Photo credit: Clint Austin/Forum News Service
44-0-0 is no longer in play for the top-ranked Denver Pioneers. That’s worth mentioning only because the overly repetitive bit died with DU’s already slim chances of going unbeaten this year. Denver was going to lose a game this year. Denver will lose more games this year. That they even went 8-0-0 to start the season is impressive by itself, especially for a team that traditionally starts slow. The Pioneers finally came back down to Earth this weekend during their trip to northern Minnesota to take on the #7 Minnesota Duluth Bulldogs. Denver won in a shootout on Friday but lost on Saturday. The Pios come home with two of the six possible points that were at stake this weekend ahead of a rivalry clash with North Dakota.
Friday: #1 Pioneers 3, #7 Bulldogs 3, Pioneers win shootout 1-0
If there was a game that Denver should have won outright, it was this one. In a very even weekend of hockey, Denver was the better of the country’s two best teams for most of game one. Denver shot out to a 2-0 lead by about halfway through the opening period thanks to goals from Liam Finlay and Brett Edwards. It was about as perfect a start as Denver could have asked for to open NCHC play on the road against the two-time defending national champion Bulldogs. Cole Koepke scored with just more than five minutes left in the first period, though, to close the gap to one heading into the first intermission. Liam Finlay scored again in the second period to restore Denver’s two-goal lead.
The third period, though, was a different story. As good as Magnus Chrona was throughout the game, Denver couldn’t close out the game. With about 10 and a half minutes left, Michael Davies took a boarding penalty and a minute into the power play, Kobe Roth took advantage of the opportunity for the Bulldogs and pulled UMD back to within one. Then, with 31 seconds left, Noah Cates gave the Pioneers a taste of their own medicine with a clutch, game-tying goal with an empty net and extra skater on the ice.
“I thought Magnus [Chrona] was our best player tonight and I’m not sure it was even close,” head coach David Carle said in DU’s press release. “I thought he was unbelievable. [But] I liked lots of our game. In the third period, we’re in a real good spot…we need to find a way to close games out. We have to find a way to stay out of the box in the third period. We gave them a chance and they capitalized on it.”
The Pioneers and Bulldogs played two overtimes – five minutes of five-on-five before five minutes of three-on-three – without a goal which sent the game to a shootout to determine the extra NCHC point. After Magnus Chrona opened the shootout with a big save, Brett Stapley stepped up and fooled Hunter Shepard with a great move to give Denver the extra point.
HIGHLIGHTS: @UMDMensHockey rallies to tie @DU_Hockey in 3rd, but Pioneers earn extra #NCHCHockey point in shootout in conference opener for both#PioneerTogether | #BulldogCountryhttps://t.co/tKHTTbOATQ
— The NCHC (@TheNCHC) November 9, 2019
Saturday: #1 Pioneers 2, #7 Bulldogs 5
Friday night’s game proved to be just the appetizer to a thrilling November NCHC series. Denver didn’t come out on top in game two but the growing rivalry between the Pioneers and Bulldogs finally started to come to a head on the ice. It was a chippy game with plenty of jawing between the two teams. The best college hockey the country has to offer was on full display in an even, fast-paced, end-to-end game. UMD scored first thanks to Jackson Cates’ power play marker in the first half of the opening period but Brett Stapley responded for Denver before Jaakko Heikkinen’s early second period goal gave the Pioneers their first lead of the night.
Unfortunately, that would be the end of Denver’s scoring for the night. Koby Bender, Luke Loheit, and Noah Cates all scored over the next two periods before Koepke added an empty-netter to seal the 5-2 victory for the Bulldogs. As the rivalry reached a boiling point on Saturday, the two teams combined for 16 penalties and 43 penalty minutes – which were inflated by Tanner Laderoute’s game misconduct for checking from behind. It was a special teams game and, unlike a similar game against Niagara last weekend, the Pioneers were unable to adjust. The Pioneers were only able to score once on the five-minute power play – their only power play goal of the game – and gave up a power play goal for the second straight night.
“It was a good hockey game,” head coach David Carle said. “The encouraging part for us is that we’re certainly further along today than we were a year ago at this time, but we have room to grow in our game. We showed that we can play with these guys and carry the play for large moments this weekend, but we have to take this as an opportunity and look in the mirror and learn and grow…a game like this hardens us and we’ll be better for it.”
In the end, coming home with two points certainly wasn’t ideal for the Pioneers but earning points on the road in the NCHC against the team picked to finish atop the conference standings is an acceptable result. Sure, you never root for your team to lose any game, but there are a lot of positives that can come from losing a game like this in November. As Carle said, Denver can continue to learn and grow from a game like this and they’ll be able to draw on this experience when games really count four months from now.
— The NCHC (@TheNCHC) November 10, 2019
Up next: Denver returns home next weekend to host archrival #10 North Dakota who just swept the lowly Miami Redhawks. The Fighting Hawks have won five straight games over Bemidji State, Michigan Tech, and Miami after tying and losing to #2 Minnesota State. Prepare for a crowd littered (literally) with green monsters and higher ticket prices because, after all, it’s a lot of fun to separate them from some of their green.