The No. 7 Denver Pioneers travel to Minnesota this weekend to face defending national champion Minnesota Duluth Bulldogs
Much like when a team wins the Stanley Cup in the NHL, the following season that team gets the best from every team they play on their schedule. But for the Minnesota Duluth Bulldogs, they have been giving their best right back. After an astonishing run to the Frozen Four after squeaking into the tournament, Duluth was favored to win the national championship this year. They returned several key players and have been impressive yet again. The Denver Pioneers are one of the few teams who have brought the Bulldogs down to earth, but not without earning every inch of ice. This weekend will be no different in their barn.
The Pioneers had a week off to prepare for Duluth, another NCHC rival that can skate stride for stride with the Pioneers. Coach David Carle said his team is feeling “mentally fresh” after taking a few days away from the rink to reset. He also mentioned that they ran their own practice while Carle and his coaching staff were out on a recruiting trip.
The Pioneers got five hard-earned points against North Dakota the last time they played at Magness Arena and now sit in 4th place in the NCHC, three points clear of the Fighting Hawks. Their final three opponents this season, after UMD, are all below them in the standings and are sub .500 teams (Miami, CC, & Omaha). St. Cloud seems like a lock for first place, but Denver has an opportunity to gain serious ground in the top half if they can win in Duluth this weekend.
One thing that is concerning is the health of Jarid Lukosevicius. He was wearing an orange, non-contact jersey in practice this week and could be dealing with a nagging injury. David Carle said he is working hard to get back to 100% so hopefully he can go this weekend vs Duluth. The Pioneers definitely need his offensive presence.
— Denver Hockey (@DU_Hockey) February 13, 2019
Before we get into previewing the series with Duluth, let’s take a quick moment to admire this story on Tyler Ward and his teeth.
This is the most hockey story I've ever done. Meet @DU_Hockey freshman @98_ward. Great at hockey, not great at remembering where he left his teeth (assists from @brettstapley & @ColeGuttman) pic.twitter.com/3L8pyTosPF
— Lindsay Joy (@LindsayJoyTV) February 8, 2019
Minnesota-Duluth Bulldogs (17-7-2)
The Minnesota-Duluth Bulldogs are built in layers. They play a hard game that focuses on team defense and commitment. They have a lot of playmakers on both sides of the puck, but they’re best at working as a unit. There are several NHL drafted players on their roster, but some of the undrafted players stand out even more.
The defense is led by Scott Perunovich, a speedy high-IQ player who probably has the best vision on the ice. He can find cutting forwards to the net at the drop of a dime, or carve up a PK unit on the powerplay easily. But a player that I’ve always noticed is Nick Wolff. The 6’4 230 pound junior has the best plus/minus on the team with +15. He isn’t flashy, but he has an NHL body and plays like it. He’s hard on pucks, he clears his own end, and plays a low-risk simple game. That’s the real danger about this Duluth team is their simplicity and how straight forward they want to play.
In net is Hunter Shepard, or “Shep Daddy.” Shepard is having another great season averaging under two goals against per game with a .924 save percentage.
On the offensive side, their points are spread pretty evenly. You have the usual suspects with Riley Tufte and Peter Krieger, but a pair of sophomores in Justin Richards and Nick Swaney who have emerged as top goal scorers. The Pioneers will have a lot of difficulty defending their forwards who seem to never stop coming.
Prediction – Pioneers get swept
This is going to be another close series with an NCHC opponent that will be just too much DU to handle. The Bulldogs don’t lose often in their own rink, and without a Lukosevicius at 100%, I don’t see the Pioneers slipping between the UMD defense and scoring. The Pioneers proved they can be pushed around against St. Cloud and Western Michigan, hopefully they can prove me wrong. The key will be getting on the board first. If DU can force Duluth to play from behind, there is a good chance they can steal a game.
Twitter Follow – @UMDMensHockey
Where to Watch/Listen
Friday – 7:07pm MT, CBS Sports Network, 104.3 The Fan
Saturday – 6:07pm MT, NCHC.tv, 104.3 The Fan