Tigers ‘bend, but don’t break’ to double up Pioneers in game 1 of NCHC Quarterfinals

photo courtesy of The Denver Post 

The storied rivalry between the No. 5-ranked University of Denver Pioneers (18-9-8, 12-7-6 NCHC) and the Colorado College Tigers (15-15-5, 9-12-4 NCHC) continues to enhance. For the second consecutive time, and second time since both teams joined the National Collegiate Hockey Conference (NCHC), the Pioneers and Tigers met in a best of three series of the NCHC quarterfinals on Friday, March 9.

Two third period goals earned the shutout 2-0 victory for Colorado College.

“They’re a dangerous team,” CC head coach Mike Haviland said. “I thought we did a good job of bending and not breaking and that’s what you have to do against them.”

Following a questionable hooking penalty on DU’s Ryan Barrow, the Tigers converted on the extra-man opportunity.

Sophomore defenseman Kristin Blumenschein launched his shot from the point. Westin Michaud was all by himself shielding Jaillet. The junior forward collected the puck and slipped a backhander past Denver goalie Tanner Jaillet.

The Tigers rode the momentum following the first goal as the puck possession shifted in favor of CC. Roughly four minutes later, the Tigers doubled their lead. A combination play from juniors Mason Bergh and Trey Bradley resulted in the second goal as Bergh snuck a puck past Jaillet.

“They’re a team that can score and score in bunches,” Haviland said. “We needed to not sit back and keep going after them. It was a huge goal we got there, that second one obviously. Then you see guys selling out, blocking shots there at the end, making plays and taking hits — That’s what you have to do at playoff time to beat anybody and certainly this time.”

Similar to the last meeting against the Tigers on Feb. 17 where the Tigers won 1-0, the Pioneers struggled to maintain a consistent rhythm. Denver generated chances and an abundance of traffic down low throughout the game, but there was an apparent air of disarray. The lines just weren’t clicking.

“They have some guys who can come through the neutral ice with some speed,” Haviland said. “Special teams were due tonight. We got the saves we obviously needed. We weathered some of their storms, obviously we knew that coming into tonight.

“I’m really proud of the way we battled and competed for the 60-minutes.”
Alex Leclerc continued to be a thorn in the Pioneers’ side. After CC lost a whopping 8-2 during the second game of their series against Western Michigan University last weekend, the sophomore was perfect in net for the Tigers. Leclerc made 37 saves in the victory to deny the Pioneers, who are averaging 3.32 goals per game, from lighting the lamp.

“He was huge. I knew he would bounce back after last Saturday,” Haviland said. “He’s been very good against them this year and you could tell he was sharp very early on. He was tracking the puck well and made some really big saves, especially i the second I thought.”

The Pioneers and Tigers return to Magness Arena tomorrow night, Saturday, March 10. If the Tigers sweep then they advance to the conference semifinals at the Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul, Minn. If Denver wins or ties, the series will be decided on Sunday, March 11.

“The hardest thing to do is win that last one,” Haviland said. “I understand that and that staff [DU] over there understands that. We have to come back and play the same way if not harder.”