Pioneers buck five-game skid with dominant 6-1 victory over Broncos

Photo courtesy Shannon Valerio/DU Athletics

DENVER – If there was ever a must-win November game, game two against the #20 Western Michigan Broncos was probably it for the #4 Denver Pioneers. Sure, it’s only November 23rd and sure, Denver is still Denver. There was no reason to hit the panic button but after salvaging just three points through their first five NCHC games, at a certain point, the Pioneers had to hit the gas and get back into the win column. On Saturday night, that time finally came and then some in a dominant, cathartic 6-1 victory at Magness Arena to end their five-game winless streak.

To say Denver let out some frustration on Western Michigan would be an enormous understatement. Just a night after that same frustration boiled over in a rough 2-1 loss where nothing was working, the exact opposite was true for the Pioneers. On Friday, it was the Broncos who took advantage of early miscues to take an early lead that the Pioneers could never overcome. On Saturday, it was Denver who was the aggressor, accounting for the only shots on goal of the game through the first 10 minutes of the game.

Bobby Brink opened the scoring for the Pioneers just more than halfway through the first period to give Denver a slim 1-0 lead heading into the first intermission. If not for some puck luck for the Broncos and some timely saves from goaltender Brandon Bussi, it’s entirely likely Denver would have ended the opening period with a 3-0 lead. It was the kind of start that had eluded Denver for the past three weekends and was sorely needed.

Denver conceded a goal to Rhett Kingston on a fluky play that saw goaltender Devin Cooley – who was making his first start of the season – lose sight of the puck before it slid slowly over the goal line. But Denver didn’t slow down. If anything, they took their play to another level and at times at five-on-five, made it look like they were on a perpetual power play. By the end of the second period, Tyler Ward and Jake Durflinger both scored back-door, open-net goals to give Denver a 3-1 lead before the Pioneers poured it on in the third period.

If there was a single part of Denver’s game that you could have pointed to that held them back more than anything over the past few weeks, it easily could have been their struggles on the power play. Coming into tonight, Denver had not scored a power play goal since the first period of the second game at Minnesota Duluth. Through two periods tonight, Denver still maintained a goose egg in that category but that all changed in the third period as Jaakko Heikkinen and Jack Doremus both scored on the power play while Brink tallied his second goal of the night. The Pioneers were three-for-three on the power play in the third period alone to blow open the floodgates and turn the game into a rout.

Now listen, Western Michigan came into this weekend shorthanded and are overjoyed to leave Denver with a split. The Broncos didn’t have six different players travel with the team this weekend including Wade Allison and Drew Worrad, both of whom are expected to be key cogs in WMU’s offense.

But this victory was much more about Denver overcoming some pesky early-season demons to finally claim that elusive first conference win and an important three points. A line chart shakeup and apparent change in offensive mentality – get pucks to the net is a good place to start – was what it took to get the high-end players like Emilio Pettersen, Bobby Brink, and Ian Mitchell back onto the scoring chart. It was also enough to get Jaakko Heikkinen and Tyler Ward, who recorded three- and four-point games, respectively, going in a big way.

This has been a brutal three-week, 1-3-2 stretch to open conference play against Minnesota Duluth, a revenge-minded North Dakota, and Western Michigan. And sure, the big picture may end up showing that this victory simply lessened the blow of that stretch. But with this win, in that fashion heading into the Thanksgiving bye week, a sense of optimism is back in vogue for the Crimson & Gold. We’ll see how sustainable it is as Arizona State and Colorado College are waiting for the Pioneers on the other side of the break, but for now, the Pioneers are back on track. And that’s a great, important thing.


Postgame Comments

David Carle:

Tyler Ward:

5 thoughts on “Pioneers buck five-game skid with dominant 6-1 victory over Broncos”

  1. Phew! Looks like the changes DC made were just what the doctor ordered. So nice to see the team firing on all cylinders and totally dominating a game. Really happy that Mitchell is back to his all-star self and Heikkinen is finally playing up to his ability lately.
    Looking forward to more of the same versus ASU and CC!!

  2. Wonderful writing, Nick. Captured not only what happened, but the profound mood shift we hardcore Pio fans may be experiencing, along with the team.

    Amazing how the bounce of a rubber disk being batted around by a bunch of college kids can change our moods.

    You’d think after 35 or 40 years of watching the Pios, I would have better acclimated by now. But I was in such a foul mood during the winless streak, and now, after a Pioneer win, life seems much better…

    I really need to grow up.

  3. Sounds as though I’m not the only one who’s been waking up recently on Saturday and Sunday mornings a little cranky and irritable. Amazingly, this morning I was in a pretty good mood!

    DU played a complete game last night and earned an emphatic and resounding victory. Seems as though there was a collective sigh of relief and exhale after the game. Pios had a lot of jump, they worked hard, and the puck found its way to the back of the net. Great to see.

    After a bye DU has 4 games before the holiday break. Two against AZ State and then two against CC. Hopefully this victory over WMU sets the tone for DU to finish strong before the break. The halfway point of the season, amazingly, is right around the corner.

  4. Puck, if we act like grownups, it’s admitting we are on the back nine. Most people don’t have a passion. Some of my friends are jealous of mine. X wife couldn’t appreciate it.

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