Denver Hockey Series Preview: Minnesota Duluth

Photo courtesy of the Duluth News Tribune

This weekend the past two NCAA National Champions faceoff when the Denver Pioneers host the Minnesota-Duluth Bulldogs

Coming off a pair of losses to No. 2 St. Cloud State, the No. 7 Denver Pioneers have to quickly regroup before they host No. 1 Minnesota Duluth.  The NCHC continues to be the elite conference in college hockey, making for several great series every year, including this one.  There are a total of 12 players who have already been drafted to NHL teams so will be no shortage of star-power this weekend at Magness Arena.

We learned a few things about this year’s Pioneers team over the weekend as well as from other series earlier this year.  This group has heart and will fight until the final horn. The games against St. Cloud were surprisingly close and a lot of young players stepped up in a hard road series.  Freshmen Cole Guttman, Brett Stapley, and Emilio Pettersen have been making plays all year and that didn’t stop this past weekend.  It’s hard to imagine this team with their starting goaltender Filip Larsson, but they’re still doing pretty well in his absence.

Something to note is that this weekend’s games are not only a top matchup in college hockey, it’s parents weekend at DU.  Many families will be in attendance which should give a little extra motivation to the Pioneer players.

Minnesota Duluth Bulldogs

Pioneers fans know and understand the pressure of repeating as national champions, but it seems like Minnesota Duluth has just as good of a chance to repeat as Denver had last season.  The Bulldogs have won eight straight games, including recent sweeps of Notre Dame and Colorado College.

Duluth has the 5th best powerplay (27%) and the 6th best penalty kill (88%) in all of college hockey, so it’s safe to say special teams are working for them.  They are performing at a high level in all phases of the game, so the Pioneers will need to set the tone early.  The only two games that the Bulldogs struggled in were at the beginning of the season against Minnesota where they tied and also lost 7-4.  The Gophers jump all over Duluth scoring three goals in the first period, throwing their game-plan off.

Last weekend, St. Cloud State’s Jimmy Schuldt took control from the blue line and was a serious threat every time he touched the puck.  UMD has three of those types of players in Scott Perunovich, Dylan Samberg, and Mikey Anderson.  They have a veteran blue line that some size and can really move the puck.  The Pioneers will have to shoot from all areas of the zone and use defenders as screens in this tight of a matchup.

And finally, Bulldogs goaltender Hunter Shepard is playing out of his mind.  The junior is currently 8-1-1 with a 1.84 GAA and a .916 save percentage.  It doesn’t get much better than that.  His defense has a lot to do with the small number of shots he’s seeing, but Shepard is picking up where he left off last season keeping pucks out of the net.

Who to watch

#39 – Forward – Parker Mackay – 6G, 5A

#19 – Forward – Justin Richards – 3G, 7A

#7 – Defenseman – Scott Perunovich –  1G, 13A (2018 2nd, STL)

#5 – Defenseman – Nick Wolff – 2G, 6A

#32 – Goaltender – Hunter Shepard – 8-1-1, 1.84GAA, .916 SV%

Prediction – Pioneers split with the Bulldogs

This weekend should preview a postseason matchup later in the year.  Whether that’s in the Frozen Faceoff, the Frozen Four, or both, these teams will meet again with more on the line.  No lead this weekend will be safe.  Both the Pioneers and Bulldogs will show they can come from behind and sneak out with a W.  Look for a lot of weird bounces and uncharacteristic mistakes that will decide these games.  A shot off a shin guard or an own goal may decide a series like this between these two teams, they’re just too good.

Twitter Follow – @UMDMensHockey

Where to Watch/Listen

Friday – 7:07pm MT, Altitude 2, 104.3 THE FAN

Saturday – 5:07pm MT, NCHC.tv, ESPN DENVER 1600