Shorthanded Pioneers Drop Overtime Heartbreaker to North Dakota in Frozen Faceoff Semifinal

A single Carter Savoie power-play goal was not enough to sink the top-seed North Dakota Fighting Hawks despite a valiant defensive effort from the fifth-seed Denver Pioneers and the performance of the season from goaltender Magnus Chrona. North Dakota used a clutch, tipped shot off of Jasper Weatherby’s foot to tie the game in the waning minutes of regulation before Gavin Hain ripped a wrister from the high slot past Chrona on the power play in overtime to seal the victory for the hosts in Grand Forks, North Dakota. The fifth-seed Denver Pioneers will now leave their slim NCAA Tournament hopes up to the hockey gods and, more importantly, the selection committee.

Two nights after Denver completed a mini-upset of fourth-seed Omaha in a thrilling, high-scoring 5-4 victory, the Pioneers turned their focus to a stout defensive gameplan to keep the best team in the country at bay. The gameplan was perfect and the execution was even better as they held the nation’s top-scoring offense to no goals through nearly 58-and-a-half minutes of hockey while taking advantage of a lucky bounce on Savoie’s second-period goal. The Fighting Hawks got a lucky bounce of their own on their regulation goal to even things up as a Shane Pinto shot deflected off of Weatherby’s foot and past Chrona to send the game into overtime; all of this just seconds after Cole Guttman missed North Dakota’s empty net by mere inches.

It was that kind of game, though, start to finish. Denver pulled out another gritty, gutsy game with just 16 skaters in the conference tournament and nearly put up a second straight victory, this time against the best team in the country. But in the end, maybe it was a lack of legs by the end of the third period and into overtime, maybe it was just the shortened lineup, or maybe it’s just another tough luck game in a year chockfull of them for the Pioneers. No matter what it was, watching Gavin Hain’s shot beat Chrona was a heartbreaking way to end their bid for a third NCHC title.

Now, with the regular season and conference tournament complete, Denver’s eyes turn to Selection Sunday next weekend. Coming into the NCHC Tournament, the Pioneers were seen as a team that wouldn’t be considered for an NCAA Tournament berth but now, after topping Omaha and taking North Dakota to overtime in that fashion, all with just 16 skaters, DU has put themselves squarely on the bubble and has every reason to watch the Selection Show on Sunday (on ESPNU at 5 pm MT). The way Denver scratched and clawed their way back into the national tournament conversation is remarkable and while they still may not make the tournament, there’s plenty to be proud of for these Pioneers, especially over the course of the stretch run and into the conference tournament.

It was a game for the ages, as so many games between these two storied programs over the decades have been, it was just Denver’s turn to have their hearts broken by an archrival in a big game. Every Pioneers fan knows DU has doled out plenty of heartbreak in the direction of Grand Forks over the years. That’s the nature of this rivalry. It’s glorious, heated, and it gives players and fans alike a reason to stop whatever they’re doing and focus on hockey for a few hours. And even in heartbreak, that’s worth celebrating.

Postgame Press Conference


Top photo: Nick Nelson/Grand Forks Herald

10 thoughts on “Shorthanded Pioneers Drop Overtime Heartbreaker to North Dakota in Frozen Faceoff Semifinal”

  1. As Kip says: “dang it.” Too bad our Pioneers couldn’t hang on in regulation. I don’t mind the shot down the ice towards toward the open net, but if memory serves they scored right after that.

    Seems that we deserve an NCAA bid. I’d sure love to see another game–nothing like NCAA tournament hockey. Our record indicates that this is probably not the team to win #9, but I could see DU roll off a couple wins if they get hot at this much belated time. Give the guys a chance, see what they can do!

  2. Looks like Chrona found his game. Boys played well in front of him. That last power play was abyssmal. Shooting for the empty net seems to be ok now with a one goal lead. That said, team who struggles on faceoffs might have just chipped it out. A gutsy performance that just came up short. A very strange season is likely over.

  3. Incredible effort playing a team with more high-end talent at their home in the playoffs rolling three lines. Proud of the boys. I hope this fuels them next season. Chrona played like we thought he could and DU had 3-4 ‘grade A’ scoring chances that they never could bury. That was the story all season.

