Pioneers lay second straight egg against Tigers, lose Gold Pan for first time in five years

COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. – Wash. Rinse. Repeat. If you had watched Friday night’s game between the #6 Denver Pioneers and Colorado College Tigers, congratulations. You effectively watched Saturday night’s at the World Arena as well. The only things that changed a night after Denver’s dud of a performance against CC at Magness Arena were the uniforms. Once again, Denver failed to generate any offense and this time went down 1-0.

If it wasn’t a lack of energy tonight for the Pioneers, it was a Tigers team that simply “wanted it more.” And while that’s generally a cop-out of a cliche for analysts, on this night, it was true. By the end of the game, Denver had outshot CC 30-22 and out-attempted them 67-43. With numbers like that, you’re generally going to win a lot of games. But tonight, it was different.

After a back-door goal by Grant Cruikshank just 1:45 into the game on what was, for all intents and purposes, a botched wrap-around attempt by Trevor Gooch, CC was content to settle into their defensive scheme and not budge for the next 58:15 of hockey. Denver was kept to the outside on nearly every zone entry and in the rare moments when they found some room in the slot, Alex Leclerc was up to his old tricks and kept the puck out of the net.

“I thought we were better tonight than we were last night,” DU head coach David Carle said about his team’s intensity. “It still took us a little while to get going fully. I didn’t think we were playing Denver Hockey until the third period and that’s what we need to learn from and grow from.”

Maybe it was a lack of urgency. Maybe it was a subconscious feeling that they would match up better against North Dakota in the first round of the NCHC Tournament. Maybe it was just an off weekend. But whatever it was, it translated into a bad weekend of hockey at the worst time of the year and more question marks surrounding this team than answers.

“We gotta have more desperation,” junior forward and alternate captain Tyson McLellan said. “CC had more than us this weekend and North Dakota’s season’s on the line and our season’s on the line. We have to be desperate and find a way to win.”

At this point, after losing the Gold Pan for the first time in five years, all the Pioneers can do is pick themselves up off the mat, dust themselves off, and forge ahead. Every team is back at 0-0. Every team is playing for their seasons right now. Some are more desperate, sure, but the Pios have a clean slate and they have another archrival coming to town next weekend in North Dakota.

“It’s a clean slate now,” McLellan continued. “We had a pretty successful regular season but that’s behind us now. This weekend’s behind us, everything’s behind us. It’s a fresh start.”

The regular season may be over, but in a sense, the season is also just beginning. Denver has a chance to earn all the goodwill back with just a few more victories over the coming weeks. This is playoff hockey. This is why kids play the sport. This is why fans flock to the rink to watch. The Gold Pan is in the past. It’s time to draw on the incredible playoff experience that this team has and go win some other, more important hardware. Just wash. Rinse. Repeat.

5 thoughts on “Pioneers lay second straight egg against Tigers, lose Gold Pan for first time in five years”

  1. Deflating, frustrating weekend for DU. While I expected two close, hard-fought games, I sure didn’t expect DU to get swept and lose the Gold Pan. Not fun. Pios put up nearly 60 SOG this weekend and could only manage one goal. That won’t cut it. Credit Leclerc, though. He had a great weekend and is a really good player. He’s athletic, well-positioned, and rarely surrenders second-chance opportunities.

    DU’s lofty national ranking and PWR have masked some issues this team was facing as the season wound down, namely poor special teams, lack of finishers, and not much secondary scoring. I try not to get too caught up with numbers, but I looked at PP percentage going into this weekend and DU is 42 out of 50 teams. .162 on the PP. Penalty killing is a bit better, but is not even in the top 30 there either. DU’s top 4 scorers Finlay, Pettersen, Luko, and Guttman haven’t been putting the puck in the net on a consistent basis recently. And there hasn’t been a reliable second or third line in terms of scoring.

    DU’s reward for getting swept this weekend is a first-round matchup against a desperate UND team that is fighting for its playoff life. Tough road ahead.

    1. Twister captures my thoughts perfectly, so I won’t repeat what he wrote, but I can add some color. This weekend was the latest installment of a DU team that is clearly slumping, despite its hard work, and it has been slumping for a while now. Good goaltending has been responsible for a number of DU second half wins while the DU offense has sputtered, but the rapid descent of DU’s scoring and special teams has now become so stark that not even good DU goaltending can win games for them now.

      This is a terrible time of year for any team to be slumping. Can they pull out of it? Or are they doomed to crash out of the NCHC playoffs and the NCAA tournament without winning another game?

      Conventional hockey wisdom (from years of listening to NHL coaches) tells teams to do three things to break out of a slump. The first is to simplify offensive approaches, and the second is to get to the net front for greasy goals and the third is to keep outworking the opponent and the chances will come.

      The first two of these are very tough for the Pioneers, a team built on puck possession and skilled finesse. They aren’t going win many dump-and-chase battles with the mostly undersized forwards that they have, and getting to the net front is not really DU’s core expertise, either, as we saw this last weekend, where there were very few second chances for shots in close.

      So the key for me is point 3 – outworking opponents. DU does it well when they are playing “Denver Hockey” – skating fast by moving feet, making the other team turn the puck over in the neutral zone, and breaking out well in transition for clean zone entries, and then bringing the defensemen into the play for overloads, deeper cycles and long offensive possessions to create more space for better shots.

      But when they aren’t playing with that high tempo and moving their feet, they are much easier to defend. DU needs to play with much higher speed at the beginning of games to establish the tone of the game and then keep their feet moving to make the opponent chase them. CC victimized DU early in both games by being the more aggressive team in the first two minutes both games and got all the goals they needed to win this weekend. There is a lesson there about poor starts that have haunted the Pios in a number of losses this year.

      For me, the key to ending the slump is playing “Denver Hockey” right away so they don’t need to make comebacks against teams that can play lock down defense and block shots.

      Can they do it? We’re about to find out…

      1. I think it’s a great point about DU’s smaller forwards and getting to the front of the net. A lot of us, certainly myself included, tend to harp on that–crashing the net, getting traffic in front of the goalie, creating screens and generating 2nd chance opportunities etc. But the reality is the forwards who get regular PP time really aren’t equipped to do that. Finlay, Stapely, Luko, Staub, Guttman and crew would have a tough time doing that on a regular basis. Could they “will” themselves to do it? Probably. Would they take a beating in doing so? Yep. Probably not a sustainable strategy over the course of a season. I wonder if Carle would experiment with putting Fear or Mendel on the first unit and plopping them in front of the goalie. Regardless, something different needs to happen on the PP, because the current plan isn’t working.

        I think size is way overemphasized in many sports, but in DU’s case, I would like to see more size and physical players at the forward position in future recruiting classes. I just think DU is limited to a certain extent with the current crop of forwards and is a little too one-dimensional. Opponents have had an easier time than they should have in terms of forcing DU to play on the perimeter.

        UND is stingy and has a good d-corps, so the Pios will have their work cut out for them generating offense anyway.

  2. Kind of a blah year for DU sports, I don’t see any aggression, desperation, or intensity across the board (gymnastics may be different, I don’t understand the sport enough to judge). I can’t say who is responsible, but it goes beyond hockey, this has just been a flaccid sports year. Teams going through the motions with the expectation of being OK, but not great.

  3. Well a let down was expected down the stretch for this young team. Just sucks losing the Gold Pan was part of that. Hopefully it fires up the guys for the postseason and they can strike fire.

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