The fact that you’re reading this preview means that the Denver Pioneers advanced to the semifinals of the Frozen Faceoff with a win over Omaha. Indeed that happened when senior Bo Hanson scored the game-winning goal late in the third period to lead Denver to a 5-4 victory, further extending their season. If you didn’t catch the game, make sure to check out our recap here.
So what happens next? With Minnesota Duluth defeating Western Michigan in dramatic fashion Saturday night, Denver will face longtime foe North Dakota for the chance to advance to the NCHC Championship to play the winner of UMD vs St. Cloud State.
While waiting for this thriller to end…
— The NCHC (@TheNCHC) March 14, 2021
What a game it was Saturday night. Denver was playing with a short bench, there were multiple lead changes, but the Pioneers were able to come back and score key goals with the help of Michael Benning and Bo Hanson. Goaltender Magnus Chrona played strong following a poor start and the Pioneers were able to pull out a win.
After the game when asked about what Denver focused on to win, team captain Kohen Olischefski said, “We wanted to sustain our puck pressure. Make sure we weren’t just sitting back. (We were) just trying to be on our toes and get on them, and not sitting back especially when we had leads… Overall just sticking with it, we knew we were playing well and knew we had what it took tonight. It was just a matter of executing and figuring out what to do in the big moments. I think we did that very well.”
Olischefski went on to commend his team on the when saying, “I think everyone was outstanding tonight. When you play with a short bench like that in a playoff game, you need to have everyone going. I think we had that tonight which was unbelievable to see. I’m super proud of how this group responded and showed up tonight. It was one of the better experiences of my career here. Probably the best one so far.”
When asked about freshman defenseman Michael Benning’s two-goal performance, head coach David Carle said, “It’s a lot for a true freshman to go into that environment and play like he did. He told me yesterday that he’s saving some of his goals for the playoffs. He’s a man of his word which we all appreciate and he was able to put two in the back of the net tonight.”
The four teams remaining are the usual cast of characters with Denver, Duluth, North Dakota, and St. Cloud. Like it is every weekend in the NCHC, expect no less than a dogfight to crown a champion this week.
North Dakota Fighting Hawks (19-5-1)
North Dakota has had an outstanding season, ranked by USCHO in the top five the past several weeks. The Pioneers should be encouraged that of their five losses on the season, Denver owns two of them. And one of those games Denver defeated the Fighting Hawks by their largest margin of the year when the Pioneers won 4-1 back on January 17th. So how do you beat a team who has won 16 of their last 19 games? It won’t be easy, but Denver could be the team to do it.
The Fighting Hawks are led in points by one of the best players in college hockey this season in Jordan Kawaguchi. With seven goals and 24 assists, Kawaguchi has some of the best vision and puck control that we’ve seen from a North Dakota forward. If you look closely, he is often given the primary assist on many of the UND goals as he’s always looking to make space for his teammates. Kawaguchi is current riding a five-game point streak into Monday’s game against Denver.
— UND Insider (@UNDinsider) March 13, 2021
Kawaguchi hasn’t been the only one who has been good lately. New York Islanders prospect Colin Adams had a five-point night against Miami to give him 29 on the season. He and what seems to be the entire Ottawa Senators prospect pool with Jacob Brenard-Docker, Shane Pinto, and Jake Sanderson have all been productive this season in their own ways. The Fighting Hawks like to move the puck up the ice and can be lethal in transition.
On paper, North Dakota has the edge on Denver in terms of talent, but in a single-elimination playoff game, it can be anybody’s game. Denver has great playmakers too, especially Bobby Brink who could be the x-factor for the Pioneers. Looking back to the Jan 17th 4-1 win against North Dakota, Denver did a great job putting pressure on UND’s defense and forcing turnovers. The Pioneers dictated the pace of the game, forcing UND to play into their hands. If Denver wants to bring down the top dogs, they’re going to have to win puck battles below the goal lines and take care of possession. It will be about who makes the first mistake, though both teams are fully capable of coming back from large deficits.
Keys to the game
- Muck it up. UND averages four goals per game and LOVES to skate. Clog up the neutral zone and make them dump and chase.
- Take a lead into the third. The Fighting Hawks don’t trail very often but when they do, they seem to get off of their game.
- Have fun. The Pioneers are out there playing with house money. Be a thorn in the side of a top-ranked team and stick it to em’.
- Lean on your freshmen. Carter Savoie and Michael Benning have carried the lion’s share of weight this season and have produced in key moments. Let the kids play.
Twitter Follow – @UNDmhockey
Where to Watch/Listen
Monday – 7:06pm MT – tv: CBS Sports Net radio: ESPN DENVER 1600
Top photo: Mark Kuhlmann, The NCHC