O’Connor’s lone goal sends Denver past UMD in championship rematch

photo courtesy of Shannon Valerio

The last time the top-ranked University of Denver Pioneers and the University of Minnesota-Duluth Bulldogs faced each other college hockey’s grandest prize was at stake, as the two clashed in Chicago’s United Center on April 8, 2017.

While tonight, Friday, Dec. 1 marked the first meeting since the national championship between the two programs the focus was prioritized on the present season.

Denver (8-3-2, 4-3-0 National Collegiate Hockey Conference (NCHC)) sought to improve from its performances throughout the first six conference games. The matchup against a young, unsatisfied Minnesota-Duluth team (7-7-2, 2-5-0 NCHC) with redemption in the back of their minds provided a quintessential challenge for the ambitious Pioneers seeking to repeat the national title.

The lone goal of the night and game-winner for DU occurred three minutes into the second period on a scramble down low. Junior forward Logan O’Connor centered a puck from behind the net that was attempted to clear by UMD’s blueline. Junior San Jose Sharks prospect Dylan Gambrell backhanded the loose puck on frame. O’Connor re-joined the action and got a stick on net to beat Bulldogs’ goalie Hunter Shepard.

Senior assistant captain Adam Plant returned to Denver’s lineup after sustaining a concussion against the University North Dakota on Saturday, Nov. 18. While the defenseman had time to recover during the Pioneers’ bye week, his resumption in the lineup was questionable due to the extent of the concussion. Towards the end of the second period, Plant received a crunching hit along the boards where he appeared visibly distraught before making his way to the bench. Fortunately, Plant finished the remainder of the game.

Since last season both programs graduated integral talent. Duluth’s 2017 senior class consisted of seven seniors; three of which were forwards and four were defensemen. Denver graduated nine seniors; five forwards, two goalies and two defensemen including former captain and Hobey Baker Award recipient Will Butcher. Both teams welcomed talented freshmen classes making immediate impacts in the lineups. 

DU’s defensive performance evidently improved since the North Dakota series against a dynamic, young UMD lineup. Senior goaltender Tanner Jaillet boasted 28 saves in the victory. Furthermore the Pioneers’ transition was fluid, allowing for more puck possession. Denver’s penalty kill continued to dominate after denying Duluth three chances that the Bulldogs were awarded over 60 minutes.

Denver and UMD return for the second game of the series at AMSOIL Arena. Puck-drop is scheduled for 6:07 p.m. MT.