Denver Hockey Road Trip Recap: Pioneers Earn Road Split With UMD Bulldogs

If you were told on Thursday that the #11 Denver Pioneers (11-5-0, 5-3-0, 15 pts) would come home from their trip north to Duluth to take on the #5 Minnesota Duluth Bulldogs (11-6-1, 4-3-1, 14 pts) with a split, odds are, you would have been satisfied. Coming into the weekend, the Pios had won six-straight games dating back to a sweep of now-#4 Western Michigan and were on a scoring tear. Their red-hot NCAA-best offense seemingly couldn’t miss. It helped that they played Miami and Arizona State after Western but the numbers couldn’t be ignored. They looked to keep the offense going on Friday night and boy, did they…

Game One: Denver Races Past University of Minnesota Duluth, 5-0

#11 Denver (11-4, 5-2) played the #5 Minnesota Duluth Bulldogs (10-6-1, 3-3-1) Friday night at Amsoil Arena. Denver wanted to flip the script as the Bulldogs owned an 8-2-1 record against Denver over the past three seasons. Denver cruised past UMD, 5-0, in their best performance to date.

Shai Buium scored an even-strength goal, assisted by captain Cole Guttman at 8:11 of the first period to start the scoring. Ten minutes later, coming out of a Bulldog powerplay, Cole Guttman scored on a beautiful shot through traffic to build a 2-0 advantage. Denver outshot the Bulldogs 11-6 and controlled the pace of play the entire first period.

The second period was more of the same. Mike Benning lifted a high laser into the net past Bulldog goalie Ryan Fanti for a 3-0 edge at 4:16. Three minutes later, the Pioneers countered again when Ryan Barrow took a pass from Brett Stapley after trapping the puck in the UMD end and slapped a shot past Fanti. Denver’s third goal of the period came ten minutes later when Mike Benning scored again with a 30-foot blast into the cage, 5-0, Denver. DU dominated faceoffs in the first two periods 23-12.

Denver employed a smothering forecheck in the third period, keeping UMD bottled up in their own zone. DU was also solid on the penalty kill all night, holding the Bulldogs scoreless on three powerplays. Magnus Chrona stopped a paltry 23 shots-on-goal to earn the shutout.

After the game, head coach David Carle said, “We were opportunistic. Proud of our effort on the road against a good hockey team. We haven’t had a lot of success against this team in this building. The opportunity (of a sweep) is in front of us.”

Game Two: Bulldogs Flip Script on Pioneers to Split Weekend Series & End DU’s 7-game Winning Streak

In the recap above, if you replace all of the DU mentions with UMD and Pioneers with Bulldogs, you’d have a pretty accurate account of what happened on Saturday night. Where Denver was opportunistic and strong on the puck on Friday, UMD was the same on Saturday. Where UMD was sloppy defensively and too passive through the neutral zone on Friday, DU was the same on Saturday. Despite the different score, Saturday night was almost the exact opposite game from Friday night.

The Bulldogs had a step on the Pioneers from the moment the puck dropped as they quickly skated to a 2-0 lead in the first five minutes. UMD dictated play and in many cases, though the effort level was high from the Pios, they were left to stand around and watch as the Bulldogs skated circles around them. The initial shock of the quick two goals eventually wore off and Denver fought their way back into the game but they couldn’t find the all-important next goal, which was scored by UMD’s Kobe Roth with about seven minutes left in the first period.

Denver staged a bit of a comeback in the second period and put a bit of nervousness into the Bulldog faitfhul scoring a goal and outshooting the home team 11-6 but November’s NCHC and national goaltender of the month Ryan Fanti almost singlehandedly kept the Pioneers from making it a game on the scoreboard. Cameron Wright did find twine a bit over halfway through the period off of a UMD turnover but that was all Fanti was going to give.

The game certainly wasn’t over by the time the teams took the ice to start the third period, but UMD clearly made some adjustments in the locker room as they restored their three-goal lead barely a minute into the period. DU responded with a goal of their own from Carter Mazur just 16 seconds later but it was clear the damage had been done and a DU comeback was not in the cards. Jesse Jacques scored his second of the night two minutes after Mazur’s marker and Roth sealed the deal with an empty-netter with three-and-a-half minutes left to finish the 6-2 game.

Denver ended up going 0/4 on the power play in the game and 0/8 on the weekend, though it clearly didn’t come in to play on Friday. For a unit that ranked second in the country at 30.7% at the beginning of the weekend, they underperformed mightily. They generated plenty of chances and great looks at Fanti, to be sure, but they weren’t able to finish and, in a game like Saturday’s, that made a huge difference.

A sweep would have been nice, no doubt, and it would have kept Denver at #1 in the always (un)important mid-December Pairwise Rankings, but after UMD lost three straight games and held a team meeting after Friday night’s shutout loss, it was going to take a downright herculean effort for the Pios to pull off the sweep. Sometimes, a loss happens and it has everything to do with the other team and nothing to do with your own team. That was the case on Saturday night. It most certainly was not the case during the four-game skid out east and in Grand Forks, but last night, UMD got all the bounces and played with the same kind of renewed vigor that DU themselves played with against Western Michigan.

In the big picture of the NCHC and NCAA, a road split with an elite UMD team is a good result and the Pios most certainly won’t be flying under the radar anymore this season after Friday night’s beatdown. DU is up to #4 in the Pairwise and should Denver continue playing the way they played this weekend for the rest of the season, they’re not going anywhere.


Friday Night

Saturday Night

One thought on “Denver Hockey Road Trip Recap: Pioneers Earn Road Split With UMD Bulldogs”

  1. Not at all surprised at the split, which is a very fair result, and kudos to the Pios for the convincing win on Friday.

    As for Saturday, the only thing that bugs me about the loss is the everyone knew UMD would come out hard to regain the pride that was lost on Friday.

    Even so, the Pios were not at all ready for it – really poor DU coverages in the d-zone on the first three UMD goals, and the game was out of reach in the first period. One would hope that the Pios would have been ready, but they were not…

    Anyway, if you would have told me DU would be #4 in the PWR at the the holiday break, I’d be thrilled.

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