Pioneers Ring in New Year with Tie In Second Game Against Alaska

If the #8 Denver Pioneers (12-5-1, 5-3-0 NCHC, 15 pts) ended 2021 on a high note with their 7-2 drubbing of the Alaska Fairbanks Nanooks (4-13-1, Ind.), they opened 2022 on a lower note, tying the visitors in the second game of the series at Magness Arena, 4-4. The Pioneers looked sloppy, disjointed, and out of rhythm for much of the game while the Nanooks looked energized and hungry for an upset and they very nearly got it.

A night ago, the Pioneers skated circles around the Nanooks as Cameron Wright netted a hat trick and Bobby Brink tallied four points. Tonight, Denver received another four-point performance, this time from senior Brett Stapley, but he didn’t receive the kind of support from teammates that led the Pioneers to victory on Friday night.

“That line was really good,” DU head coach David Carle said. “[Stapley] was possessing pucks, he was attacking. So was Devine. I thought [Ryan] Barrow was doing a lot of the dirty work for them. They were able to extend a lot of plays, get a lot of pucks to the net,  and were good five on five and on the power play. For me, that was our best line tonight, not even close.”

Like last night, Denver controlled play for most of the game, outshooting Alaska 47-21 and out-attempting them 84-33 but the difference was a combination of the Pioneers’ relative inability to sustain possessions long enough to find the open shooting lane and Alaska goalie Gustavs Grigals’ incredible hot streak over the second half of the game, stopping everything the Pioneers sent at him, even the shots that found twine a night ago.

Denver did open the scoring less than two minutes in and held a lead for most of the game, but Alaska never went away. After the opening goal, the Nanooks answered six minutes later on their first power play for their only power-play goal of the night. Reid Irwin restored DU’s lead with 34 seconds left in the first period but even that lead was short-lived as Connor Mylymok scored the first of his two goals less than three minutes into the second period. Denver’s best chance to pull away came early in the second, though, when they had a 5-on-3 power play for 34 seconds but could only come away with one goal off of sophomore defenseman Mike Benning’s stick. Freshman forward Jack Devine did give the Pioneers their only two-goal lead with his second goal of the season, but that lasted for only 25 seconds as Mylymok scored his second on a highlight-reel breakaway goal to close the gap back to one.

The Nanooks were to the Pioneers tonight what that one fly that found its way into the house and won’t go away was to you this summer. They just kept hanging around and kept the Pioneers from pulling away like they did last night and, in the third period, with just over five minutes left, Anton Rubtsov found an opening and he took it, sending the puck through DU goaltender Magnus Chrona who wants that shot back.

“I think we had some lapses in our game where we didn’t stick to our process,” DU captain Cole Guttman said. “When you don’t play a full 60 minutes against any team, they can put a couple in on you when we’re not consistent like that.”

Rubtsov’s goal was the last one scored in the game, though Devine nearly netted his second of the night in overtime, though it was ruled the puck was played with a high stick after Grigals made a sprawling save to deny the initial shot. Denver never lacked opportunities tonight but at times, they lacked effort, especially in the key moments of the game and that’s what led to the tie.

Only NCHC play remains on the schedule at this point for the Pios and to put it frankly, a better hockey team than Alaska would have beaten DU handily tonight. Nearly every team in the NCHC is a better team than the Nanooks and the Pios can ill afford another performance like tonight’s. This time, it’s a tie and they maintain their position at #2 in the Pairwise. Next time, it could be a loss that causes them to tumble down the NCHC standings and out of the top half.

“I think it needs to be [a wakeup call],” Carle said. “Winning is hard. Playing the right way is hard and it definitely gets harder from here with our schedule.”


Top photo courtesy of Denver Athletics

4 thoughts on “Pioneers Ring in New Year with Tie In Second Game Against Alaska”

  1. This was a trap game, and the Pios got lulled into it. UAF adjusted their effort level upward after getting blasted on Friday, but DU played down a notch with inconistent effort levels, especially those not on Stapley’s line. Neverless, the talent disparity did allow DU to get 47 shots on goal and scoring four times should have been enough to win with better goaltending.

    But, as it happened, Chrona let in a couple of soft goals last night, especially the last one with five minutes left, where he had an unobstructed view and just missed it.

    In my view, Matt Davis should have been in the DU net last night – last non conference game against a 4-13 UAF team that likely would have ensured a higher level of compete level from the rest of the Pios, who just did not have the same jump that they had on Friday night.

    And DU paid the price with a tie.

    You could also fault the DU PP going 1 for 7 – they generated plenty of possession and good looks but missing nets or firing straight into the UAF goalie was tough to watch.

    Good lesson game for the Pios on the effort level required.

    Hope Savoie and Rizzo are back soon, too. Those guys would have certainly been on the scoresheet…

  2. A tie at home against a 4-13 team? DU #2 in pairwise and UAF #44! This game was an embarrassment…

  3. Disappointing and dissatisfying way to start the new year. The effort/compete level was uneven, Chrona was subpar, special teams didn’t execute, and the Pios just didn’t seem to have that killer instinct to put UAF away. Combine all of those factors and we end up with
    a tie against a team DU should beat any day of the week. Definitely a frustrating evening. I’m sure there will be plenty of lessons to learn from this one.

    Having said that, I give a lot of credit to UAF. I didn’t see any of Friday night’s game, but the squad I saw last night worked hard, was feisty, was opportunistic offensively, showed perseverance, and overall played a very solid road game against a much more talented opponent.

    Pios need to buckle their chinstraps. A tough road trip to Omaha looms.

  4. Goaltending is DU’s Achilles heel this season. (Much like last year)

    At this point there is little than can be done other than to continue pouring pucks into the opponent’s net at a rate of at least 5/game.

    NCHC games will be a lot tougher.

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