DU Takes Five of Six NCHC Points in Omaha, Clinches Home Ice for NCHC Playoffs

DU’s Colin Staub (#24 at left) battles in the UNO crease during DU’s five-point weekend in Omaha. Photo: Omaha World Herald

The Denver Pioneers got some solid results in the last full road weekend of the NCHC regular season, defeating the University of Nebraska-Omaha Mavericks 4-1 on Friday night, and tying the Mavericks 3-3 on Saturday night, with a bonus standings point for an NCHC overtime 3-on-3 winning goal at Baxter Arena in Omaha. The win and tie extended DU’s undefeated streak against Omaha to 16 games, dating back to 2015.

The #6-ranked Pioneers (19-8-5 overall, 11-8-3 NCHC) were outshot (and often outplayed) in both games by a more desperate Omaha team (9-20-3), ranked #44 in Pairwise. That said, the Pioneers were able to take more advantage of their higher skill level on scoring chances to secure the five-point weekend, putting seven regulation goals behind Omaha netminder Evan Weninger, plus the extra NCHC overtime winner, over the two games.

DU’s goals were scored by seven different Pioneers on the weekend. Friday night, DU’s four goals were scored by Micheal Davies, Jarid Lukosevicius, Jakko Heikkinen and Cole Guttman. On Saturday, Kyle Mayhew (his first as a Pioneer), Liam Finlay and Kohen Olischefski were the Pioneer goalscorers, along with Les Lancaster’s NCHC overtime goal.

With the win and tie, the Pioneers’ solid weekend clinched home ice for the NCHC playoffs in two weeks, and the Pios now sit in third place in the NCHC standings as well as holding position #6 in the National Pairwise Rankings, which would make DU a #2 seed in the NCAA tournament (if the season ended today).

The Pioneers scored twice in the first and third periods on Friday night and goalie Filip Larsson held the Mavs to only one goal in the contest.

“I loved our start,” Head Coach David Carle said after the Friday win. “I thought in the first (we were on our toes and were very aggressive. In the second period their puck pressure was better and it made us uncomfortable…the game got a little bit sideways for us and we were able to come out with a 2-1 lead. I thought we played better in the third, it was similar to the first in the mentality that we tried to take the game to them.”

Saturday’s game was a more of a frustrating affair where DU had built a 3-1 third period lead, despite being seriously outshot (34-25) by Omaha, but kept taking penalties, and eventually the Mavericks made DU pay. UNO eventually tied the game 3-3 on a pair of power-play goals by former DU fourth-liner Kevin Conley, with the last of Conley’s goals coming with 5:20 left in the third period.  Conley, who played sparingly on DU’s NCAA Championship team in 2017, left DU to go back to junior hockey the following season and then transferred to Omaha.

While the game ended in a 3-3 tie for NCAA purposes, DU did get an extra standings point by winning the NCHC 3-on-3 overtime on a coast-to-coast goal effort by defenseman Les Lancaster.

“It was an emotional hockey game,” Carle  said postgame. “We’re ultimately happy we were able to get the extra point, but disappointed our special teams weren’t executing to the level they were last night. You have to tip your hat to Omaha.”

All three Omaha goals were scored on the power-play, and DU goalie Devin Cooley was credited with a tie in the Pioneer net.

With rival Colorado College looming next weekend in the season-ending home-and-home series for DU, a sweep of the Tigers could really help the Pioneers.  A DU sweep coupled with a St. Cloud (already clinched first place and the Penrose Cup) sweep of second-place Minnesota-Duluth on home ice in St. Cloud, would vault the Pioneers into a second place NCHC finish.  Other NCHC final weekend scenarios could keep the Pioneers in third place or drop the DU into fourth place (but no further) on the final weekend of the regular season.