Pioneers muzzle Huskies to take second NCHC title, enter NCAA Tournament on high note

Photo courtesy Maddie MacFarlane

ST. PAUL, Minn. – In what might have been the best, most complete performance of the season, the #4 University of Denver Pioneers beat the #1 St. Cloud State University Huskies 4-1 to become the first program to win two NCHC Championships. Denver finally ended their three-year streak of losing in the NCHC Semifinal and after winning the only trophy that eluded their grasp a year ago, they’re heading into the NCAA Tournament with as much momentum as they could have hoped for.

“It’s definitely exciting for us,” junior forward Logan O’Connor said. “Obviously you want to be on the uprise going into the tournament and we’re really looking forward to having the tough tasks ahead of us. We feel as though we’ve played some of our best hockey all year the past couple weeks and we’re really looking to snowball that forward into next weekend.”

The Huskies are the top-ranked team in the country for a reason. They pass well, their offensive efficiency is off the charts, and really, they just score a lot of goals. But tonight at the Xcel Energy Center, Denver was simply the better team on the ice. Their forecheck was as good as it’s been all year, defensemen swarmed to the puck in the defensive zone, and in the end, they just outplayed the Huskies.

Freshman forward Kohen Olischefski may have played his best game of the season netting a first period goal on a weird bounce past Husky goalie David Hrenak and a second period assist on fellow freshman forward Ryan Barrow’s breakaway goal. He had that extra jump that head coach Jim Montgomery looks for and played responsible, energized hockey in all three zones.

“He was awesome, he was one of our best faceoff guys,” Montgomery said of Olischefski’s performance. “It’s really impressive to watch his development of his mental toughness. When he got here, if I looked at him wrong, he might hide in a hole for a month. I give him credit and [his] line credit because [SCSU] started Lizotte with Eyssimont against them and they’re like, ‘do you want me to change, coach?’ and I go ‘no, I want you out playing.’ That’s the confidence I’ve developed in them and it’s great to see in those freshmen.”

Olischefski led the way but it was the entire freshman class that paced the Pioneers on the scoresheet, accounting for six of Denver’s points. While it was the play of the “Big Three” that got the Pioneers to the title game, it was the young guns who got the job done to bring home the hardware with the 4-1 victory.

“It’s significant. The Olischefski-Barrow line has really been building here for two months. You can just see their confidence growing in the way they practice, the way they carry themselves, the way they walk around their teammates.”

This was exactly the kind of weekend the Pioneers were looking for heading into the tournament for all the marbles. After an up-and-down season that nearly came to an end at the hands of archrival Colorado College a week ago, the Pioneers came to St. Paul and made a statement with two very distinct victories. Minnesota Duluth and St. Cloud State.

The fact that they were able to win a tough, physical, grind-it-out type of game against the Bulldogs and then dominate against a potent, high-scoring Huskies team bodes very well going forward into the NCAAs. The Pioneers showed a level of versatility this weekend that will absolutely be necessary next weekend if they’re going to return to St. Paul in three weeks for the Frozen Four.

While the ultimate prize is still ahead of them, DU will revel in this dominant weekend of hockey that saw Henrik Borgström, Logan O’Connor, Ian Mitchell, and Tanner Jaillet named to the All-Tournament team.

“The impressive thing to me was the leadership by our captain and our assistant back there, [Adam] Plant,” Montgomery said. “Mitchell gets the points, but to me, Plant or Tariq Hammond were so impressive. I thought they should have been on the tournament team, one of them anyways.”

The slate will be wiped clean come tomorrow morning at 10 AM MT when the NCAA Men’s Hockey Tournament bracket is announced on ESPNU. Denver, the fifth overall seed will likely be put in a region somewhere on the east coast. Regardless of which region they get, Denver should and will be seen as a favorite to win it all again. If they can keep playing ‘inspired hockey’ for the next four games, it will be hard to see them come back to Denver with anything less than a second straight title.

24 thoughts on “Pioneers muzzle Huskies to take second NCHC title, enter NCAA Tournament on high note”

  1. Great effort by everyone! Looks like DU will be in the same regional as Ohio State. Hope they will have a chance to crush ’em as the lacrosse team did today!

    Looks like the Pioneers are on a roll… Let’s keep it going. St. Paul here we come… looking for a repeat!

    (No tears for NoDak missing the NCAAs this year. But know they’ll be back.)

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Pios were very opportunistic tonight, which a team must be at this time of year. Kudos to the third and fourth lines tonight – creating havoc all over the ice. DU managed the game well, and got rewarded with victory.

    College Hockey News projects DU playing Penn State in Allentown Regional, while USCHO has DU in the Worcester (Mass.) Regional playing Clarkson. We’ll see where they go, but the Pios look to be a tough out in any regional.

