Filip Larsson makes NCAA debut in barnburner tie against Providence

Photo courtesy Shannon Valerio/DU Athletics

DENVER – After an offseason-plus of anticipation and consternation surrounding DU’s goaltending situation, the #7 Denver Pioneers finally have three healthy goalies as highly touted freshman Filip Larsson made his collegiate debut against the #9 Providence College Friars. A night after Devin Cooley limited the Friars to just one goal on 40 shots, Larsson kept the Pioneers in the game as the Pioneers and Friars tied 4-4 at Magness Arena.

Larsson looked at times like he never missed a game and at others, he looked like a goalie making his season debut at the end of November. Though DU’s defense didn’t do him many favors throughout the first two periods with poor defensive zone play that led to numerous Providence scoring chances.

“It feels good to be back, to get a game going,” Larsson said. “The pace was probably a little fast through the first 40 minutes. I felt really good in the third period but I was pretty tired. Overall, it was good.”

While Larsson’s play was important for the Pioneers to stay in the game, this game was about as entertaining as a tie could be. Every time Providence punched DU in the mouth, the Pioneers punched right back. Denver has put its resiliency on display time and again throughout the season to this point and tonight was no exception.

Providence drew first blood six minutes into the game but just seven seconds later, basically off of the ensuing faceoff, Cole Guttman sniped a shot high to Parker native Hayden Hawkey’s glove side to tie the game at 1. The Friars then jumped out to a 3-1 lead early in the second period but after a major penalty for contact to the head against Brandon Duhaime, Denver scored two power play goals to tie the game back up, this time at 3. Fitting with the theme of the game, PC’s Greg Printz gave the Friars a 4-3 lead early in the third period but just 20 seconds later, Jaakko Heikkinen answered for the Pioneers with his second goal of the weekend.

“I thought that gave our bench some confidence,” DU head coach David Carle said when asked about the two second period power play goals. “Obviously it’s great to score on the power play and execute like we did but really for the first two periods, I don’t think you saw Denver Hockey in any way. I thought it was really disjointed. In the third period, I thought you saw us come together. It was the most complete third period we had on the night.”

While it wasn’t the result the Pioneers preferred, this game showed exactly who the Pioneers are. Despite their youth, they’re playing like seasoned veterans. This team truly believes that no lead is insurmountable and no matter the odds, they know they’re in a position to come win any game they’re in. That’s a remarkable trait for a team like Denver to have at this point in the season.

“There’s something about the group, as our game continues to mature, there’s still a lot of room for growth,” Carle said. “But when our backs are against the wall, our bench doesn’t get rattled, they want to attack the game. You’ve seen that a lot here in the first 12 games of the season.”

The reason Denver was able to have success and use their resiliency to theirĀ advantage this weekend was the sudden appearance of secondary scoring. Until this weekend, the Pioneers were depending on their top two lines for nearly all of their goals. Of the seven goals the Pioneers scored against the Friars this weekend, five of them were scored by players not on Denver’s top two lines. Colin Staub, Tyler Ward, and Heikkinen all scored their first goals of the season on Friday. Ward and Heikkinen both doubled their goal weekend goal totals on Saturday with clutch tying goals.

With two games left against North Dakota in two weeks in the “gauntlet” that has included the likes of then-#2 St. Cloud State, then-#1 Minnesota Duluth, and now #9 Providence, the Pioneers like the growth they’ve experienced to this point in the season. That they see even higher potential as the halfway point of the season approaches is a great sign for these young Pioneers.

“I don’t think we are where we’re going to be,” Carle said. “But like we’ve said to the team, you have to play good teams to challenge yourselves and to push yourself. I think each week we’ve tried to build upon things and learn from St. Cloud to Duluth to here and we see growth in our game as coaches, I think our players are gaining more confidence in different situations.”