Photo courtesy DU Athletics
Whether it was the Colorado College Tigers’ impeccable and determined defensive effort or a lack of offensive fortitude by the #5 University of Denver Pioneers, Game One of the best-of-three NCHC Quarterfinal matchup at Magness Arena ended in a __-0 shutout for the 7th-seeded Tigers. It was a nightmare 2018 postseason debut for the Pioneers that DU fans certainly hope is not a sign of things to come over the next few weeks.
The game opened slowly and neither team was able to develop much of a rhythm. But by the time five minutes had elapsed, Denver was in complete control of the game. They hemmed CC in their defensive zone and peppered Tigers goalie Alex Leclerc with shots. The only issue was Leclerc was on his game and kept the puck out of the back of the net with a number of heroic efforts.
CC grabbed some of the momentum back by the end of the opening period, but Denver grabbed control of the game once again in the second. Passes were crisp, the offensive effort was there, and they were taking care of things in the defensive zone. Jarid Lukosevicius hit a post and Leclerc made more incredible saves to keep the game scoreless. However, it still seemed like Denver was just one shot away from opening the Leclerc floodgates.
“[CC] gives you the outside ice so you have to originally take that outside ice,” DU head coach Jim Montgomery said. “You have to find a way to penetrate. I thought Lukosevicius and [Ryan] Barrow did a great job of finding ways to penetrate. We need more guys to find a way to penetrate.”
But the Pioneers started the third period with a dud of a power play and all of the momentum they built in the first two periods evaporated. All of a sudden, the door opened for the Tigers to take over the game and where the Pioneers failed, the Tigers succeeded. About five minutes into the final frame, Westin Michaud found himself in the right place at the right time in the slot and hammered home the rebound off of a Kristian Blumenschein shot from the point. It ended up being all the offense the Tigers would need but about four minutes later, Mason Bergh snuck a shot through DU goalie Tanner Jaillet to double their lead and essentially end any hopes of a Crimson & Gold comeback.
“I thought the beginning on that power play, we laid an egg,” Montgomery said. “Our best players have to make a statement and they didn’t.”
Denver pressed hard over the next 10 minutes but it was a disorganized and at times dispirited comeback effort. Yes, there is still a game tomorrow and, hopefully a game on Sunday, but this was as disappointing a Game One as most DU fans could have envisioned. While the Pioneers’ season can’t end this weekend as they’re a lock to make the NCAA Tournament, you never want to limp into the tournament that matters most. There may not be a carryover effect tomorrow night in Game Two of the series, but Denver’s backs are against the wall and one way or another, they’re going to have to respond.
“CC was better than us on special teams, they were better than us in desperation areas,” Montgomery said. “I’m excited to see how we’re going to be with our backs against the wall. We just haven’t had that sense of urgency all year and if we don’t have it tomorrow night, we really have some worries.”