Tenacious forecheck and perfect penalty kill shape late Denver rally

photo courtesy of Parick Green

Relentless efforts on the forecheck and a perfect penalty kill propelled the No. 5-ranked University of Denver Pioneers’ momentum to rally a 4-3 victory over the No. 10 University of Minnesota Duluth Bulldogs on Saturday, Feb. 3 at Magness Arena.

While DU took an early lead, the Pioneers wouldn’t regain the upper hand on the scoreboard until the ninth minute of the third period. Denver’s defense was critical in providing the Pioneers (16-6-6, 10-4-4 NCHC) with opportunities to clinch the weekend sweep and extend DU’s unbeaten streak to seven games (5-0-2).

Sophomore defenseman, Michael Davies, has been an essential component the blueline as the Pioneers defense returned to full capacity after battling injuries. Davies posted a plus-four in the victory.

As Duluth (15-12-3, 9-9-0 NCHC) countered momentum and led the scoreboard, Denver maintained composure to craft a late rally.

“We knew they were going to come out hard every period,” Davies said. “We beat them last night so we knew they were obviously looking for a split for the weekend. They competed hard. We just kept sticking to our process and believed in it, it ended up working out well for us.”

The Pioneers’ penalty kill was perfect throughout the weekend. Denver’s first goal resulted from tremendous efforts on the penalty kill. DU’s Ian Mitchell was sent to the box for interference two minutes into the first period. With fourteen seconds remaining on the Pioneers’ man-down, junior forward Logan O’Connor intercepted a pass in the neutral zone and rushed the offensive zone. O’Connor sent his wrist-shot short-side of UMD’s Hunter Shepard.

“Our penalty kill was great all weekend,” Davies said. “It’s obviously a big deal when you’re playing a team that’s as good as Duluth offensively. All forwards were great on the forecheck all weekend. They [forwards] smothered them up so they [UMD] didn’t have any time to make plays. It led to a lot of offensive zone time for us.”

Davies was paired with freshman Blackhawks prospect Ian Mitchell in tonight’s game. Senior assistant captain Adam Plant and freshman Griffin Mendel rejoined the Pioneer lineup after sustaining injuries. To have nine healthy players return to the blueline against a booming Minnesota-Duluth offense was crucial entering the weekend.

“We’ve had a lot of injuries back there,” Davies said. “You play with different guys all the time so it’s nice to have a little bit of consistency with your partners. We have nine great D who can all play at this level. Everybody did a great job when we had injuries. It’s definitely nice to have the guys we want in the lineup back.”

Denver has a bye week during the weekend of Friday, Feb. 9 and Saturday, Feb. 10. The Pioneers will travel to Colorado Springs on Friday, Feb. 16 and return to Magness Arena on Saturday, Feb. 17 for a home-and-home series against the Colorado College Tigers.

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