Photo courtesy Shannon Valerio, DU Athletics
It seemed at first like the #2 University of Denver Pioneers had rebounded from a lackluster 1-0 victory over the Dartmouth Big Green on Friday night. Denver skated out to an easy 3-0 lead after the first period and it seemed like the Pioneers were going to cruise to an easy victory and sweep.
Then the second period happened and everything fell apart for the Pioneers. After three tough bounces, one off of DU goalie Tanner Jaillet, one over Jaillet’s head and another off of Tariq Hammond’s stick, the game was tied at 3 and the Pioneers were reeling. After nothing short of a dominant opening period, the Pioneers simply collapsed in the second period and just couldn’t pull it back together in the third and they went on to lose 5-4.
“The second goal is the one that really bothers me,” DU head coach Jim Montgomery said. “I put out a veteran line and we told them we needed to change momentum and they just didn’t play well enough. They were on the wrong side of pucks, they were reaching for pucks, there was no physicality and we need leadership up front from veteran lines. We don’t have a lot of veterans up front.”
After Dartmouth was able to tie it up, Denver looked disorganized and panicked in the defensive zone. Jaillet was able to keep the game tied until there was just over a minute and a half left in the third period as the Pioneers failed to pick up Colin Rutherford crashing the slot and Kevin Neiley found him from below the net. All Rutherford had to do was keep his stick on the ice and he was able to beat Jaillet with an easy shot. Dartmouth took the 4-3 lead, its first of the weekend.
Dartmouth added an empty-net goal before Jack Doremus scored made it a 5-4 game but it was all irrelevant at that point. The Pioneers had blown yet another multiple goal lead and heading into the holiday break, there are far more questions than answers for the preseason national title favorites.
At times through the first 18 games, Denver has looked every bit the national title contender that the media and coaches pegged them in October, but there have been far too many red flags over the course of the first half. Denver has all the talent to be better than last year’s national championship winning team, but to this point, they’ve been anything but that.
“I’m confused,” Montgomery said. “I just don’t understand why we’re not learning. I told the players we have to take this holiday break and people have to come back and see if we’re really committed to playing the right way. We don’t play the game the right way. It’s quite embarrassing.”
Tonight was a perfect representation of what the 2017-18 Pioneers are. They looked good for a decent portion of the game and it was almost enough to get the job done, but they couldn’t do enough to secure the victory. Whether it’s a leadership or a mental problem is for Montgomery and his team to answer, but right now, they look completely out of sorts and have many questions to answer over the next two weeks before Merrimack and Air Force come to Magness Arena.
“I hope we can repeat the second half of the last two years,” Montgomery said. “I don’t have the same feeling as the last two years. I question the character in our dressing room right now.”