Photo courtesy Shannon Valerio/Denver Athletics
DENVER – The #4 Denver Pioneers (17-6-5, 7-5-4-3) are a top-10 team for a reason. They have talent up and down their lineup, they have depth at every position, and their ability to play a 200-foot game of hockey is nearly unmatched. It’s for those reasons that their record is as good as it is this late in the season. But this weekend, especially in the second game of their series with the #10 Minnesota Duluth Bulldogs (15-9-2, 10-4-2-0), the Pioneers lacked those very same factors en route to losing 4-1 as the Bulldogs finished off the sweep at Magness Arena. It’s the first time the Pioneers were swept at home since St. Cloud State managed the feat in December 2015.
The Pioneers were the better team at even strength a night ago as they have been for most of the season. They put up 41 shots and held UMD to 27 but the penalty kill couldn’t get the job done as DU’s kill gave up three power-play goals by the Bulldogs. On Saturday night, though, Denver looked like a hollow shell of the team that has won 17 games to this point. There was no inspiration and despite an altogether solid game by goaltender Devin Cooley, they couldn’t find the drive or will to stay with the Bulldogs. All told, the Bulldogs spent much of the night skating circles around the Pioneers and DU had no answer.
Denver kept the game close for most of the game thanks in large part to Cooley’s effort in the crease. Even defensively, until the third period, the Pioneers played well enough to keep hopes for a win alive. It was in the offensive zone and on the rush that the Pioneers looked uninspired and dashed their own hopes of a weekend split. There was little to no puck pressure and even though the Bulldogs frequently retreated into a defensive trap, Denver’s speed advantage didn’t matter on often disjointed rushes and unsupported possessions.
As a result of Denver’s poor offensive performance, that left the defense with zero room for error. And when you’re playing a team like UMD, even at home, a nonexistent margin for error is a recipe for disaster. And, as you can judge from the final score, disaster struck. Jackson Cates scored on a neutral zone defensive error by the Pioneers in the second period before UMD capitalized on poor defensive zone coverage just 39 seconds into the third period.
Denver pulled back to within a goal on a power-play goal from Emilio Pettersen but it wasn’t enough to pull the Pioneers out of their funk as the Bulldogs quickly answered with a power-play goal of their own. UMD added an empty-net goal with about two minutes left to seal Denver’s fate and leave the Pioneers staring in the mirror with a bye week ahead of a looming trip to Grand Forks, North Dakota in two weeks.
It was a tale of two games for the Pioneers this weekend. UMD didn’t play well and Denver did on Friday except UMD escaped with a win. On Saturday, Denver played poor, uninspired hockey and UMD stepped up their game and the result was predictable. As well as Denver had played over the past two months, this weekend exposed the Pioneers’ flaws. With just eight games left, much like their offense tonight, Denver has given themselves no room for error the rest of the way. The Pioneers remain at #4 in the Pairwise rankings and that is unlikely to change much between now and March, but it won’t matter what seed the Pioneers earn for the NCAA Tournament if they keep playing like this; their season will end in Loveland.
— Denver Hockey (@DU_Hockey) February 2, 2020
David Carle postgame: https://t.co/n12Iqut0yU
— LetsGoDU (@LetsGoDU) February 2, 2020