Pioneers remain undefeated with sweep of Lakers, run nonconference unbeaten streak to 15

Photo Courtesy Shannon Valerio/DU Athletics

Just like last weekend, 44-0-0 is still in play for the Pioneers. Likely? No. Possible? Again, sure, why not? Last weekend it was the Alaska Fairbanks Nanooks that the Pioneers swept to start the season on the right foot. This weekend, after flying to Detroit from Fairbanks before bussing to Sault Ste. Marie, Michigan, the Pioneers swept the Lake Superior State Lakers with 3-1 and 4-3 victories. The Pioneers had to overcome first period 1-0 deficits both nights, but once again, thanks to timely offense, and heavy doses of Pepto Bismol in the third period on Saturday night, Denver is returning home from a 10-day road trip at 4-0-0 (just 40 to go).

Not only are the Pioneers coming home without a loss or tie, the Pioneers managed to increase their regular season nonconference unbeaten streak to 15, dating back to late December 2017 when the Pioneers lost to Merrimack at Magness Arena right before the New Year. Denver then beat Air Force the next day before going 8-0-2 in regular season nonconference play a year ago. Now, with four straight wins over WCHA opponents this year, that streak is up to 15 with a chance to bump that up to 17 as Boston College is coming to Denver for Homecoming next weekend.

Friday: Pioneers 3, Lakers 1

Captains seem to have an innate ability to perform captain-like things. It really must just be a captain thing and Ian Mitchell? Well, as the captain, he has that captain-like ability. Can I say captain a few more times? I could, but I won’t. For the second straight game, Ian Mitchell opened the scoring for the Pios, only this time, it was to tie the game at one late in the second period rather than give the Pioneers the lead.

“The first period was a little vanilla – kind of back-and-forth with not much going on,” head coach David Carle said. “In the second I didn’t really like our first eight or nine minutes, then we got a power play and I thought our guys did a really good job and generated some momentum.”

Midway through the third period, though, Denver got their game winning goal on a gorgeous sequence that saw Cole Guttman find Bobby Brink on a drop pass, who faked a shot and then found Emilio Pettersen back door for the 2-1 lead. Jaakko Heikkinen added some insurance with just 1:04 left in the game with the game’s second shorthanded goal (LSSU’s goal was scored shorthanded).

“For the first time playing a team like that, that plays a little bit of that chaotic, helter-skelter game at times, I thought we handled it really well with some poise and calmness,” Carle said.

Denver’s special teams were, once again, hot and cold as they ended up 0-for-5 on the power play but were 3-for-3 on the penalty kill. Magnus Chrona chipped in with 23 saves on 24 shots against an LSSU team that scored 10 goals against Merrimack a weekend ago.

Saturday: Pioneers 4, Lakers 3

A night after a relatively in-control 3-1 victory, the Pioneers – also known as the Heart Attack Kids – blew a third period 3-1 lead only to be saved by Ryan Barrow with 20 seconds left to seal the 4-3 victory. Once again, Denver erased a deficit of their own with a goal from sophomore defenseman Slava Demin to tie it at one before two straight second period goals – one from Brink on the power play before Hank Crone’s first goal as a Pioneer less than a minute and a half later – gave Denver its second 3-1 lead of the weekend.

Then, of course, the third period happened. Denver held their two-goal lead through most of the regulation period. But at 13:02 of the period, the Lakers scored the first of two quick goals as Max Humitz took advantage of a lucky bounce off the end boards to pull within one. Then, exactly two minutes of hockey time later, Dustin Manz sent a shot along the ice towards Chrona, who likely never saw the puck, to tie it at 3. But, exactly a week after Cole Guttman called game in Fairbanks, Alaska in Denver’s first win of the year, Ryan Barrow – likely uncomfortable with the word ‘hero’ – won the game with a great finish off of Brett Edwards’ net drive. Edwards and Brett Stapley both picked up assists on Barrow’s game-winner.

“I liked a lot of what we did,” head coach David Carle said. “We didn’t give up much for most of the night. Would we have liked to close it out a little simpler, for sure, but I’m happy with our resiliency to push back and ultimately find a way to win.”

Freshman Magnus Chrona, in his fourth straight start to begin the year, stopped 20 of 23 Laker shots and the Pioneers’ power play finally broke through going 1-for-3 while the penalty kill remained a perfect 19-for-19 on the season with a 4-for-4 effort. Ian Mitchell – like his defenseman counterpart for the Colorado Avalanche, Cale Makar – is riding a four-game point streak with two goals and two assists.

Thanks to Minnesota Duluth’s split with UMass-Lowell (specificity is key), Denver will likely return home the newly minted #1 team in the country according to the polls. The #1-to-be Pioneers will face the #10 Boston College Eagles – we will post our traditional pre-series Q&A with BC Interruption this week as well – with a chance to go 6-0-0 on the season and keep the all-important (it’s really not that important) 44-0-0 on the table.

What are your thoughts on the weekend? The first two weeks of the season as a whole? Have the Pios delivered according to your expectations to this point? Comment below!

4 thoughts on “Pioneers remain undefeated with sweep of Lakers, run nonconference unbeaten streak to 15”

  1. That is one long-ass, difficult 10-day road trip. Going to either place is a colossal pain in the butt, but going to both back-to-back is kind of insane – road trips like those was one of the big reasons the NCHC was founded. Going Denver to Fairbanks is like going Boston to London in terms of distance. And getting to Lake State is a tough trip, too. If you want to fly in there, you’d need to fly to Toronto first and then fly to the Canadian Side of Sault Ste Marie in a small plane. Or fly to Detroit and bus 5 hours from there as DU did. No fun.

    That said, DU got the job done. 4-0.

    The games were close, DU fell behind, gave up leads and made the comebacks they needed to make.

    I sure they can be much better, and lets hope that some upcoming ranked competition in BC will help DU up their games…

  2. Yes, the University of Michigan had verbally agreed to come to Denver last year for a series (for the first time since 1980 when DU and Michigan were both in the WCHA) and then UM decided to bail on us last year before signing the series contract.

    UAF was great to step in last year by coming to Denver to fill the hole, and now we’ve returned the favor by going to Fairbanks this year.

    DU helped form the NCHC in 2013, in part to avoid having to travel to Alaska and upper Michigan, and here DU is a few years later, having going to go to both places on back-to-back weekends for a 10-day-away-from-Denver road trip. Glad DU was able to take care of business with a four game sweep.

  3. Well, we’ve got a 4-0 hockey team. Two very long road trips against opponents that probably won’t be in the FF this year–on paper, at least, mismatches, but you never know. I’m glad the Pios took care of business.

    Can’t wait for Friday. That first home series is always fun, and we get to see an elite opponent.

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