    Selection Show is at 10 AM ON ESPNU Sunday morning.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. PIos just convincingly beat the #1 team in the nation in Minnesota, only an hour from that SCSU team’s home campus. And for that kind of achievement, the NCAA reward looks like DU as a higher seed, will be ‘rewarded’ by playing Penn State in Pennsylvania…DU should bid on Denver regionals, but DU won’t do it because they lose money….


  4. Congrats to the Pioneers on the NCHC playoff championship!!!! It takes a sustained effort to win that thing, and they’ve been playing great since the Saturday night CC game. What a great defensive effort tonight, shutting down a high powered team like St. Cloud. Jaillet with yet another awesome effort…man, are we going to miss him next year. Barrow, Olischefaki and Durflinger were excellent. It is super promising to see them gain confidence going into the NCAA’s. Also glad to see Gambrell net that goal to maybe get him on a roll.

    Sorry to bring up anything negative, but I am wondering if Troy was playing sick this weekend. He was far from his usual self this weekend, but his teammates more than picked up the slack. Congrats on the trophy. Now on to fry some even bigger fish.


  5. Sucks to play at another team’s home campus when you’re a higher seed. No matter. DU will be ready and take it to those pedophiles. Go pios! Make us proud (again!)


  6. Allentown is not PSU’s campus, but is certainly is convenient for the Nittany Lions and the large alumni fan base of that school. I would expect about 2,500-3,500 PSU fans in Allentown, which is a 2.5 hour drive from State College, home of PSU’s main campus . Most of those fans will be coming from the New York/NJ area (1.5 hr drive) and Philadelphia area (1 hour), which are closer to Allentown and have more PSU alumni.

    I don’t think PSU was ready for DU’s speed last year, but they will be this year. I think it will be a grind-it-out game, but DU should come out on top by a goal.


  7. Would have preferred not to have to play someone close to their home, but DU can handle it. I know nothing about Penn St team this year, but they were described on the show as lunch pail hard workers. So DU better plan on working twice as hard as them. I could be wrong, but I seem to recall penn St. talking a bunch of junk to DU in the midst of getting throttled by DU last year. If so, it could provide some additional motivation. Go Pios.


  8. Penn State (with a national following) and the defending national champion Pioneers … and it’s not on TV, just ESPN3 on the computer? While Providence and Clarkson are on TV? Who made that decision?


  9. Pioneer Hockey Fans,
    Join your Pioneers in Allentown!

    Ticket requests will be prioritized in the following order:
    Pioneer Movement Donors
    Season Ticket Holders
    General Public

    The only tickets sold for NCAA Rounds 1 & 2 will be
    all-session tickets, regardless if Denver advances.

    Your ticket request does not guarantee a ticket.
    Tickets will be filled based on priority and inventory.
    You will receive an email Wednesday, March 21st regarding your ticket status.


    1. You likely won’t have a problem getting a ticket for Allentown.

      By the way, this will be the first time in DU Hockey’s 68-year history that the Pioneers will play a hockey game in the State of Pennsylvania. Many other Pio teams in other sports play in Pennsylvania with regularity, but not hockey. DU has played two teams from Pennsylvania in Denver (Robert Morris and Mercyhurst) and one other PA team (Penn State) in last year’s regional in Cincinnati. DU never played the University of Pennsylvania when Penn had a team in the 1970s.

      Liked by 1 person

  10. People better recognize Tanner Jaillet as he is: One of the greats; One great Pio…

    I have no idea why it ever took one single Pio fan more than a split second to ever realize this.


  11. I couldn’t agree more with the Tanner Jaillet comment. DU has been blessed with great goaltenders and he is one of the very best. He is a rock back there and if we return to St Paul it will probably be on his shoulders.


  12. Don’t think about St. Paul right now, Pios.

    Keep your eyes on Penn State.

    Penn State is going to be much tougher to beat than they were last year for three reasons – First, they played us last year and know what to expect from DU. Secondly, will be playing us in Pennsylvania, and tickets look to be moving well today so expect a serious PSU crowd. Finally, they have a full week to prepare for us, unlike last year, when they faced us on one morning of prep in the regional final.


  13. It’s official!
    The NCAA has reviewed the handshake between Monty and Motsko and entered it as the shortest handshake of all time between two head coaches at the conclusion of a college hockey game. They have timed it at 0.0024ths of a second.
    They also computed the cumulative speed at which they passed each other at 142 M.P.H. but since they do not keep records on that will not officially enter it.
    They additionally complimented the two coaches on successfully making hand contact since they were both looking straight ahead.

    Liked by 1 person

  14. Terrific weekend for DU. After a gritty win over Duluth on Friday, DU really looked sharp against top-ranked SCSU. Puck management and the forecheck were especially strong. I really liked what I saw. Should be a great springboard to the national tournament.


  15. And nice to see the DU fan policeman back on patrol above. He will be timing your loyalty and devotion with his trusty stopwatch!


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