DENVER – There may not have been much to play for in the fourth and final game between the #6 Denver Pioneers (21-9-6, 11-8-5-4) and the Colorado College Tigers (11-20-3, 4-17-3-1), but apparently that message never reached DU’s -locker room. With the Gold Pan clinched thanks to a 2-2 tie in Colorado Springs last night, all that was left for Denver to play for in the final game of the regular season was seeding for the NCHC Tournament. That motivation was plenty enough for Denver to score three times in the second period and twice in the third to coast to a 5-1 victory over the Tigers at Magness Arena on Saturday night. The win clinched an unbeaten 3-0-1 record against their archrivals to the south and vaulted them over Western Michigan – the Broncos beat Miami handily again earlier in the evening – into third place. With the #3 seed, Denver will host #6 Omaha next weekend.
The Pioneers have a tradition at home, starting this year, of frequently spotting the opposition an opening goal before bearing down and demolishing the other team. Most recently, it happened against Miami in game one two weeks ago and somehow, it has become a harbinger of success. Tonight, it was Tigers senior Nick Halloran – he later left the game with a lower-body injury – who benefited from this tradition as Denver lost track of him during a line change at the 4:29 mark of the opening period and he coasted to a backhand breakaway goal to give the road team an early lead.
Denver, to their credit, didn’t let the goal become anything more than a blip on the radar as they continued peppering CC goaltender, tallying 14 shots in the period but didn’t have any goals to show for it. It was no matter for the Pioneers, though, as they opened the second period looking like a team with a renewed sense of purpose. The Pios netted a special trifecta of goals, scoring a power-play goal, an even-strength goal, and a short-handed goal, scored by Emilio Pettersen, Michael Davies – his first goal of the season, scored on his Senior Night, no less – and Ryan Barrow, respectively. Denver’s three-goal outburst in the middle frame – after getting held down once again by an upstart goaltender in freshman Matt Vernon in the first period – was the culmination of 40 minutes of hockey that Denver utterly dominated. By the end of the second period, Denver led shot attempts 61-22.
Hank Crone and Cole Guttman each added backdoor goals in the third period for good measure and avoid a repeat performance of last night’s blown two-goal lead in the final minutes of the game and clinch the 5-1 victory. 12 different Pioneers recorded a point by the time the final buzzer sounded and clinched the blowout. As a result of the victory, Denver finished the season in third place in the NCHC standings and will host the Omaha Mavericks in the best-of-three first-round series next weekend.
The Pioneers did not host the Mavs this year but did travel to Omaha for a two-game series at the end of January, near the end of Denver’s midseason 11-game unbeaten streak. The Pioneers played well in both games, outshooting the Mavericks 56-51 in total and dominating long stretches of both games, but left Omaha with just two ties. Those two ties, however, did extend their unbeaten streak against UNO to 18 games at 15-0-3.
Earning 5 of 6 points against CC will no doubt serve as a confidence boost for the Pioneers as they enter the postseason next weekend. DU ended the season 20-2-4 against teams not named North Dakota, Minnesota Duluth, or Western Michigan and that should give DU fans plenty of confidence entering next weekend’s series against Omaha.
But in the playoffs, those regular season stats don’t matter. Yes, winning back the Gold Pan this weekend was great. Clinching a 3-0-1 record against the Tigers is sweet. But none of that matters now as the postseason has arrived. Denver must turn the page on a successful regular season and kick their game into high gear if they’re going to accomplish what they set out to do at the beginning of October – win a 9th national championship. That journey starts by winning two games next weekend against the Mavs.
— Denver Hockey (@DU_Hockey) March 8, 2020
What a pretty goal.
— CBS Sports Network (@CBSSportsNet) March 8, 2020
— Denver Hockey (@DU_Hockey) March 8, 2020
Colorado College 1
David Carle postgame: https://t.co/OMNe9nQUZo
— LetsGoDU (@LetsGoDU) March 8, 2020
Top photo courtesy of Shannon Valerio/Denver Athletics