Photo courtesy Shannon Valerio/DU Athletics
The Pioneers are 2-0-0 and 44-0-0 is still on the table. Likely? No. Possible? Sure, why not? After the University of Denver hockey team opened their season with a sweep in Fairbanks, Alaska against the WCHA’s University of Alaska Fairbanks (groundbreaking stuff, here) with 4-3 and 3-0 victories, the Pioneers are off to another hot start and the direction of this year’s team is starting to take shape. And folks, that shape, at this point, looks pretty darn good.
(And we also recognize that this recap is being posted a day after the series ended rather than the night it ended. Sue us. Save the energy your unreasonably angry comments would require.)
Saturday, yes Saturday: Pioneers 4, Nanooks 3
The Pioneers opened their season on Saturday, rather than Friday, because when you play a road series in Alaska, rules of time don’t exist…either that or some special concessions are made because of time differences and travel requirements. One or the other. As you might expect from a young team, Denver started the game in a rusty fashion. They were searching for their legs and UAF raced out to a 2-1 lead through the first 20 minutes of hockey. Max Newton and Kyle Marino sandwiched their goals around Ryan Barrow’s first period marker for the Pios and just like that, DU was forced to come back.
“We certainly didn’t start the game the way we wanted,” head coach David Carle said in DU’s release. “They had us on our heels early. A lot of it was what they were doing, some it was what we were doing, but once we got into the second I thought we simplified our game with the puck a little bit, used our speed, and spent less time in our own end because we broke the puck out cleaner and it led to some more chances for us.”
Denver used strong second and third periods to lift them to the road victory, though. Thanks to a power play goal from Kohen Olischefski and Bobby Brink’s first career NCAA goal, the Pioneers entered the locker room after the 2nd period with a 3-2 lead. Steven Jandric made it interesting late with a goal for the Nanooks to tie it back up, but sophomore forward Cole Guttman ended any hope for a UAF upset with a game-winning goal of his own with barely a minute left in the game. Upset averted. 1-0-0.
Sunday, yes Sunday: Pioneers 3, Nanooks 0
Sunday’s game looked a lot more like what the Pioneers expect to see this season. Freshman goaltender Magnus Chrona stopped all 28 UAF shots, 24 of which came in the second and third periods while Ian Mitchell’s late second period shorthanded marker gave the goaltender all the offensive support he needed to clinch the sweep. Griffin Mendel added a snipe of his own in the third period to continue the offensive show from the blue line to add some insurance to the Pioneers’ lead before Ryan Barrow netted his second goal of the weekend with an empty-netter, you know, just for good measure.
As good a night as Chrona had, a shutout is rarely only the goalie’s doing. On Sunday, it was a full-on defensive show for the Pioneers. Said Carle, “I thought our attention to detail defensively was way better, starting with our forwards. Our awareness defensively was better: our angling, our reloads and our gaps.”
— Denver Hockey (@DU_Hockey) October 7, 2019
Overall, the opening weekend was a success for Denver. The Pioneers balanced a measured offensive attack with a potent defensive foundation and came away with two important nonconference victories on the road. DU will now travel to Detroit to practice at Little Caesars Arena – the site of the 2020 Frozen Four – and see a Red Wings game. The idea is to get comfortable at the Frozen Four site during the regular season, similar to the 2016-17 team’s Winter Break trip to Chicago. They will then travel on to Sault Ste. Marie, Michigan for next weekend’s series against the Lake Superior State Lakers before returning home for their homecoming home opener against Boston College in two weeks.
Cooley Update: Junior goaltender Devin Cooley did not travel with the team to Alaska and on to Michigan. Per the program, he is out with an undisclosed injury and will get further evaluation this week.