It was another difficult series for the No. 7 Pioneers who fell to the North Dakota Fighting Hawks 4-1 and 3-1 last weekend. Bobby Brink and Brett Edwards were the lone goal-scorers in each game in a series where it seemed that UND was getting most of the puck luck. It was a tough environment and an even harder battle getting back into games with the Fighting Hawks who played with a lead all weekend. The Pioneers also took a too-many-men minor in each game, something you don’t usually see. It’s been clear that Denver hasn’t been able to play their game in the last two series, but there’s an opportunity to make up some ground before playoff time. The Pioneers host the Miami RedHawks this weekend who may take the brunt of some built-up frustration.
Another sore spot for the Pioneers last weekend was this injury to freshman forward Bobby Brink. North Dakota forward Cole Smith made a dangerous diving play to poke the puck away from Brink while accidentally landing on Brink’s lower leg. Brink fell awkwardly in what looked like a very painful injury, but we learned over the weekend that the injury was not as serious as initially feared and Brink could miss minimal time. He is currently listed as day-to-day with a lower-body injury.
Bobby Brink’s injury tonight. Looked incredibly painful. Did not return. pic.twitter.com/6kfEtZUWyq
— RecoveringOps (@RecoveringOps) February 15, 2020
I'm told that Bobby Brink's lower-body injury is not as serious as initially feared. He is still day to day and there is still no estimated return date but I would bet he's back sooner rather than later.
— LetsGoDU (@LetsGoDU) February 16, 2020
So what can you take away from a Denver team that lost four straight to two NCHC rivals? First, the Pioneers know exactly what they have to do when they meet either team again. The NCHC is always a difficult conference that poses new challenges each year, including facing the Denver Pioneers. You can look at last season and still be optimistic about where Denver is as a team right now. If they can gain some momentum heading into the Frozen Faceoff, they can still make an impact there and in the NCAA Tournament.
It will be just as important this weekend and beyond to get the confidence back for the Denver goaltenders. They played four hard games where they fell behind to teams who also play very well with a lead. As much as Denver fans don’t like Duluth, they have to respect their ability to get ahead in games and put a stranglehold on their opponents. Similarly, North Dakota puts up a flurry of goals and can make it very difficult physically for their opponent to crawl back into the game.
The Pioneers face Miami, St. Cloud, and Colorado College in the remaining six games of the season. Denver is 6-0 against those opponents this year, but that doesn’t guarantee they will win every game. The CC Tigers may be standing in the way of home-ice for the Pioneers come playoff time.
Miami RedHawks (6-17-5)
It was just last month when Denver and Miami played in Oxford and the Pioneers got two nice road wins. The talk about Miami was their powerplay which was a top unit in all of college hockey at the time. Since then they’ve dropped to 15th, converting on 22.6% of their opportunities just ahead of Denver’s 21.9%. Leading that effort is senior forward Gordie Green and sophomore defenseman Derek Daschke who each have four powerplay goals. Although Green leads the RedHawks in points, he hasn’t scored a goal since January 17th and was held pointless in the series against Denver last month.
On the blue line, it was senior captain Grant Hutton that the Pioneers needed to keep their eye on when entering into the RedHawks zone. Hutton was difficult to get by and made forwards pay the price in front of the net. This year, sophomore Bray Crowder poses the same challenges. The 6’6 Sudbury native plays a tough game and also blocks a lot of shots. The smaller Pioneer forwards will have to use their quickness and find creative ways to score this weekend because screening the RedHawks goaltenders may not be much of an option.
In net, the RedHawks have been going with the tandem of senior Ryan Larkin and freshman Ben Kraws who have combined for six wins this season. Miami is allowing the 3rd most goals per game at 3.14 in the NCHC, but they do have the 2nd best penalty kill percentage at 83.7%. It will still be a challenge facing the Pioneers in Denver who lead the NCHC in goals per game at 3.45.
Miami head coach Chris Bergeron met with the media this week to talk about their upcoming series with Denver.
— Miami Hockey (@MiamiOH_Hockey) February 17, 2020
Prediction – Denver sweeps
It was a characteristic of former Pioneers head coach Jim Montgomery to give his teams the “I’m not mad, I’m just disappointed” approach when they underperformed, which we all know feels worse than just being yelled at. Although he’s still a very young coach, David Carle has to do something similar to get the Pioneers confidence back. I expect Denver to shake off the last few outings and truly get back to their game. This is one of those rebound games where the Pioneers put up 50 shots on goal. And just like last time Denver played Miami, they have to be disciplined or the RedHawks could linger longer than we expected.
Twitter Follow – @MiamiOH_Hockey
Where to Watch/Listen
Friday – 7:07pm MT – tv: NCHC.tv radio: 104.3 The Fan
Saturday – 7:07pm MT tv: Altitude 2 / NCHC.tv radio: 104.3 The Fan