Pioneers butcher Mavericks with three power play goals, cool off red-hot Omaha

Photo courtesy DU Athletics

In two games against the Miami (OH) RedHawks last weekend, the #15 University of Nebraska Omaha Mavericks tallied 15 goals. They scored an astonishing 11 in Friday night’s game and four on Saturday. Naturally, a week later, Tanner Jaillet and the dominant #5 University of Denver Pioneers held them scoreless in a 5-0 shutout.

If Denver was concerned about Omaha’s high-powered offensive attack that has scored 3.77 goals per game, they certainly didn’t show it. The game was close for the first 20 minutes, but the Pioneers took over the game for the final 40. The Pioneers seemed to take the blueprint of the second half of the 2016-17 season and execute it to perfection against the Mavericks.

“We had our best Thursday practice of the year,” Montgomery said of yesterday’s practice. “As a staff, we said, ‘oh, we look like a championship team today.’ It was nice that it carried over. You could tell the energy, just the way we competed was very impressive I thought.”

The Pios only had a 1-0 lead after the first period thanks to Jarid Lukosevicius’ perfect tip-on off an Ian Mitchell shot from the left point on the power play. Omaha goalie Evan Weninger saw the puck well and was able to make even the most acrobatic of saves.

Weninger kept it up in the 2nd period, but Denver took over the game in a big way from the moment the puck dropped on the second period. The Pios played with a renewed vigor and weren’t going to let the Mavs breathe. Even though a Mitchell goal was the only marker of the middle frame, Denver was stepping on Omaha’s throats. If not for Weninger’s heroics, the game could have easily gotten out of hand by the second intermission.

“UNO is very scary, their transition offense is very scary,” Montgomery said. “Their ability to make plays is very scary. We just kept talking about the importance of when they’re about to get possession, everybody has to get back above the puck. I thought we got better and better at that throughout the game.”

instead, the rout was on in the third period. Denver added two more power play goals off of Troy Terry’s and Lukosevicius’ sticks while defenseman Erich Fear added an even-strength tally for his first career goal. Mitchell assisted on Terry’s and Lukosevicius’ goals for his third and fourth points of the game while Dylan Gambrell and Henrik Borgström both added helpers in the period. In a sense, Weninger simply delayed the inevitable by playing so well in the second period.

Weninger was stellar through the first two periods but Jaillet matched him and then some for the entirety of the game to earn his third shutout of the season and seventh of his career.

After winning the Mike Richter Award last season and putting forth a very good first half of the season, Jaillet’s play is often taken for granted. The fact is, Jaillet anchors this championship-caliber team. It’s hard to say where they’d be without him, but thankfully there’s no need to ponder that question.

“Tanner was spectacular tonight…They’re momentum saves,” Montgomery said of Jaillet’s performance in the game and second period saves. “Instead of them getting any momentum, it’s like ‘oh god, that goalie’s on tonight.’ And then we’re going the other way and we were able to extend the lead instead of being in a tight game.”

The Pioneers are playing their best hockey of the season right now. Denver playing complete, 60-minute hockey; they’re playing  Denver Pioneer hockey.

“I don’t know about that,” Montgomery said when he was asked if this was the most complete game of the year. “But it’s the four best games in a row of the year and that’s what we’re looking to do. We’re looking to become a consistently hard team to play against, offensively and defensively.”

A four-game stretch of good hockey is a start. It’s a great sign to see the Pios take these steps forward to start the second half of the season. Now, they need to sustain this progress and keep growing over the next few months. Keeping the streak going tomorrow night with number five would be a great start.