Pioneers earn their wings, shoot down RedHawks at home

Photo courtesy DU Athletics

After a subpar trip to St. Cloud, Minnesota that saw the Pioneers concede the Penrose Cup to the #1 St. Cloud State University Huskies last weekend, it took the #4 University of Denver Pioneers just two minutes and 13 seconds to take the lead against the last-place Miami (OH) University RedHawks. The Pios immediately grabbed the lead and the game’s momentum and would not give an inch until the waning minutes of the game as they skated to a 6-3 victory.

Dylan Gambrell scored and assisted on both of Denver’s first period goals on the power play and led the Pioneers to their best first period in recent memory. Over the past few weeks, it’s taken Denver much the first period and sometimes into the second to get into and take control of the game and that didn’t even happen last weekend at St. Cloud.

“As I’ve said before, [Gambrell] is an incredible college hockey player when he attacks inside the dots and looks to shoot,” DU head coach Jim Montgomery said. “He’s got a much better shot than the amount of shots [he] takes.

Tonight was a completely different story. The Pioneers had a step on the RedHawks as soon as the puck dropped and hemmed them in their zone for much of the opening frame. Denver was the beneficiary of three power plays in the period and the Pioneers took full advantage.

“I thought we were attacking,” Montgomery said of his team’s power play performance. “Guys were looking to score. The intensity of it and the pace of it was really good.”

Denver picked up right where they left off in the second period as Rudy Junda found the back of the net for the third time this year after picking up his own rebound and firing it past Miami goalie Ryan Larkin just 1:51 into the middle frame. To their credit, Miami wasn’t about to go away and hand Denver the victory. Less than two minutes after Junda’s tally, Kiefer Sherwood got the RedHawks on the board, bouncing the puck off of Tanner Jaillet’s arm and across the line to cut the deficit to two. Henrik Borgström restored the Pios’ three-goal lead in the middle of the period and by the time the third period started, Denver was in complete control of the game.

The final period was almost a completely different game for Miami. If the Pioneers controlled the game throughout the first two periods, the RedHawks completely turned the tables in the final frame. Neither team found the back of the net until late in the period. In the span of just a minute and a half, goals from Conor Lemirande and Casey Gilling shrunk DU’s comfortable three-goal lead to just a one-goal lead. All of a sudden, the Crimson & Gold faithful started having flashbacks to the first-half meltdowns against the likes of North Dakota, Western Michigan, and Dartmouth.

“I thought [Miami] got a little pistol-whipped in between periods for maybe a lack of effort,” Montgomery said of the RedHawks urgency in the third period. “They were much more physical, much more engaged.”

However, thanks to a great screen in front of Larkin by Colin Staub, Adam Plant found the back of the net from the point to put the Pioneers back up by two goals. It was all the cushion the Pioneers would need to finish off the RedHawks, but Colin Staub added an empty-net goal off of Troy Terry’s fourth assist of the night to officially put the game out of reach and ice the game.

“The areas we want to improve on, our four lines being able to get to dirty areas was vastly improved,” Montgomery said. “You saw a lot of goals where their goaltender was searching to find [the puck]. Plant’s goal was the perfect example. Staub is right in front of [Larkin] and it seals the game for us.”

With just one regular season game remaining and all eyes looking ahead to the playoffs, it’s important that the Pioneers build as much momentum as they can before Western Michigan or Colorado College comes to Denver next weekend for the first round of the NCHC Tournament. Things haven’t come quite as easily for the Pioneers as they did at this time last year so that late-season momentum does matter. A dominant win over the conference’s last-place team is an excellent place to start.

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