Pioneers Ride Late Second-Period Flurry to Complete Sweep of Broncos

It was a must-sweep weekend for the #14 Denver Pioneers (6-4-0, 2-2-0) and thanks to a late second-period flurry of action that saw three DU goals in four minutes including two from Carter Savoie in 20 seconds and one from Cameron Wright that beat the buzzer, they delivered. The #9 Western Michigan Broncos (6-4-0, 1-3-0) came into this weekend riding high after dispatching top-five teams in Michigan and Minnesota Duluth but the Pioneers, thanks to their abundance of speed and skill, sent the Broncos back to Kalamazoo tired, beat down, and winless.

For the second game in a row, the Broncos scored first and entered the dressing room with a 2-1 lead. Max Sasson opened the scoring with a snipe right after a Denver power play, Carter Mazur answered for DU with a tip-in, and Drew Worrad restored the Broncos lead late with a power-play goal. It all felt so…familiar, though the Pioneers were outshot in the first period this time around and largely outplayed by the Broncos.

“I thought we were really slow out of the gate,” Denver head coach David Carle said. “Not a lot of life, not a lot of energy on the ice or on the bench. Thankfully, they, in my opinion, didn’t come out very well either so it made for a really slow first period, but we tried to give them many opportunities to go back down our throat and put the puck in our net.”

Almost seven minutes into the second period, though, Bobby Brink delivered a short-side snipe off of a pass from Colorado Avalanche defenseman prospect Sean Behrens for Denver’s third power-play goal of the weekend to tie the game back up at two. Magness Arena was rocking after that goal but no one, including the Pioneers on the ice, knew what was coming in the waning minutes of the middle frame.

Carter Savoie got the party started with just under four minutes left in the period with a goal off of a great pass across the crease from captain Cole Guttman on a two-on-one look that Guttman created along the boards at the WMU blue line. It was a gritty goal that not only gave Denver the lead but it gave Denver an energy boost that Savoie cashed in on just 20 seconds later when he backhanded another shot past WMU goaltender Brandon Bussi to double Denver’s lead and send Magness into a frenzy. It was Savoie’s fifth point of the weekend and team-leading 10th goal.

“I thought, after the first period, he was one of our best players,” Carle said of Guttman and his play that led to Savoie’s first goal. “He was making things happen all over the ice. It looked like he was moving his feet, attacking head and eyes were up and working, and obviously made some plays for us.”

But the Pioneers still weren’t done. In the waning moments of the second period, both teams were exchanging possession until Antti Tuomisto found Cameron Wright on a long outlet pass down the right side with 3.3 seconds left. Wright fielded the pass and scrambled towards WMU’s net before firing a shot over Bussi’s blocker as time expired. A short review later, it was determined the puck crossed the goal line with 0.6 seconds left. Good goal. 5-2. Fans were ready to blow the roof off of Ritchie Center.

What became evident in the minutes leading up to Savoie’s first goal was Western Michigan’s fatigue and Denver’s desire to take over the game. As the game wore on, players wearing black looked slower and slower while players in crimson and gold got faster and more relentless on the puck. By the time Brink scored the first of Denver’s four straight goals, Denver had completely taken over the game. Sure, the Broncos had their moments and they generated some dangerous chances here and there, especially on the power play in the third period, but once Denver tied it at 2, the result never felt in doubt.

“We were better in the last half of the game,” Brink said. “I thought that they kind of took it to us a little bit in the first half. they’re good off the rush and we kind of said in the intermissions and we’re going to stay above pucks, put pucks below their goal line, so it didn’t feed into their transition.”

This was an important weekend for the Pioneers. Coming off of that road trip, blowing the lead against Providence, scoring just twice in Grand Forks, putting up 10 in two games and sweeping a legitimate top ten team – and Western Michigan is a top ten team – regardless of the building, regardless of the altitude, is a massive step in the right direction. With a Miami team who was just swept at home by North Dakota coming to town next weekend, all of a sudden the Pioneers have a chance to pick up a huge 12 points in the NCHC over the course of these two weekends.

Denver isn’t “back.” Or at least not yet. Those four games over the past few weeks don’t just magically go away thanks to a sweep of Western Michigan. There is still valid concern about whether this team can win important games on the road. But this weekend is a massive step back in the direction of where they want to be, where they expect to be.


Top photo courtesy of Clarkson Creative/Denver Hockey

2 thoughts on “Pioneers Ride Late Second-Period Flurry to Complete Sweep of Broncos”

  1. Hanging 10 goals on a very good WMU team was a terrific response to the last couple of weekends. Nice to see the top line firing – Savoie, Brink and Guttman are as a good a line as you’ll find in college hockey when they are playing with confidence. And the secondary scoring has also chipped in key goals from guys like Wright, Mazur and Rizzo on the weekend. And with the power play cruising along at 26%, it makes DU a very dangerous team when an opponent takes a penalty.

    What I also really liked this weekend was the DU compete level. When WMU would score, DU answered, instead of panicking. They won puck battles against a bigger and more physical and experienced team, cycled well in the o-zone, and really used their speed to tire-out the Broncos. You could see the kind of defense-to-offense cohesion in transition that we’ve grown used to seeing from DU, and the “five-in-the-picture” was often on display. Passes were tape-to-tape, neutral zone bumps were on target and DU was excellent at zone entries and face-offs, which led to major puck-possession advantages.

    That said, there are still some MAJOR areas requiring improvement for DU to be a contender this year. The PK unit is still highly underperforming, at only 65%. It is getting slightly better after this weekend, but still needs to come up about 20 percentage points if DU wants to be in the national picture. It may take another month of tweaking to get it right, but you can’t give up PPGs 35% of the time and expect to be a winner at the end of the year.

    The second area is goaltending. Chrona had some very good moments this weekend when he played like the talented goalie he is, and was, at times, the best player on the ice when WMU would get O-zone time, so we know that he can be excellent. However, he still has the very annoying (and frankly, career limiting) tendency to give up soft goals early in games, and that makes his team have to play from behind, which affects team confidence. Softies are deflating, and he needs to be ready from the drop of the puck. The DU coaches and his teammates all know that if his saves percentage stays at 88% where it is now, DU is likely doomed this year. Magnus needs to get that saves percentage up above 90% and preferably 91-93% for DU to be a contender. I certainly can’t remember any team in today’s era making noise nationally with a saves percentage under 90%.

    The third one is overall starts. I would like to see DU come out more ferociously and impose their will on the other team, instead of absorbing opposing goals and responding to getting punched in the mouth. Both nights, DU fell behind at home and had to come back to win. That should not happen at Magness. DC needs to have that team foaming at the mouth after a week of practices to get out in front of opponents and make the opponent chase the game, especially at altitude.

    Overall, though, we’re seeing progress. Carle impressed me this weekend, too. He made good decisions with his lineup. His team was at least responsive, which they were not in the last four games before this weekend. Let’s hope he and his staff can keep working on those other areas, as all the other teams are working to get better, too.

  2. Swami is 100% on point.
    Another big weekend coming up for this very young and talented team. Anything less than a sweep would be a disappointment.

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