The Pioneers got the split against North Dakota last week and improved to 5-8-1, but that record doesn’t seem to do justice. The Pioneers are out-shooting their opponents on average 30-24, they’re getting quality chances, but they aren’t getting the puck luck. They’re 2-4 in one-goal games which could be the difference right now, especially how Denver started the season. In their first season without a national champion on the roster, this is a big test not only for the players but for coach David Carle. Leadership is going to play a big role in the next ten games of a unique season, but everyone knows it all starts with a little momentum.
Last week, it was apparent Denver wanted to get out to a quick start against North Dakota to dictate the pace. The Pioneers forced a turnover and scored six minutes into the game, then again shortly after. You could see the body language of the Fighting Hawks changed as they found themselves in a hole early which would end up being a four-goal hole at the end of the second period thanks to a gritty net-front goal by Jake Durflinger and a nice one-timer from Justin Lee. The next night, UND made their adjustments and forced a split with a 5-1 win, but Denver showed they’re capable of putting together complete games against top teams.
Head coach David Carle called the North Dakota series “a step in the right direction,” as his Pioneers team continues to learn and grow in a conference that presents new challenges each weekend. Although teams always say they’re not “scoreboard watching,” it’s hard to not this time of year. The Pioneers sit in 6th place in the NCHC with 10 games remaining in the season. Clumped together in the middle of the pack are Denver, Western Michigan, Duluth, and Omaha. The Pioneers will only get a chance to face the Mavericks head-to-head the rest of the season so it will be a tough road to climb from here on out.
Checking in for the @canvasfamily weekly update 🎥
— Denver Hockey (@DU_Hockey) January 22, 2021
Also this week, the NCHC provided an update on the postponed games with Colorado College from the beginning of the month. The Battle for the Gold Pan will resume on January 29th and 30th in Colorado Springs and will conclude in Denver on February 26th and 27th, avoiding the travel of a typical home-and-home series.
Gold Pan rivalry update:
CC & DU's postponed series is now set for Jan. 29-30 with both games at @bworldarena in Colo. Springs
Their 3rd & final series of the reg. season is now Feb. 26-27 at Magness Arena in Denver
— The NCHC (@TheNCHC) January 21, 2021
Omaha Mavericks (8-3-1)
The Mavericks are off to a great so far this season sitting in 3rd place in the NCHC with 24 points. In the team’s forth season under head coach Mike Gabinet, the Mavericks have struggled to finish above .500 but this could be the year Gabinet takes them there. The 8-3-1 record is attributed to winning some close games in the pod, a great penalty kill, and excellent goaltending by sophomore Isaiah Saville. The biggest test for Omaha will be finishing the remainder of the season strong. They have to have one of the most difficult final stretches in the conference having to face Denver four times and North Dakota for six more games.
The storyline with Omaha last season was that they were clearly rebuilding as they featured two freshman goaltenders in Austin Roden and Isaiah Saville. This season, Saville has emerged as their No. 1 and has played well. He’s 6-3-1 with a GAA of 2.00 and a .930 save percentage. Within those numbers, he’s kept opponents to under two goals five times this season with the help of a great defense that’s giving up just two goals per game on average.
The Mavericks PK seems to be the success story so far, killing 40 of 43 opportunities while short-handed. Their team defense is also helping them seal games. Omaha is 6-1 while leading after the second period while 37% of their goals this season are coming in the third period. It’s clear Gabinet is pushing his team late in games and the results are showing.
Leading the team in points with 12 is playmaker Chayse Primeau who broke out last season. This year he has four goals and eight helpers which were accumulated from a couple nice three-point games. He and Colorado Avalanche prospect Tyler Weiss add speed and some grit to a pretty well-balanced offensive group.
— Here's Your Replay ⬇️ (@HeresYourReplay) December 18, 2020
Prediction – Denver takes both
As aggressive as this may seem, I believe this is the point in the season where Denver turns it on. While Omaha has won five of their last six, the opportunity to gain key points in the standings and take down a ranked team seems too appetizing for Denver to pass up. I’m looking for big games from seniors Olischefski and Ryan Barrow. This series is going to be about who wins the battle in front of the net.
Twitter Follow – @OmahaHKY
Where to Watch/Listen
Saturday – 5:07pm MT – tv: NCHC.tv radio: 104.3 THE FAN
Sunday – 5:07pm MT tv: NCHC.tv radio: ESPN DENVER 1600
Top photo: Chris Machian / Omaha World-Herald