Photo courtesy DU Athletics
After Game Two of the best-of-three NCHC Quarterfinal series, there was some doubt as to which Pioneers team would show up for Game Three. Would it be the Denver that skated hard and played relentless hockey in Game Two to earn a 3-2 victory? Or would it be the lethargic, uninspired effort that ended in a 2-0 shutout loss to the Colorado College Tigers? On Sunday evening at Magness Arena, the #5 University of Denver Pioneers answered those questions in a big way as they skated to a 6-1 victory to advance to the NCHC Frozen Faceoff.
Troy Terry dished out four assists, Henrik Borgström added another goal, and Jarid Lukosevicius scored twice in one of Denver’s most complete performances since the calendar turned over to 2018. Denver struck first with a goal by Logan O’Connor barely five minutes in and proceeded to skate Colorado College out of the building for the rest of the game. They even chased CC goalie Alex Leclerc about midway through the second period after finding twine four times against him.
— Denver Hockey (@DU_Hockey) March 12, 2018
“None of the goals were his fault,” DU head coach Jim Montgomery said of Leclerc’s performance. “We’ve crashed the net on him and taken pucks and beaten people out of corners all weekend. He’s a tremendous goalie. What a player they have for another two years.”
The 6-1 victory was the culmination of a combination of frustration and determination that had been building since the puck dropped on Friday night. The Pioneers built from the lowest of the lows to the highest of highs over the course of three days and that bodes very well heading into next weekend’s Frozen Faceoff.
Denver is one of the two teams (North Dakota) that has made all five Frozen Faceoffs and that’s no small feat. Even Minnesota Duluth and St. Cloud State, the last two Frozen Faceoff champions, haven’t attended all five. The Pioneers’ attendance in St. Paul next weekend is just another indication of where the Pioneers are as a program.
“It speaks volumes of consistency of being good at the end of the year,” Montgomery said. “This is a tough conference as we know. Four to six teams usually make the NCAA Tournament and there will be four probably this year.”
St. Cloud State beat Miami in overtime in Game Three of their Quarterfinal Series, so Denver will play UMD in the NCHC Semifinals next Friday. Since winning it in its inaugural year, the Frozen Faceoff has been a thorn in DU’s side. After beating Miami in 2014 for the title, they lost to Miami, St. Cloud State, and North Dakota in 2015, 2016, and 2017, respectively. Denver is hoping this is the year they can buck the trend of the last three years and bring home a conference title.
“It’s encouraging the way we responded from Friday night through the rest of the weekend,” Montgomery said. “I thought it was an opportunity for us to grow as a team and become more united. Hopefully, that’s what has transpired here because I thought everyone played inspired hockey on Saturday and Sunday.”
It’s been an up-and-down year for the Pioneers but they’re still well within striking distance of two of their preseason goals. Next weekend in St. Paul, they have a chance to build on the momentum they gained this weekend against CC and bring home the first of two trophies left to win. If tonight’s game is any indication, Denver is more than capable of running the table and achieving both goals.
“Last year, there were just little moments and we forged on and got better,” Montgomery said. “Two years ago, we lost four in a row and we came back with a different attitude and work ethic in the second half. This year, it just has never transpired. We’re hoping that Friday night was that lesson that galvanizes us to play inspired hockey and play the right way the rest of the way.”