Pioneers exact revenge on Tigers for lost Gold Pan & take 3rd place at Frozen Faceoff

Photo courtesy Maddie MacFarlane

ST. PAUL, Minn. – Just a day after the #5 Denver Pioneers could not find the back of the net in the Frozen Faceoff semifinals, the offense erupted in a 6-1 rout of the Colorado College Tigers in the Frozen Faceoff Third Place Game at the Xcel Energy Center. While it won’t reverse the results from the regular season matchups that saw the Pioneers lose the Gold Pan for the first time in five years, the Pioneers will enter the NCAA Tournament as a #2 seed and on a very high note.

Ian Mitchell and Liam Finlay both scored twice over the course of the second and third periods after a first period 1-1 stalemate to lead the Pios’ impressive offensive outburst. After seeing the Pioneers put forth some uninspired offensive efforts, seeing this, in a game that means very little for the Pioneers in the grand scheme of things, is a great sign heading into the looming NCAA Tournament.

“We definitely wanted to make a statement tonight,” Mitchell said. “With how the regular season ended with [CC] taking the Gold Pan from us, I don’t know if we needed any extra motivation against CC but that was definitely on our minds.”

Sure, it’s CC and they had nothing to play for as their season ended with the conclusion of this game regardless of the outcome but it was important for Denver to explode against a goaltender that had given them fits over the past three years and exorcize a few offensive demons. Regardless of who they play and what region they’re in next weekend, though it appears it will be Fargo, Denver will feel good about their chances to advance out of the regional and to the Frozen Four for the third time in four years.

Over the past few weeks and really the better part of the second half of the season, much of the focus was on Denver’s lack of a dominant offensive attack. From no dominant top line to a lack of shot generation on the power play, DU’s offensive issues were a major concern to most observers. At least for one day, the Pioneers perfectly addressed that concern by playing relentless hockey on and off the puck. They found Alex Leclerc’s backdoor time and time again and gave CC’s defense fits.

“It’s important for us to have some offensive confidence going into the weekend,” Mitchell said. “We know that this is the best time of year on defense and it just gets that much tighter so for us to make some plays out there, tonight was definitely good but we know next weekend’s going to be a lot tighter.”

In all, it was as dominant as the Pioneers have looked since their trip to the east coast to play Merrimack and UMass-Lowell just before the New Year. As wonderful as it was to see the Pioneers dominate their in-state archrival on this stage, albeit in a game that didn’t matter much, the question shifts from how do they fix their problems to how do the Pios bottle this performance up and bring it with them to the NCAA Tournament?

“We’ve been able to reflect and learn quite quickly,” DU head coach David Carle said. “We are one of the youngest teams in the country, I think we’re the third youngest, and I think a huge reason for our success is our players’ ability to look in the mirror to learn from their experiences and to be able to go out apply it quickly. I think we learned a lot from the Duluth game last night, tonight should give us some offensive confidence as we go into the week.”

While DU’s first round opponent remains a mystery until the Selection Show at 5pm mountain time Sunday evening, the Pioneers will likely play a team that is at least as defensive-minded as the Tigers and the Minnesota Duluth Bulldogs have been all year. So taking what they’ve been able to learn this weekend both in last night’s shutout loss and in today’s rout and applying it to their game(s) next weekend will be important.

“The great part about going to the national tournament is we don’t have to play anyone from the NCHC in the first round,” Carle said. “We all play each other all year long and beat each other up and we play at a different pace in this league. That’s why we all do so well in the first round.”

At risk of being overly cliche, teams that can find a way to peak at this time of year tend to have the most success in the NCAA Tournament (see: 2016 North Dakota, 2017 Denver, and 2018 Minnesota Duluth). This weekend didn’t go as planned for the Pioneers but this afternoon’s performance should give Denver fans plenty of reasons for optimism heading into the NCAA Tournament. 6-1 against any team at this level feels good. 6-1 against an archrival to punctuate the end of their season? That’s a hell of a foundation to build on.