Denver tops Minnesota Duluth 3-1, advances to second-ever Frozen Faceoff Championship

Photo courtesy Maddie MacFarlane

ST. PAUL, Minn. – For the first time since head coach Jim Montgomery’s first year at the helm of the program, the #4 University of Denver Pioneers are heading back to the NCHC Frozen Faceoff Final. Tanner Jaillet made 24 saves, Henrik Borgström scored a power play goal, and the Pioneers withstood a Bulldog barrage in the second period en route to a 3-1 victory over #8 Minnesota Duluth at the XcelEnergy Center.

It was the exact kind of game that most expected between these two programs. It was a “grind-it-out,” physical, low-scoring one-goal game; just like the four previous matchups this year. Denver was never going to take over this game with their offensive prowess. If Denver was going to come away with a Semifinal victory, they’d have to play responsible defense and limit the Bulldogs’ offensive opportunities. And that’s exactly what they did…for the most part.

The Pioneers opened the game with a dominant first period effort that was highlighted by Borgström’s power play goal about nine minutes in. American Hero Troy Terry found Ian Mitchell who then found Borgström at the top of the left circle. The Finn then wired a wrist shot past UMD goalie Hunter Shepard top-right to open the scoring.

“I thought we had a lot of intensity and pace to our power play,” Montgomery said after the game. “I thought we had a shot-first attitude. We were winning faceoffs and playing with pace and when we do that with the players we have, good things happen.”

The second period was dominated by the Bulldogs and just a minute and a half into the middle frame, Scott Perunovich it with a top-shelf snipe of his own. That was only the beginning of the Bulldogs’ barrage. Despite UMD’s dominance, Denver restored their one-goal lead just a few minutes later thanks to an odd goal from Colin Staub. Michael Davies shot the puck toward the net from the point, Logan O’Connor deflected it, and Shepard made the initial save. However, Joey Anderson collided with Shepard and the puck came to Staub’s stick where he tapped the puck over the line before Shepard could get his pad over to make the save.

UMD outshot DU 16-4 in the second period thanks in large part to three Pioneer penalties including a game misconduct for checking from behind by Blake Hillman. Denver gave Duluth all the opportunities they could have asked for but the Pioneers rose to the challenge and retained their one-goal lead.

“Those aren’t good penalties to take,” DU captain Tariq Hammond said. “But we took them and we killed them off. That’s what we’re proud of and we got the job done. Guys were making blocks, they were chipping pucks, there was a lot of emotion on the bench. That’s how we got the momentum back after we killed off those penalties.”

Hillman’s ejection couldn’t have come at a worse time for the Pioneers. UMD was pressing hard offensively and Denver, a team that prides itself on good, responsible defense, lost one of its best shutdown defensemen for the rest of the game.

“I thought it was great,” Montgomery said when asked about his team’s response to Hillman’s ejection. “I thought our penalty killers were on their toes and I think [the five-minute major] penalty kill was our best kill of the whole night. I give credit to our penalty killers. They took it upon themselves and I thought Tanner [Jaillet] was really aggressive in his crease and really vocal.”

The Pioneers built on the momentum from their second period penalty kills and prevented UMD from creating much momentum of their own in the third period. Adam Plant added an empty-net goal with less than a minute left to seal the victory and send the Pioneers back to the NCHC Championship game tomorrow night against St. Cloud State.

But don’t ask the Pios about SCSU just yet. They’re still enjoying this one. “We haven’t really focused on them yet,” Hammond said. “We’re enjoying this win right now and we’re going to get a good meal in us tonight and start preparing for them tomorrow.”