Photo courtesy of WMUBroncos.com
Two of the NCHC’s hottest teams face-off this weekend when No. 4 Denver travels to Kalamazoo to play No. 13 Western Michigan
The #3 Denver Pioneers extended their unbeaten streak to eight games last weekend after a tie with Colorado College. DU managed to come from behind and earn an extra point in the NCHC standings after winning the shootout Saturday night. Friday night’s game was postponed due to extreme weather conditions and has been rescheduled for Tuesday, February 26th in Colorado Springs.
Although Saturday night’s game ended on a high note, the Pioneers dealt with a lot of adversity. Defenseman Les Lancaster was ejected with a game misconduct after an illegal hit to the head, CC scored three power play goals, and Denver had to play a tough goaltender down 4-2 going into the third period. It was a tough hill to climb but they never gave up.
Freshman Brett Stapley scored the first goal, assisted on the second by Tyler Ward, and also scored in the shootout. Stapley was the NCHC Rookie of the Week for his great play over the weekend.
— Denver Hockey (@DU_Hockey) January 21, 2019
In Saturday’s game, one of the parents of a player on the team mentioned a difference between this year’s group and last year’s. He said that although there may have been more raw talent on the roster last year, this year’s group plays hard for 60 minutes and doesn’t let teams back in the game. They’re special because they are always a threat to claw their way back into games too. The Pioneers will have a tough test against Western Michigan this weekend who are very familiar with Denver’s speed and skill.
Here’s head coach David Carle discussing their upcoming matchup against the Western Michigan Broncos.
— Denver Hockey (@DU_Hockey) January 24, 2019
Western Michigan Broncos (13-8-1)
When the Pioneers hosted the Broncos earlier this season in Denver, both teams were still figuring things out. Denver was rolling with a big unknown in Devin Cooley and Western Michigan had a lot of younger players adjusting to their system. Not only that, they were missing their best skater, Wade Allison, who was still recovering from a torn ACL. But now that both teams have had time to acclimate, this series should make for some great hockey.
Like Denver, Western Michigan has been on their own streak. Before last weekend’s two losses to St. Cloud, the Broncos had gone unbeaten in ten games going 9-0-1. That streak included a win and a tie with Duluth, a road sweep of North Dakota, and a few good non-conference wins.
The Broncos have been led in the past by dynamic scoring forward Wade Allison, but he has been slow to get back to his usual pace since returning from injury. But picking up the slack have been teammates Josh Passolt, Colt Conrad, and Hugh McGing. A lot of the shots come from this trio who can be dangerous on the power play as well as five-on-five.
On the defensive side, there aren’t a lot of goals scored against Buffalo Sabres prospect Mattias Samuelsson. He has an NHL-ready body at 6’4 220 pounds and has great patience in his own zone. He along with juniors Cam Lee and Luke Bafia will make it as tough as they can on Denver forwards this weekend.
And on the last line of defense may be WMU’s best player in goaltender Trevor Gorsuch. With a record of 11-4-1, a GAA of 2.19, and a save percentage of .925, Gorsuch has been making the right saves to keep games out of reach for the Broncos opponents. The defense has done a stellar job just allowing 25 shots per game.
Broncos head coach Andy Murray spoke to the media about what Western Michigan needs to do this weekend to beat Denver. Their motto is to play smarter, faster, & heavier against top teams like DU. He mentions that Wade Allison and Ethen Frank will be in the lineup this weekend marking the first time all season that the team has been 100% healthy.
Prediction – Pioneers go 0-2 this weekend
The Pioneers have done a pretty good job proving me wrong this season. Every time I think they will earn a split, they squeak out that second win, but I just have a feeling Murray will have a surprise gameplan heading into this weekend. The Broncos will put a lot of pressure on the Pioneers early to get ahead, then play a Nashville Predators-style of prevent defense that will force DU to play from behind. This series is an opportunity for WMU to climb the rankings and they will try to take full advantage. The Pioneers have been outstanding on the road this far, but this kind of heavy, physical matchup could pose a lot of problems.
Twitter Follow – @WMUHockey
Where to Watch/Listen
Friday – 5:05pm MT, NCHC.tv, ESPN 1600
Saturday – 5:05pm MT, NCHC.tv, 104.3 The Fan