected in the Second Round of the 2017 Entry Level Draft, Mitchell currently leads all defensemen in the NCAA with powerplay points with ten.
After the Fighting Hawks took a one-goal lead early in the first period of Saturday night’s game, the Pioneers had a five-minute man advantage to respond at the end of the frame.
North Dakota forward Cole Smith struck a delayed hit on Plant against the boards late in the second period. Smith was immediately ejected from the game as Plant was escorted into the locker room, receiving medial attention for a concussion.
“It was definitely a huge loss,” Mitchell said. Losing Adam Plant early in the game, he’s definitely our best defenseman and we tried to rally around that as a team. We were down to five D for the rest of the game. You get more minutes, but the biggest thing for us was to just try and battle. We did that out there. We competed really hard.”
On the powerplay the Pioneers circulated the puck before Mitchell found sophomore Florida Panthers prospect Henrik Borgstrom on the right faceoff circle. Borgstrom rifled a wrist shot past North Dakota’s goalie Peter Thome to equalize the score one apiece.
North Dakota would apply a relentless forecheck the remainder of the game, but Denver battled the Fighting Hawks off. Mitchell got his second assist of the night and 11th of the season as he had a hand on another powerplay goal. Mitchell played Borgstrom who dished the puck to Troy Terry. Terry sent a wrister past Thome to extend DU’s lead 3-1, after junior Colin Staub had scored early in the third period.
“Ian Mitchell was spectacular all weekend long,” DU head coach Jim Montgomery said. “The 60-minutes maybe, he played all weekend long and his decision making was incredible. They were number two I guess and 96% coming into the weekend — they’re really good on the penalty kill — and they gain momentum on it. Your quarterback has to make decisions and he made great decisions. He gave Terry and Borgstrom all kinds of time to bring the puck with speed and up top on the powerplay he shot when he should have shot and passed when he should have passed. It was a great performance.”