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.”

10 thoughts on “Denver tops Minnesota Duluth 3-1, advances to second-ever Frozen Faceoff Championship”

  1. That five minute major, shot from behind, was unsettling … that could have really hurt someone. I’m glad it wasn’t a DQ that carries over to tomorrow, but I hope it’s a wake up to players on all teams. We love this game, but most of these guys are going on to have joe jobs like us. Let’s not permanently hurt someone. Please play heads up.

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  2. I have to say, that was not very exciting for a close game. Terry didn’t have much of a presence, and neither team showed a tremendous amount of skill. But its good to know that DU can play and win that type of a relatively ugly game. Not used to seeing DU in the penalty box so much. Good job by the 5 remaining defensemen and Jaillet to shut things down. The game against St. Cloud has a trophy on the line, and it’s the last chance to get into a higher gear before the NCAA’s. Would love to see a higher level of intensity next game, win or lose.

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  3. That was playoff hockey, not a track meet. DU was great in the first with puck possession, but Durflinger’s dumb penalty killed the Pios’ momentum and let UMD dicatate much of the tempo from then on.

    DU was remarkably dumb to allow UMD to grab that five on three, and then Hillman’s CFB major, which nearly gave the game away.

    DU was fortunate to get the Staub bounce, and Jaillet slammed the escape door.

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  4. DU took another step in team growth last night.

    While taking the penalties DU did last night was uncharacteristic, I was excited by the way the DU team responded to the self-created adversity. While I don’t put a great deal of emphasis on conference tourney performances (these are little more than needed money-maker games to support the leagues), they are at least a good dress rehearsal for the NCAA tournament.

    DU was able to close out and manage UMD’s push late in the game, and that’s a mark of team maturity that you like to see at this time of year. That said, when DU sees the game film this morning, I am sure they will be reminded that playoff hockey is hard enough without shooting yourself in the foot. Durflinger, O’Connor and Hillman all took un-needed penalties, and that kind of thing can end your season quickly in the NCAAs.

    Let’s hope DU plays a much cleaner game vs SCSU today…

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  5. Clearly Anderson has eyes in the back of his head. Watching that replay 5x on the Hillman hit, Anderson’s head/eyes were clearly looking up ice. He glanced back and called the aftermath imho. That said, it was a penalty. Did the other ref have his hand up?

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  6. Gritty, solid effort last night against a good Duluth team. It wasn’t always pretty, especially in the 2nd period, but the PK stepped up big, Jaillet was Jaillet, and the offense did just enough.

    Pios need to stay out of the box against SCSU tonight.

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