Denver battles 1-1 tie with North Dakota in playoff atmosphere

Photo courtesy of North Dakota Athletics
There was no shortage of emotion as the No. 7-ranked Denver Pioneers pulled out an official 1-1 tie and a 2-1 overtime win over the North Dakota Fighting Hawks. A physical playoff-style game had 6,029 spectators out of their seats at Magness Arena. The Pioneers celebrated the overtime win as if it were a postseason game as freshman forward Brett Stapley squeaked by his defenseman with a nifty toe-drag past and buried his shot. 

“It’s the way it’s going to be [the rest of the year],” Denver head coach David Carle said. “It’s going to be playoff hockey. Every point is big from here on out.

“Really happy for us to bounce back after last weekend [after getting swept by Western Michigan], where we really didn’t play like we wanted to. To come home and play in a playoff atmosphere, against a good North Dakota team speaks to our ability to turn the page.”

The Pioneers maintained composure against the pressure from the Fighting Hawks but lacked an essential urgency to fend off UND’s relentless efforts. North Dakota wasted virtually no time in carrying over its vengeful play and looked to bounce back from its gritty 2-1 loss to the Pioneers on Friday.

The Fighting Hawks set the tone just two minutes into the first period as forward Dixon Bowen was ejected from the game for a five-minute major and game misconduct for contact to the head after a late hit to Denver forward Kohen Olischefski.

Despite five minutes of a man advantage and two-minutes of five-on-three, it wasn’t until nine-seconds after North Dakota returned to full-strength that the Pioneers struck twine.

Denver’s points leader Liam Finlay (12 goals and 14 assists) faked a wraparound and sent a pass towards the backdoor. The junior forward’s feed ricocheted off of the skate of a North Dakota defenseman and snuck past the goal line.

The Pioneers had upgraded to a five-on-three power play with 3:24 left on Bowen’s penalty when Rhett Gardner was called for tripping. Even with a two-man advantage, DU’s power play spent more time retrieving the puck from their own zone than reaping the benefits of an extra skater.

“Obviously we didn’t execute on the full two-minute five on three,” coach Carle said. “We need to be better. But I didn’t feel like our bench got really down from it. I didn’t mind the end of the first period.”

Denver was without senior forward Jarid Lukosevicius. His absence promoted sophomore Jack Doremus into the lineup who played on the fourth line alongside left winger Jake Durflinger and centerman Tyson McLellan. Despite the lulls in the Pioneers performance, the fourth line matched the intensity emitted by the enraged Fighting Hawks and gave the Pioneers much-needed life.

“I thought the [fourth line] did an unbelievable job all night long for us,” coach Carle said. “Getting pucks in behind all night long, forechecking and showing us how we need to play, how we need to generate chances on this team. I think everyone felt that.”

Denver goaltender Filip Larsson received his fair share of hits throughout the night including one that pulled him out his crease and exposed a wide open net. North Dakota cashed in on the opportunity with a wraparound goal from Jasper Weatherby halfway through the second period, but the goal was disallowed for goaltender interference. 

Larsson finished the game with 45 saves.

“He was the best player on the ice all weekend long,” coach Carle said. “In my opinion, it wasn’t close.”

The Fighting Hawks’ suffocating forecheck was finally rewarded with 13 seconds left in the second period and tied the score up at one goal apiece. DU forward Brett Stapley sent a puck straight into the tape of North Dakota’s Hayden Shaw who sniped his shot over the left shoulder of Larsson.

“A lot of times that could be a momentum shift,” Carle said. “But I was happy with how our guys responded.”

Tensions only snowballed during the third period. Both teams came out flying up until the final buzzer, sending the game into overtime.

“The atmosphere was incredible,” senior captain Colin Staub said. “You hear half of the chants going back and forth splitting the arena. As long as there is energy in the building especially in the atmosphere like that it just makes the game way more fun.”

The regulation tie moves the Pioneers to three points out of third place in NCHC standings. Denver has an upcoming bye week and won’t return to action until Feb. 15 at Minnesota Duluth.