Denver lays egg against North Dakota in 4-1 loss to extend winless streak to four games

Photo courtesy Shannon Valerio/DU Athletics

DENVER – Just a few weeks ago, everything was all sunshine and rainbows for the #2 Denver Pioneers. They sat at 8-0-0 after dominating their way through their early nonconference slate. Now, four games later, at 8-2-2 and winless (in regulation) in NCHC play, the Pioneers have been giving a few heaping doses of reality, the latest in the form of a 4-1 home loss to the archrival #9 North Dakota Fighting Hawks at Magness Arena on Saturday night. Seasons are marathons, not sprints and this is likely just the first of a number of bumps in the Pioneers’ road to Detroit, but tonight, that little, barely noticeable bump got a whole lot bigger.

With a tie/shootout victory and loss at Minnesota Duluth and the tie/three-on-three and regulation losses to North Dakota, not only is Denver winless in four straight games, they’ve only taken three of the first 12 NCHC points at stake. It’s…well…not exactly how Denver had planned to start the conference portion of their schedule, especially after such a strong start to the year in nonconference play. But that’s where they stand after what can only be characterized as Denver’s worst performance of the young season.

From the start, Denver was a step behind North Dakota. The Fighting Hawks, behind two goals from Cole Smith – whose night ended early thanks to his hit from behind on Brett Stapley along the boards in the third period – and Josh Rieger’s first career goal, coasted through the first two periods with very little Pioneer resistance. Even with three power plays in the middle frame, Denver failed to mount any kind of response to North Dakota’s early success. Denver even gave up a shorthanded goal on Smith’s second goal thanks to a brutal turnover on the breakout.

DU’s second-period power-play struggles were only the beginning, though as the Pioneers finished 0-for-the weekend on the power play and 0-for-6 tonight. In the third period alone, North Dakota gifted Denver nine minutes of power-play time including Cole Smith’s game misconduct and two separate five-on-three opportunities. The door for a dramatic Denver comeback was wide open and the Pioneers missed and walked straight into the wall. Fighting Hawks goaltender Adam Scheel was up to the task, to be fair, but Denver, for their part, didn’t exactly make things difficult on him. It wasn’t until about 10 seconds after North Dakota killed off their string of penalties that Slava Demin found Emilio Pettersen streaking towards the net in the left circle that Denver finally broke through for its goal. But it was too little, too late. DU finally showed some life, but a comeback was not in the cards.

In the end, this game, this weekend, and really the last two weekends will serve as a rough, frustrating learning experience for the Pioneers. Simply put, Denver has to play better hockey. And these are lessons you’d rather see learned now, in the middle of November than when you’re flying high in February and March.

Denver hasn’t laid an egg like they did tonight in a long, long time. As you’ll hear below, head coach David Carle was reasonably hard on his team. This was an embarrassing performance by the Pioneers. And with Western Michigan coming to town next weekend to close out this early season three-week gauntlet, the microscope will be lowered on these Pioneers to see how they respond to getting kicked in the gut by a tag-team of Bulldogs and Hawks. Do they rebound and get back into the win column? Or does that bump in the road continue to grow?


Postgame Comments

David Carle:

5 thoughts on “Denver lays egg against North Dakota in 4-1 loss to extend winless streak to four games”

  1. Nick, you explained things perfectly. Dunker doesn’t give that praise very often. FWIW, when I attended DU, opponents fans in the building never recognizable.

  2. NCHC hockey is a different brand of hockey — physically, emotionally and mentally. This DU team has not won in league play yet because it has some deficiencies in all three of these areas that have been brutally exposed over these last two weekends.

    Physically – we saw how North Dakota’s size and physical style kept the Pios out of the offensive zone for long stretches, and UND’s winning puck battles and face-offs forced DU into chase/retrieval mode, unable to set the tempo and maintain puck possession. DU could not match the physicality of UND, and at times, UMD also won the physical battles in Duluth, too, especially on Saturday night. DU’s finesse and speed can work well against many opponents, but when those opponents stand DU up at the blueline and beat the Pios up in the corners, DU’s lack of size up front and sometimes on defense is a serious deficiency that bigger teams are going to exploit. UND has six 200-pound players and a couple more who are close to that. DU has three and one of them is a goalie.

    Emotionally: The Pios have lost their 8-0 swagger. Gagging up the 2-goal lead on Friday night in Duluth showed their fragility. They were not able to match the emotional intensity of Duluth on Saturday. Similar story with UND, who had the emotional edge for much of the weekend –UND wanted it more and it showed.

    Mentally – Frustration has led to egregious, direct turnovers that resulted in goals going the other way, especially on Saturday night against North Dakota. Giving up a shorthanded breakaway during your own 5 on 3? Giving UND’s Cole Smith the puck on a silly drop pass for a shorthanded goal? Giving the puck right to Michaud for the empty net goal? These three mental mistakes will be pretty glaring on film. I would bet that a lot of DU’s mental problems are coming from a power-play that has stopped working. Change needs to happen.

    Coach Carle has a lot of work to do with a big and talented Western Michigan team coming to town.

  3. Two nights in a row we took bench penalties, three in total, for too many men on the ice. We gave up short handed goals, and gave up a 5 on 3 short handed breakaway chance. Two major penalties against North Dakota yielded zero goals.

    From my perspective it looked like the Pioneers didn’t know when and where they were supposed to be on the ice. This far along in the season, that is either lack of discipline or lack of coaching. The physical effort appeared to be there, but as noted earlier, we’re not as big as our opponent. When your opponent can skate well enough to keep up with your speed, that’s a bad combination.

    Right now it is a team in search of an identity and strong leadership. Plenty of talent, and still time to correct the direction of the season.

  4. Very disappointing game last night. After a solid showing on Friday night in a competitive, well-played game that they could have won, DU looked alarmingly sloppy, listless, and unpolished last night. No question UND was the better team, much more determined and tenacious than DU. DU was outworked and out-competed for the majority of the game. Having said that, DU had chances to get back in the game via penalties, but the Pios couldn’t get anything done on the PP–it was an exercise in frustration. David Carle said it well–the lack of execution was painful to watch.

    Full credit to the Sioux–they are talented, deep, and they executed their game plan very well this weekend. After a down year last year, they will be a force to be reckoned with.

    After the 8-0 start, DU has come plummeting back to earth and has been humbled in NCHC play. Playing conference opponents is a different animal, and these guys need to buckle their chinstraps and prepare themselves for a different brand of hockey. A tough, physical Western Michigan team is in town next weekend, and I’m sure they’ll be following the blueprint from UND on how to slow down the Pios.

  5. I really enjoy reading comments like Twister and a few others who have posted that are respectful and well reasoned. No question we love our respective teams and it’s hard not to be over the top passionate. DU is a good team and will be in the mix come tournament time. NoDak has had a few down years but you can’t expect them to be down for very long, just like DU. I really enjoy the DU and UND rivalry in our race to #9. Thanks to the great DU fans who far outnumber the bad ones. I know we have our bad eggs too.

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