Pioneers fall to shorthanded Bulldogs as unbeaten streak ends at 11

Photo courtesy Justin Tafoya/Denver Athletics

DENVER – The #10 Minnesota Duluth Bulldogs (14-9-2, 9-4-2-0) came to Denver shorthanded. Coming into Friday night’s game against the #4 Denver Pioneers (17-5-5, 7-4-4-3), it was unknown whether star UMD defensemen Scott Perunovich and Dylan Samberg would play in either game this weekend. As it turned out, Perunovich was healthy enough to play but Samberg was not which left the Bulldogs with a short defensive core that saw them rotate 3-4 blueliners throughout much of the evening. It would not matter, though, as the Bulldogs played well enough and got enough of a boost from an officiating controversy a Brett Stapley game misconduct (referees Ryan Hersey and Joe Sullivan made their first return to Denver since their UMass-Amherst debacle) to win 3-2 at Magness Arena.

Coming off of an 11-game unbeaten streak and most recently sweeping Miami (OH) in dominating fashion on the road, the Pioneers got off to an…inauspicious start against the best competition they’ve faced since the Minutemen came to Denver in January. Denver gook two penalties within the first 10 minutes of the game and the second one, a rather weak hooking call against Cole Guttman, sparked the Bulldogs for the first goal of the night. Denver answered quickly with a one-timer from the point by Justin Lee to tie it at 1. Unfortunately for the Pioneers, though, the penalties would continue while the offense and penalty kill couldn’t keep up.

The penalty trouble came to a head with 3:30 left in the first period as Brett Stapley collided with goaltender Hunter Shepard’s head after appearing to be pushed from behind by Louie Roehl. Shepard went down, appeared to be hurt, but ultimately stayed in the game. The play was reviewed – there was no penalty called on the ice – and Stapley was ultimately issued a five-minute major and game misconduct for contact to the head (the video of the play in question is below). UMD went on to score on the long power play with just 5 seconds left in the first period to take a 2-1 lead to the locker room.

After the debacle of the first period came to an end, the Pios and Bulldogs settled in for an eventful final 40 minutes of hockey. Bobby Brink scored on one the first of Denver’s four total power plays (to UMD’s six) after a great individual effort led to him banking the puck off of Roehl’s stick and past Shepard to tie it. But Denver’s penalty trouble continued and their kill once again couldn’t get it done as Cole Koepke scored with less than 5 minutes left in the second period for the Bulldogs’ third power-play goal of the night.

The Pioneers dominated the game at five-on-five. At times, it was Denver’s game to lose, or at least it felt that way. When UMD’s third defensive pairing got stuck on the ice, the Pioneers suffocated the Bulldogs in the offensive zone but Shepard was there time and time again making impossible save after impossible save (he should probably get his facemask checked for dents).

In all, it was a frustrating night for the Pioneers. They did almost everything they needed to do to get the win. They put up 41 shots, held UMD to 27, scored on the power play, and sustained offensive shifts with incredible scoring chances. But in the end, Denver’s penalty kill was the weak link on the night and the Bulldogs were able to end an extended DU unbeaten streak for the second time this season. And, in the process, they vaulted one point ahead of Denver for second place in the NCHC standings. But hey, the silver lining? Clean up the penalties – if they can actually figure out what is a penalty in Hersey’s and Sullivan’s eyes, that is – and play like they did tonight, they’ll almost assuredly come away with a split and take back second place tomorrow night.

Highlights

Postgame Comments

David Carle:

Tyson McLellan:

4 thoughts on “Pioneers fall to shorthanded Bulldogs as unbeaten streak ends at 11”

  1. I LOVED DU’s overall compete level, but did not love the mental mistakes they made. Despite an excellent work rate and more than 40 shots on goal for Denver, the DU unbeaten streaks is now over. At this time of year, you need generally great goaltending and strong special teams play to win hockey games. DU got beaten in both areas tonight by a smarter UMD performance, which negated DU’s 5 on 5 advantages.

    Despite being dominant 5-on-5 all night, DU just took too many penalties including a dumb one by Erich Fear, and you can’t do that against a good team like UMD. The Dawgs played solid road hockey, capitalizing on its special teams opportunities for the win, with 3 PPGs. UMD exposed DU on multiple soft spots on the DU PK, and made DU pay for its mistakes in a big way. UMD is a two-time defending national champ, and you don’t get to that level without taking advantage of your opportunities.

    Yes, certainly the major call on Brett Stapley was a very tough call against the Pios, but good teams need to score enough goals to overcome bad calls (which are part of the game), and the Pios could only get two goals tonight, as the other big difference in the game was goaltending.

    DU’s Magnus Chrona let in a very soft goal (the first UMD goal on the wrap-around by Swaney), while Hunter Shepard didn’t let in any softies and made all the big saves when he had to make them. Shepard has won a couple of NCAA titles and is a senior while Chrona is a freshman. Check-mate. Chrona also has a bad habit of letting in a soft goal early, and then settling down to play well, which he did for the rest of the game. He reminds me very much of DU goalie Glenn Fisher (like Chrona), a fellow fifth round NHL draft pick who played mostly on Friday nights in the mid 2000s. Fisher had a very similar pattern of giving up early softies, too. Hopefully, Chrona can cure it. Right now with Chrona’s save percentage dipping under .920, I think Cooley should get the nod as the primary net minder, as he is slightly more consistent than Chrona is….

    Hope to see a much smarter effort tomorrow night from the Pios.

  2. That was one of the “best” losses I’ve seen from a DU hockey team in quite a while. It was a very disappointing and frustrating loss, but I’ll take comfort in the fact that the better team did not win this game. DU deserved better, but the PK didn’t do quite enough to get the job done, and the Pios only put two past Shepard, despite 41 shots. Credit Shepard–he made some big saves and was also helped out with some puck luck.

    Really glad to see Justin Lee get his first. Cool moment.

    I’m tired of seeing Ryan Hersey. When I go to a game, I don’t want to see him with his arm raised. Quit calling ticky tack penalties that ruin the flow and integrity of the game. It’s dull. No one wants to see it. Let the players play. I chuckled listening to David Carles postgame comments. How many times did he mention DU’s prowess 5 on 5??!!

    LET THE PLAYERS PLAY!!

  3. Agree with Swami on all points.
    Erich Fear does not have the talent to be on this hockey team.
    Never has.
    Period.

  4. Great game to watch. The dagger to me was the UMD goal with 5 seconds left in the period. In a close game, that felt big. Also, UND ‘bunkered in’ the final eight minutes – a smart move with a hot goaltender and injured defense.

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