Photo courtesy DU Athletics
A night after scoring five goals on one of the most talented goalies in the country, the #2 University of Denver Pioneers couldn’t get a marker past the Colorado College Tigers’ goaltender, Alex Leclerc despite sending 40 shots at him. The Tigers were only able to score once on Denver’s own stalwart goalie Tanner Jaillet, but it was enough and Denver’s unbeaten streak against CC ended at 17 games.
Denver was the better team on the ice for the vast majority of the game. They won most 50-50 battles, they held onto the puck in CC’s zone, and outshot the Tigers 40-22 but they couldn’t get any rubber past Leclerc. CC’s defense played well and kept most of DU’s chances to the outside, but it was Leclerc’s herculean effort that kept DU off the scoreboard.
There was a lot of open ice for the Pioneers to work with a night ago when they scored five goals and clinched their fourth straight Gold Pan. But tonight, on the smaller NHL-sized rink in Denver, CC clogged the passing and shooting lanes and didn’t let DU get into much of a rhythm.
“We scored some pretty goals last night but with all the puck possession time we had in the offensive zone, we didn’t generate enough [offense inside],” DU head coach Jim Montgomery said. “I thought tonight, we didn’t do a good enough job penetrating inside.”
Even still, Denver dominated possession throughout the first period but it wasn’t until Nick Halloran beat Tanner Jaillet with a seemingly harmless wrist shot from the high slot on the power play at the 19:31 mark that CC was able to generate the game’s only goal. At the time, it seemed like it was nothing more than a bump in the road for the Pioneers and with how well they had been playing they’d make up the deficit fairly quickly.
“I thought our first period was actually our best period, offensively,” Montgomery said of his message to his team after CC’s goal. “It was like ‘hey, let’s keep doing the same thing.’ In the second period, I felt we didn’t penetrate the middle of the ice as much as we did in the first.”
The second period progressed in a similar manner as the first. Denver dominated possession and peppered Leclerc with shots. They outshot CC 18-7 in the middle frame, but again, they just couldn’t find any twine. Every chance they had was on the outside and they couldn’t find any space or time between the circles. The Pioneers had a number of great looks, especially on their three second period power plays, but again, it didn’t matter as Leclerc and CC’s defense kept the Pios off the scoreboard.
By the middle of the third period, Denver’s desperation was palpable. They continued dominating play but they also started pressing. In uncharacteristic fashion, CC didn’t panic and absorbed DU’s attack well. They continued pushing DU to the outside and protected Leclerc’s net-front.
“They played with great desperation,” Montgomery said. “CC deserved to win that game because of the desperation they played with. They blocked shots, they won faceoffs. When you look at the details and the process to having positive outcomes, they were the better team in those areas.”
In the end, DU’s late push, even with the extra skater for the final minute and a half, wasn’t enough and the Tigers are heading back to Colorado Springs with a win over the Pioneers for the first time since 2014. The streak was bound to end at some point and tonight was as good a time as any. Denver’s season is far from over and if anything, this can serve as a big wake-up call with the biggest series of the year at St. Cloud next weekend looming.
Denver was lackadaisical on offense at times against CC and it cost them tonight against their archrival. While it’s not an ideal time to lose conference games, the Pioneers are well within striking distance of the Penrose Cup and have a very good chance of securing a number-one seed for the NCAA Tournament. Denver will tell you that losing right now hurts but really, it may not be the worst thing.
Notes: Montgomery mentioned that sophomore forward Tyson McLellan will see a doctor this week to determine whether he’s ready to resume playing. He could be back for the series at St. Cloud State. He also explained that if the USA doesn’t advance to the medal round at the Olympics, it’s unlikely that Troy Terry will play against the Huskies next weekend.