Pioneers can’t stop slide as Western Michigan takes game one, 2-1

Photo courtesy Shannon Valerio/Denver Athletics

DENVER – Once a slide starts, it’s hard to stop. The longer it goes, the more momentum it gains. At a certain point, it becomes an avalanche that’s impossible to stop. In the midst of their own four-game slide, the #4 Denver Pioneers welcomed the #20 Western Michigan Broncos to Magness Arena and lost game one of the weekend by a score of 2-1 to extend their winless streak to five, dating back to the Minnesota Duluth series two weeks ago.

It’s been a rough go for the Pioneers of late. They faced an unenviable gauntlet of UMD, North Dakota, and now Western Michigan to open NCHC play and it has proven as difficult as it looked on paper and then some. Though at this point, it certainly seems that the negative momentum is rearing its ugly head more than Denver’s opponents are imposing their will on the Pioneers.

Negativity has a weird, menacing way of perpetuating itself, especially in hockey. When things aren’t going your way, bounces aren’t falling in your favor, pucks are just eluding sticks, and your opponent always seems to get the lucky call. It happened against UMD, it happened against North Dakota, and it happened yet again tonight against an injury-depleted Western Michigan team. The Broncos – a team that has perfectly embodied the term inconsistent this year – got two goals in the first 11 minutes of the game from Mattias Samuelsson and Ethen Frank. Both goals were the product of bad Pioneer turnovers in their own end or neutral zone which has been another troubling trend during this slide.

Denver showed some life in the second period, though. They played a kind of hockey that they hadn’t at least since game one in Duluth two weeks ago. They played fast, Denver hockey. They played the kind of hockey that Pioneer fans have come to expect from the Crimson & Gold. The Pioneers outshot the Broncos 15-5 in the frame and Jaakko Heikkinen scored his third goal of the year on a great, patient play after Denver had successfully forced WMU goaltender Brandon Bussi out of position.

Then the third period arrived with Denver still trailing by one and they settled back into their tentative, sloppy style of hockey. They had their moments, to be sure, and they forced Bussi into making a number of tough saves, but they couldn’t finish. And when they did sustain possession in Western’s zone, they got too complicated with the puck and essentially gave it right back to the Broncos without threatening to score.

The Pioneers certainly didn’t help their own case (but neither did the officials). With just more than eight minutes left, Slava Demin hit Hugh McGing high in front of Denver’s bench and after a long review, Demin was issued a five-minute major and a game misconduct for contact to the head. So not only was Demin’s night over, any momentum the Pioneers had was quickly quelled thanks to the call.

Denver did kill off the major and even appeared to get a major power play of their own as Cole Guttman was hit high by Jamie Rome on a blindside hit. Guttman, unlike McGing, remained down and was escorted to the locker room immediately. Yet Rome was only issued a two-minute minor for interference (there were barely two minutes left and a major likely would not have changed much for Denver in the end but principles, dammit!). DU couldn’t score on that power play or any of the other three that they had on the night, extending their scoreless streak on the power play to three games (Brett Stapley scored on a power play against UMD in the 5-2 loss).

Negativity has continued to build on this team over the past few weeks. Bounces aren’t going their way, they’re not getting calls, and goalies all look like Patrick Roy. To borrow from head coach David Carle, Denver’s backs are against the wall. They’re five games into NCHC play and have registered three points. The Pios are in a deep slide right now and its momentum is continuing to build. It’s going to take a lot to pull themselves out of this before it grows into an unstoppable avalanche.

Tomorrow night is a perfect place to start.


Postgame Comments

David Carle:

Liam Finlay:

3 thoughts on “Pioneers can’t stop slide as Western Michigan takes game one, 2-1”

  1. This is full-blown slump folks. I think they will come out of it, but they need to start making better decisions.

    It started with the loss of confidence in Duluth when DU gagged-up a two goal lead, and has continued as the power play has gone in the toilet, the big guns (Mitchell, Guttman, Finlay, Pettersen, Brink and Stapely) can’t score, the defense is giving away fresh-baked turnovers and odd-man rushes, and then there are some momentum-killing penalties, too. It starts with puck management, and flows from there.

    And yes, the opponents are good, too. DU does not match up well with big and physical teams – in all of these recent 5 games, DU is getting beaten-up physically, beaten-up in the face-off game, beaten to loose pucks, and that means DU loses confidence.

    The biggest factor in my mind is the disappearance of Ian Mitchell. As Mitchell goes, so goes DU. He needs to find his game. Once he does, I think the team will feed on it, but right now, he needs to lead this bunch.

    It would also help if the first line started scoring again…

  2. When it rains, it pours. A 5-game winless streak. No conference victories yet. A quick check on the NCHC standings reveals DU is second to last. DU’s best forwards are not scoring. The PP can’t finish. The “relentless” DU style has ebbed and flowed this season. I’m sure there’s a lot frustration in the locker room. Still, there’s a lot of hockey to be played–no reason to panic. This is largely the same group that was one goal away from playing for an NCAA title 7 months ago.

    After an abysmal start, DU played better later in the 1st. They had some good looks on the two PPs in the 1st, but consistent with the theme currently plaguing the team, no one could finish. I thought DU looked really good in the second. They pushed the pace, played that relentless style, and had WMU on their heels. That’s what we need to see on a consistent basis. The 3rd period was a mixed bag. Some good shifts, some mediocre. The call on Demin was a tough one. I didn’t expect a major on that. I thought they got the call right on Rome. Looked like a shoulder to shoulder hit to me. The ensuing PP for DU was not good. Not enough puck battles were won along the boards and the passing wasn’t that crisp. DU passed up some opportunities to get the puck on net in the 3rd, instead trying to make that perfect play. These guys need to simplify things.

    I sure wasn’t surprised at how WMU showed up. They are a big, physical, well-skating team. Their young goaltender, Bussi, looked good. I watched him a lot during timeouts–he looks relaxed and confident. He was smiling a bunch. Doesn’t look like a guy who felt any pressure. That certainly bodes well for them.

    To me, the game tonight comes down to one thing: if the Pios commit to playing relentless hockey for 60 minutes, I like their chances. If they don’t, they could very likely get swept.

    1. Demin made direct contact to the head. The call was by the book, not sure what else was supposed to happen.

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