Junda scores first of career as Denver rebounds to shut out Air Force

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.

4 thoughts on “Junda scores first of career as Denver rebounds to shut out Air Force”

  1. A very good night for the Pio faithful, who saw the kind of relentless, puck possession/puck support hard-working effort that the fans love to see. Wonderful to see Junda score, too. He’s grinder his way through four years of tough practices, and earned 24 game appearances over those years, usually in very limited minutes. Yet tonight – a magic moment for him. Watching his teammates mob him after the goal brought a tear to this old eye – this is why they play the game.

    Hopefully, this was the confidence builder DU needed heading back into the WCHA meat grinder for the rest of the regular season, where margins get narrow as teams fight for their PWR lives. The Pios going to fall a bit further behind this week as result of the bad loss to unranked Merrimack and are now sitting #5 in the PWR, behind St. Cloud, Notre Dame, Clarkson and Cornell, with Ohio State, North Dakota and Minnesota State chomping on the Pios’ heels in #6, #7 and #8 positions.

    While last night’s win was a breath of fresh air, there are still plenty of concerns in Pio land as we enter the second half of the season.

    First, Borgstrom, Gambrell and Terry are still not scoring goals. That has to change and it is THE deficient that must be fixed. Secondary scoring is great, but your big scorers need to score, especially in league play in the second half when defenses tighten and the stakes go up. I can’t see players of that talent level slumping for the rest of the season, but DU needs to do all it can to get some scoring from these players.

    Second, DU’s defense is still riddled with questions marks as the bodies in the infirmary continue to pile up. Plant, Mendel and Mostrom were all out of the lineup once again, and getting some healthy bodies back into the lineup would be a real boost to the team. I thought Orgel looked a bit more solid in relief duties as he learns to adjust to this level of hockey. Erich Fear is a decent skater for his size, but his turnovers problem is glaring at times and the Pios staff needs to work on that with him if he is going to be an effective d-man in league play.

    All in all though, it was Rudy’s night. And a night for some happiness for a change…

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  2. It was mop-up time with 6 minutes left in a 6-0 non-league game – an ideal time to get a few reward minutes for Cooley as a third goalie. Rasmussen will probably get a start at some point in the coming weeks. My guess is DU will probably give Tanner a night off and start Rasmussen in a game once they get some defensive bodies back and once the big boys start scoring goals. Until then, it’s Tanner’s duty as the starter. but Rasmussen will need a start at some point, if only to get him some NCHC experience and keep him sharp in case he is needed for more extended duty.

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  3. Nice W for DU. I saw a return of the relentless, fast paced style that this team is known for. Great to see.

    Congrats to Junda–very cool moment!!

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