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BUFFALO, N.Y. – In a game that will go down in the annals of college hockey history as an all-timer, the Denver Pioneers lost 4-3 in overtime to the UMass-Amherst Minutemen in the Frozen Four semifinal. For a team that was out to “Prove Them Wrong” all season long, this game was right in the Pioneers’ wheelhouse rallying with two goals in the final ten minutes of the third period to send the game to overtime before the Minutemen scored with 4:42 left in overtime to win it. When the rest of the college hockey world was convinced that a 3-1 deficit as a result of a three-minute nightmare in the first period was too much for the Pioneers to overcome, the boys in crimson did what they’ve done all year and “Prove Them Wrong” yet again. They just couldn’t finish the job in the extra frame.
These 2018-19 Pioneers will no doubt be remembered as one of the most resilient, blue-collar Denver teams in recent memory. Throughout the season, the Pioneers repeatedly got punched in the mouth and every single time, they got back up and kept pushing back. From comeback wins throughout the season to close calls throughout the season, no one moment was able to keep these Pioneers down. The Pioneers had been to hell and back a few different times throughout the season so what was one more time?
One more time was nearly enough to get the Pioneers back to the national title game against Minnesota Duluth. After a fast start, Denver weathered a three-minute stretch in the first period that saw the Pioneers take three penalties including one game misconduct for a hit to the head and UMass-Amherst score three times on the power play. The Pioneers entered the locker room for the first intermission down 3-1 with the Minutemen owning all of the momentum. It was a stretch that almost doomed the Pioneers’ chances. Almost.
“They scored three power play goals, two of them were beautiful,” Denver head coach David Carle said. “They made real nice plays and I thought Filip [Larsson] settled into the game. Part of our message between the first and second was that we knew Filip was going to shut the door and keep them at three. We needed to do our job and get it back tied up.”
Denver followed their season’s script to a T, though. Down 3-1 for most of the game, the Pioneers didn’t panic. With all of the comeback wins they had, there was no reason to. All they had to do was keep UMass within striking distance and find the right time to strike. And that’s exactly what Cole Guttman did in the final 10 minutes of the third period. Guttman sniped the top corner 10:32 into the final regulation period and then scored again with just under four minutes left to tie the game at three. UMass-Amherst certainly helped Denver with a number of penalties in the second and third periods but Denver dug deep as they have throughout the season and found a way to force overtime.
“We thought we were winning the game,” senior captain Colin Staub said of the comeback. “We battled back, we were resilient, and there was no doubt in our minds that going into overtime, we were going to win that game.”
As resilient as the Pioneers were, they came up just short on the sport’s biggest stage. Marc Del Gaizo buried a slap shot past Filip Larsson two minutes past midnight and 15 minutes into overtime to end Denver’s season. Whether it was first period mistakes or second and third period missed opportunities, Denver wasn’t able to seal the deal and get back to the national title game.
“I loved our resiliency,” Carle said. “I think we could have gotten down on ourselves but we didn’t. We stuck with our gameplan in the second and third. I’m really proud of our effort to fight back and get it to overtime.”
There will be ample time for reflection on the season in the coming weeks. But for now, these 2018-19 Denver Pioneers just played their hearts out at the Frozen Four against one of the country’s best teams and proved that they belonged atop the rankings all along. And yes, you damn well better believe that proved everyone wrong.