Denver Hockey Road Trip Recap: Pioneers’ Red Hot Offense Burns Sun Devils in First Road Sweep

The #12 Denver Pioneers (10-4-0, 4-2-0, 12 pts) had not won a road game outside of the state of Colorado in their four tries coming into this weekend. Along the way, they had scored a dismal combined eight goals in those four games, including just one goal in each of the final three games. That script completely flipped this weekend, though, as the Pioneers hung 13 goals on a struggling Arizona State Sun Devils (7-9-0) hockey team at Oceanside Arena (still trying to figure out where, exactly, the ocean is in Tempe). Brett Stapley recorded a hat trick on Friday, Magnus Chrona stopped 65 of ASU’s 68 shots (.955 SV%), and six different Pioneers scored on Saturday night. It was the kind of domination on the road that the Pios sorely needed and, while they were at it, they improved their already NCAA-best goals-per-game average from 4.42 to 4.71.

Game One: Pioneers NCAA-Best Offense Stays Hot as Denver Obliterates Arizona State, 6-2

Friday night’s game featured a much closer hockey game than the final score indicated. Arizona State actually outshot the Pioneers 33-29 – they outshot DU 12-3 in the first period alone – which is something other teams have struggled to do for most of the season as Denver also leads the country in shots-on-goal per game. Through the first two periods, the Pioneers could only muster two goals, one from Brett Stapley and the other from Cameron Wright on a DU power play in the second period.

In the second period, though, the chippy, physical play from both teams forced the officials to intervene. To that point, ASU’s strategy of initiating fracases and fisticuffs (great band name) after whistles and initiating a physical game had mostly worked. Denver didn’t look out of sorts, but ASU was doing a good job frustrating the Pios’ offense, though goaltender Ben Kraws did indeed play a big role in keeping it 2-0 through two periods. But at the 13:20 mark of the 2nd, tensions boiled over as Ethan Szmagaj and Massimo Rizzo were each issued 10-minute misconduct penalties for cross-checking. The officials were forced to take action to avoid losing control of the game and, as a result, it might have helped the Pioneers loosen up in the third period.

In both games, it was the third period when Denver stepped on Arizona State’s throats and erased any doubt about the final result. Stapley scored twice more in the third period to round out his hat trick, Carter Savoie added his 12th goal of the season, and freshman Jack Devine scored his first career goal to round out the Pioneers’ dominant third period. They did surrender two Sun Devil goals, but at no point did anyone really think a comeback was in the cards. Denver’s strong transition game combined with ASU’s irresponsible defense led to an abundance of odd-man rushes and the Pioneers seemingly couldn’t miss in the final frame. It was an important first out-of-state road victory but it wouldn’t mean much if they didn’t do the same thing on Saturday night.

Game Two: Pioneers Stay Hot to Sweep Season Series with Sun Devils with 7-1 Victory

On Friday night, it was the Brett Stapley show thanks to his hat trick. He wasn’t quite a one-man wrecking ball but he was close to it. On Saturday, though, it was a much more balanced offensive attack as only October’s NCHC Rookie of the Month Massimo Rizzo scored more than once. Denver’s 7 goals were scored by six different Pioneers – shockingly, none of them by Carter Savoie – in their most balanced offensive explosion of the season. It’s already the fourth time that DU has scored seven or more goals in a game.

Once again, though, ASU’s own offensive efforts kept Denver from putting the game away early. Though DU outshot ASU 12-7 in the first period, ASU came out to play in the second, owning the shot board 16-9 in the middle frame. But where DU goaltender Magnus Chrona has struggled at times this year, he stood strong in his crease, stopping all 23 first and second-period Sun Devil shots on goal while Denver cashed in three times against ASU goaltender Cole Brady.

The third period, though, was more of the same from Friday night. Any hope of an ASU comeback was dashed just 1:10 into the final period as Carter Mazur scored DU’s 4th straight goal. ASU did manage to respond to Denver’s fifth goal scored by Bobby Brink, but it was very clearly too little, too late, and with under six minutes left, ASU’s tempers once again got the better of them. Ty Murchison was given a 10-minute game misconduct for contact to the head, Jacob Wilson was given a rare 10-minute game disqualification for fighting, and Denver’s Bobby Brink was given a 10-minute game misconduct for roughing, really in retaliation for what ASU had started. Once everything was sorted out and players headed to their respective locker rooms, freshman Sean Behrens scored his first career goal and Rizzo scored his second of the night, both on the power play 18 seconds apart, to round out the 7-1 drubbing.

It was a dominant weekend for the Pioneers who face #1 Minnesota Duluth on the road next weekend. The shorthanded Bulldogs were swept by Northern Michigan in Marquette, MI and will no longer be the top-ranked team in the country tomorrow morning when this week’s polls are released. So while the Pios have now won six straight games, a streak that started with a sweep of a Western Michigan team that now tops the Pairwise Rankings (which don’t actually matter yet), they will be heading north to face a UMD team that will be ready to redeem themselves after a tough weekend. It’s unclear at the moment whether the Bulldogs, who were missing two of their top three defenseman, will have a fully healthy roster but November NCHC Goaltender of the Month Ryan Fanti is expected back on the ice after missing the Northern Michigan series due to Covid-19 protocols. It will be an important weekend in terms of confidence and in terms of very important early NCHC standings points. Right now, Denver sits in third place with 12 points and two games in hand on first-place North Dakota (18 points) and second-place Western Michigan (15 points).

Weekend Highlights: Game One

Game Two

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