Photo courtesy Denver Athletics
Since the 1-4-3 streak from November 8 through December 7 against Minnesota Duluth, North Dakota, Western Michigan, and Arizona State, Denver has not lost. That’s a stretch of 10 games in which Denver has gone 8-0-2 that was kickstarted by a sweep of Colorado College in the first home-and-home rivalry series of the season. This stretch continued this weekend for the #5 Denver Pioneers (17-4-5, 7-3-4-3) as they swept the 7th-place Miami RedHawks (6-14-4, 3-9-2-1) with 3-2 and 5-2 victories in Oxford, Ohio.
Friday Night: Denver 3, Miami 2
As well as the weekend progressed for the Pioneers, Friday night’s game got off to an inauspicious start. The RedHawks started hot jumping out to a 2-0 lead over the visitors from the Mountain time zone thanks to goals from Carter Johnson and Bray Crowder within the first 11 minutes. Crowder’s goal gave Denver the wake-up call that it needed as Kohen Olischefski scored the first of his three goals on the weekend just a few minutes later to pull the Pioneers back to within a goal before the first intermission. Olischefski has been one of the harder workers for the Pioneers, consistently finding his way to the net front and battling for time and space. His efforts were rewarded in a big way this weekend with his five-point weekend.
Olischefski scored again for his second power-play goal of the game just more than two minutes into the second period to tie the game back up before Griffin Mendel scored his second goal of the season to finish the comeback and give the Pioneers all the goals they’d need to earn the win.
“It shows the maturity of our team and how far we’ve come that we don’t get deterred by the obstacle of being down by two,” head coach David Carle said. “We stay positive and we keep grinding away. The power play comes up with two really big goals for us.”
Denver has made a habit of successfully coming back from deficits all year as they are now 7-4-3 in games when their opponent scores first. It started early in the season with the “Heart Attack Pios” against Alaska and Lake Superior State and has continued through last weekend against Omaha and now this weekend against Miami. As Carle said, it was a mature comeback victory for a team with huge aspirations this year.
Saturday night: Denver 5, Miami 2
Saturday’s game went much more according to the script. Denver scored first, Miami stayed in the game for a bit, and then the Pioneers pulled away in the third period. Miami is a team with a new head coach looking forge a new identity after struggling for the past few years and on Saturday, the Pioneers took full advantage of that. Four Pioneers scored while nine recorded a point in a performance that was a much better representation of the talent gap between Denver and Miami.
Kohen Olischefski continued his impressive weekend with his third goal of the weekend and another two assists to make it a five-point weekend and make his case to be named the NCHC Forward of the Week. Meanwhile, captain defenseman Ian Mitchell scored twice, once on the power play and again in the third period to seal the 5-2 victory.
“I thought in the second and third period we really kicked it into gear,” Carle said. “We were really good in all three zones, taking away time and space. We didn’t spend a lot of time in our own zone after that.”
Denver’s power play went 3-for-7 on the weekend and has developed into a serious threat over the course of the second half. They have now converted 22.3% of their power-play chances which is good for a tie for 14th in the country. And after a first half of the season when the Pioneers couldn’t buy a goal on the power play at times, it is extremely encouraging to see the power play become a serious threat as the stretch run of the season nears.
Denver returns to Magness Arena to play Minnesota Duluth next weekend in the second series of the season between the Pioneers and Bulldogs. UMD split with North Dakota this weekend to bring the Fighting Hawks back to within striking distance and allow the Pioneers to move into second place in the NCHC. Thanks to this weekend’s results, the race for the Penrose Cup is turning into a three-team race with a month and a half to go.