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.

3 thoughts on “Pioneers swept by St. Cloud State in first NCHC road trip”

  1. Well stated, Nick. We knew the Pioneers were talented, but with all the youth and inexperience, are still going to take their lumps this year, and the lumps began this weekend. The scores this weekend were much closer than the games actually were, as SCSU pretty much dominated every category but the scoreboard.

    DU certainly tried hard this weekend, but they could not seem to control themselves with a real lack of discipline that is fast becoming a hallmark of Carle’s team. After years of DU being one of the least penalized teams in the country, it’s hard to watch them becoming undisciplined hackers. Let’s hope Carle can fix this soon, because it’s hard enough playing in the NCHC with 20 freshmen and sophomores, even when you stay out of the box. When you can’t stay out of the box, good teams will punish you, as SCSU did.

    Let’s see if DU learns anything this week in practice. If DU plays the way they did this weekend, UMD will punish them at Magness.

    1. Cooley could easily have won 3rd star of the game. Don’t over react people. This weekend began a streak of 8 games in a row which are as tough as any I can remember. Our PWR which is starting to take shape won’t drop dramatically because of our early wins and SOS. The kids will figure things out with the aid of solid coaching. Carle’S toughest job might be making sure kids don’t get down on themselves and play tight with a deflated confidence level. Long season.

      1. Good points, Dunker. I predicted DU would be a .500 team this year and I am still expecting that kind of finish when all is said and done. DU is certainly a solid team, but by no means are they elite yet, as this weekend proved. While the scores were close, anyone watching the game could see that SCSU had the puck most of the time and dominated the shots and face-offs all weekend.

        I’d like to think the DU penalty problems we are seeing now with are are by product of youth and inexperience, as well as the usual early season officiating crackdowns that typically loosens as the season goes on and players learn from mistakes. That said, some of the DU penalties this weekend were also taken by more experienced players who should know better….Carle and Co. must fix this soon and I am sure they are looking into all kinds of methodologies for improvement on the penalty front…

        While last night’s game performance was heroic by Cooley, there are clearly flaws that we can see emerging in Cooley’s overall performance level that show why he was not a highly-recruited goalie coming out of juniors. That’s okay – Cooley is a walk-on, third goalie who has been thrust into a starting role by unforeseen injuries and transfer, so you can’t expect him to be an NCHC goaltending leader. I love his heart and compete level, but I don’t think he’s skilled enough to carry DU long term. Hopefully, Larsson’s return from injury in December should be an important improvement for DU.

        Finally, the DU freshmen class are clearly more high-performing than most thought, and there is certainly hope for a more optimistic DU finish as they grow, as I want them to prove me wrong, but DU failed its first test against elite competition this weekend, and with a couple more top 5 teams coming up, there are likely to be more lessons learned in the coming weeks…

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