Photo courtesy DU Athletics
Maybe the Pioneers showed up one night late to the second half of the season. Maybe it took an extra evening to knock the extra holiday weight off the bones. Whatever it was, on Saturday night at Magness Arena, the #2 University of Denver Pioneers showed up in a big way to down the Air Force Academy Falcons 6-0. Sure, all the Pioneers needed was a four-goal second period to seal the deal, but on this night, it was less about the score and more about the most complete performance of the year for the Pioneers.
One night after laying nothing short of an egg against the Merrimack Warriors, the Pioneers came out flying. From the moment the puck dropped, Denver had that extra step and Air Force never had a chance. DU finally took Jim Montgomery’s words to heart and played relentless hockey at both ends of the ice.
“I thought we played with more urgency and purpose,” Montgomery said. “We won battles, we won foot-races and it was everybody. The way we broke pucks out led to really good entries which led to good puck possession. I thought our first period was our best first period in a long time.”
Even in the first period when Liam Finlay was the only goal-scorer, the Pioneers were by far the better team on the ice. From breaking the puck out to crashing the net, the Pioneers played 200 feet of relentless hockey. While it was a bit of a fluke of a goal that saw Finlay’s shot deflect off of an Air Force player’s stick and over goalie Billy Christopoulos’ shoulder into the net, Denver was finally rewarded for playing the type of hockey Montgomery has come to expect.
The Pioneers truly imposed their will on the Falcons in the second period, though. Over the course of roughly two and a half minutes in the latter half of the period, Denver sent four pucks past Christopoulos and backup Zack LaRocque. Jarid Lukosevicius and Jaakko Heikkinen both scored power play goals while Logan O’Connor channelled his inner Henrik Borgström on a breakaway beauty before Ryan Barrow tallied another even strength marker.
“It was a carryover from the first [period],” Montgomery said of the second period success. “You have a really good first period like that. It reminded me a lot of last year when we’d have a really good first period and the second period is when we would finally push ahead by a couple of goals.”
All of a sudden, it was 5-0 and the Pioneers were cruising. In recent weeks, a lead was almost Denver’s kiss of death. Tonight, however, there was no question which team was going to come out on top. Denver didn’t relax in the third period and as a result, senior Rudy Junda was able to notch his first career goal with about five minutes left.
To be fair, Air Force didn’t help themselves much at all. The Pioneers had 11 power play opportunities on the night and converted on three of them. Six of Denver’s power plays came in the second period alone. But that’s what happens when Denver is playing the way they know they can.
“It’s the best we’ve attacked the opponent’s net in a long time,” Montgomery said of his team’s offensive effort. “Not only the player with the puck but people getting there for rebounds. We had a lot of scrums and their goalie laying around trying to find pucks a lot. We need that urgency on the power play. The power play is the only time we took too long to shoot.”
This game was exactly what the Pioneers needed after two straight bad losses to Dartmouth and Merrimack. Worry and concern were starting to set in among fans of the Crimson and Gold. A dominant performance like this against a team that has been a thorn in DU’s side at times should set some minds at ease. They still have some real work to do to climb back up the NCHC standings, but tonight’s victory is an extremely good sign moving forward.