Denver rides power play, three-goal third period to recover from rivalry meltdown

Photo courtesy DU Athletics

A night ago, the story was a lack of leadership and dedication to the process. It ended in an ugly 5-4 loss that saw the top-ranked University of Denver Pioneers blow a 3-0 lead to the #3 North Dakota Fighting Hawks. One night later, the Pioneers rebounded and used their third period dominance to send the Fighting Hawks back to the frozen hellscape of Grand Forks, North Dakota with a loss.

If there was any lingering question about Denver’s leadership and dedication, it was answered in a big way on Saturday night. North Dakota found the back of the net first on a Matt Kiersted goal, but Denver returned the favor with four straight goals of their own.

“I thought our competitiveness and our desire was awesome,” DU head coach Jim Montgomery said. “Going into the third 1-1 in a game that was physical and slow, it was great to see the response we had in the third period taking over the game.”

The first came off of Henrik Borgström’s stick during a long power play after Cole Smith boarded and injured Adam Plant in Denver’s offensive zone. About a minute into the five-minute power play, Borgström fielded a great pass from Ian Mitchell in the right circle and lasered a shot past UND goaltender Peter Thome to knot the game at one.

“You’re not supposed to get hit when you don’t have the puck,” Montgomery said. “That’s how concussions happen. There’s no way you can protect yourself on a play like that. Our whole thoughts are with Adam Plant because he’s a warrior for us and he’s a great player.”

The game remained tied at one for the remainder of the first period and the entirety of the second period. The second period was bogged down by physical play but it didn’t help that Denver missed wide open nets a few different times and hit a post or two. Despite ending the period tied at one, Denver was showing what made Friday night’s first period so good and that they were indeed the better team on the ice.

That trend continued into the third period and just over a minute into the period, Colin Staub notched Denver’s only even-strength goal of the night as he finished a beautiful pass from Troy Terry in the slot. Staub’s goal doubled the Pioneers’ lead but despite Denver’s dominance, it certainly didn’t feel like the game was over yet. North Dakota continued pressing hard and making DU’s breakouts difficult.

It looked like North Dakota had tied the game a few minutes after Staub’s goal as Jordan Kawaguchi found the back of the net. However, after a plea from Montgomery and a full review, the goal was disallowed because of goaltender interference. It was a turning point for Denver as they were able to maintain their one-goal lead and continue pressing hard offensively.

“Dayton Rasmussen said that was goaltender interference,” Montgomery said when asked about the disallowed goal. “We called [the officials] over and challenged it. What Dayton saw was the guy going to the net that originally shot it put his stick right into Tanner’s stick which prevented him from going left to right and went into his body which prevented him from playing his position.”

North Dakota got more and more frustrated as the third period wore on and the refs weren’t letting them get away with much of anything. As a result, Troy Terry and Borgström both added insurance power play goals down the stretch to clinch the 4-1 victory.

“When our best players want to work, they put on a show like they did in the third period,” Montgomery said. “That’s some wow. That’s a lot of wow. I had a lot of wows behind the bench. I thought moving [Colin Staub] to the power play really helped recover a  lot of loose pucks which gave [the power play unit] time to do what they do.”

One night after looking hapless for nearly half the game, the Pioneers looked every bit the country’s top-ranked team. There certainly is a question of consistency right now and whether they’ll be able to produce this kind of performance every night. Tonight, the Pioneers showed why they’re atop the college hockey world right now.

Plant update: Montgomery said after the game that Plant sustained a concussion on the hit by Cole Smith. There is no timetable for his return. Montgomery added that Plant had to be put in a dark room alone after being helped off the ice.