  4. Hell of a game, hell of an effort by the Pios. As the article notes and as Carle mentioned in his postgame comments, DU executed the game plan very well and if they could have scripted how they wanted to play the game, they played it out for the most part–get the early lead, play well defensively, stay disciplined, get a strong performance from Chrona, and hope they don’t get too worn down by UND’s depth, particularly in the 3rd. A lot of that came to fruition. UND got a fortuitous bounce to tie the game. If that shot by Guttman goes in late, Pios get the W. A few little things ultimately made the difference. That said, UND definitely started to take over the game in the 3rd, showing why they are elite team with a lot of depth and different ways to beat you. I won’t be surprised if they are back in the FF. Overall, I’m proud of the way this DU team fought in this NCHC tournament.

    I’ve found Carle’s recent pressers very interesting. He definitely has seemed saltier and edgier than usual. I’m not a psychologist, but I wonder how much of that is he senses the season is likely over and he knows what could have been with this team, a team that definitely underachieved and is better than what their record indicates but just couldn’t pull it all together and find consistency.

    My gut feeling is DU won’t be in the national tournament, but who knows. If last night was the end, it marks the end of a very odd season. After 24 games, I still don’t know what this team is and what their identity is. Maybe that’s the issue–they didn’t have an identity, at least in my opinion. They were exciting and thrilling at times, they were discombobulated and lacked chemistry at times, they seemed to lack urgency and leadership at times, and overall just never seemed to put it all together and find any semblance of consistency. Having said all that, if they do somehow get invited to the NCAAs and get there with a full squad, they will be a very dangerous opponent. I would love to see them get the opportunity.

  5. That was a very gut-wrenching (probable) end to a very gut-wrenching season.

    We all should be very proud of the Pios for putting out every last ounce of effort into last night’s game. Even though DU lost, no one can say they didn’t lay it all out there, and they certainly lived up to the honor of the Denver sweater in the process. To lead the best team in the country toe-to-toe with just 16 skaters on UND’s home ice for 58 minutes should have proved to everyone that they are one of the best 16 teams in the nation, even if their insularly- scheduled record doesn’t say they are.

    Perhaps the NCAA selection committee will agree and send the Pios dancing. The Pios should feel honored if that happens.

    But I do think we Pio fans should also be accepting of the NCAA committee if they don’t select the Pios this year. The goaltending and scoring depth we are used to seeing in Denver was much less consistent than in previous years, as the playing record indicates. As well as Chrona played last night (atoning for his substandard first half of the season), DU could only manage a single pinballing goal last night, missing open nets and a pair of breakaways that may loom large in their dreams in the coming months (and perhaps years).

    We are very spoiled to see the very high level of Pioneers’ play over the last 15-20 years, and every program stumbles from time to time – Our peers at Michigan (2017, 2019), UND (2018, 2019) and Boston College (2017, 2018, 2019) have all had very recent missed NCAA tourneys.

  6. At least coffee is delicious this morning in my 2017 championship mug. I might have some harder stuff in my prized back-to-back 2004/2005 mug if we don’t make the tourney. You can’t put that shit in the dishwasher kids, if you want your mugs to last. Good point above about that last power play. Abysmal is accurate. I’ve complained in the past about Carle’s teams playing “not to lose” with a lead. Haven’t watched enough to know if that has been a problem this season, but it might have played a role in that power play. Or it could have just been fatigue…not sure.

  7. I sure hope they make the tourney, however the superior talent and skill of the Sioux was obvious. Touomisto was out of position on the first goal and the OT penalty was a killer. Hard to believe DU has NO NCHC all stars. Carle proved to me he can coach, but he had inferior players. Can he recruit, we’ll see.

  8. Even in this pandemically inspired strange season I can’t see the committee inviting a 10-13-1 team to the tourney. That said the Pios played with amazing heart and grit yesterday. No one expected the Pios to hold the Fightin’ Sioux/Hawks scoreless for 58+ minutes. The game plan and execution were “almost” flawless–just 1 minute 27 seconds short..

    Did anyone else notice the “Lets Go Sioux” chant from the crowd? Didn’t hear “Lets Go Hawks”.

    Did anyone else notice Ryan Barrow say Pios were playing with 9 forwards?

  9. Carl’s obviously thought we could win 1-0. The only way we were going to score a goal in the last 25 minutes was if Sioux made an error. Look, we had a poor pandemic season. On the bright side we fans were treated to so many games in a tight time frame. 10 games in 21 days at the Pod was super enjoyable to watch. It took our minds off of the virus for a while and gave us something to look forward to every other night or day. The players and coaches did their best and we stayed virus free almost until the end. We really did nothing to earn a spot in the NCAA Tournament as an at- large selection in the Dunker’s humble opinion. However, I will be nervous and excited praying our name is called on the Selection Show.

  10. Ms. Viz, I heard the Sioux chants and expected nothing less. Didn’t read or hear Barrow’s comments.

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