Pioneers swept by St. Cloud State in first NCHC road trip

Photo credit: Russell Hons

Denver lost for the first and second times this season on their first true road trip of the season as they dropped a pair of 4-3 decisions to the St. Cloud State Huskies at the Herb Brooks National Hockey Center. The Pioneers looked overmatched all weekend and for the first time all season, their youth and related undisciplined tendencies finally came back to bite them.

Friday: Huskies 4, Pioneers 3

The Pioneers started game one quickly jumping out to a 2-1 first period lead. Denver looked composed and ready to attack while St. Cloud looked lackadaisical and slow to the puck. The Pioneers were able to take advantage, at least early. The Huskies woke up in the second period, though and imposed their will with their skill and experience.

Emilio Pettersen quickly gave the Pioneers a 3-1 lead but the Huskies answered right back, which ended up being a theme on the weekend. SCSU score three unanswered goals in the second period to enter the final intermission with a 4-3 lead. While the Pioneers fought hard to find the tying goal but Huskies goalie David Hrenak was on his game in the third period and kept the puck out of the net.

There were a number of positives to take away from Friday’s game. Goaltender Devin Cooley probably wants back a couple of the goals he allowed but Friday’s game was not a bad performance for the Pioneers. The Huskies did, however, dominate the vast majority of the game after the first period and Denver did themselves no favors with the situational penalties they took.

Saturday: Huskies 4, Pioneers 3

Eight penalties. 19 penalty minutes. If not for Devin Cooley’s performance of a lifetime between the pipes, Denver might have lost this game 10-3. After a second straight fast, 2-1 start, Denver started to play as sloppily as they have in the last half decade. From dumb penalties to mental mistakes on and off the puck, Denver looked lost at times as Cole Guttman’s two goals weren’t enough to overcome.

Oddly enough, Denver looked at its best when it was on the penalty kill, especially during a long 5-on-3 stretch in the second that saw two of three Denver skaters playing without their sticks. Cooley was a brick wall and the skaters got in shot lanes and kept the puck out of the net. But when you’re on the penalty kill for that much of the game, it’s (in the understatement of the year) difficult to get anything going offensively.

Denver should not have been in Saturday’s game. St. Cloud was the more relentless team and at times skated circles around the Pioneers. That they were in the game at all and had a chance to tie the game with under a minute to go is a testament to both Cooley and the team’s general resiliency.

For those of who try to stay positive after games and series like this, the biggest takeaway from this weekend is that this young Denver learned a lot of difficult lessons this weekend. They learned lessons that are much better learned in November than in February. David Carle is going to skate this team hard this week as he should. These are important lessons, but these are lessons teams can only afford to learn once.

This weekend was rough and frustrating but the Pioneers have no time to feel bad for themselves. They have the defending national champion, Minnesota Duluth on their schedule next weekend. Learn and move on. That’s all the Pioneers can do. A repeat performance will simply mean another conference sweep.