Pioneers Get Revenge to Beat Bulldogs and Return to First Frozen Four Since 2019

LOVELAND, Colo. — Book those flights to Boston, Denver Hockey fans. The Pioneers are heading back to the Frozen Four for the first time since 2019.

As soon as Minnesota Duluth won the Frozen Faceoff in St. Paul last weekend, it felt like the Pioneers and Bulldogs were on a collision course to meet again in the NCAA Tournament. Whether it was going to be in the Regional Final or Frozen Four, the star-crossed rivals’ paths were always going to cross again. Fortunately for the sellout crowd at the Budweiser Events Center in Loveland, it took place in the Regional Final and they put on quite the show.

If UMD’s 2-0 Frozen Faceoff Semifinal victory over DU was the Bulldogs’ artistic masterpiece, the Loveland Regional Final was Denver’s. DU grad transfer forward Cameron Wright’s comments after the Pios’ victory over UMass-Lowell in the Regional Semifinal on Thursday night, which seemed a bit out-of-place and overly confident at the time, proved prophetic:

“We owe them. We’re going to come out fast and we’re going to get traffic in front of the goalie and we’re going to bat a couple in. We’re going to find a way to score on this guy and beat them.”

From the jump, the Pioneers channeled Wright’s Thursday night comments and punched the Bulldogs in the mouth. They dominated play, outshooting them 10-2 in the opening period. However, as was the case Thursday against UML, the Pioneers gave up the opening goal rather than scoring it. Darian Gotz scored his second goal of the season, both coming against the Pioneers, with just over five minutes remaining in the frame. With UMD goaltender Ryan Fanti in the midst of a three-plus game shutout streak, it certainly felt like that might have been the game-winning goal.

But the Pioneers didn’t go away. They didn’t stop relentlessly forechecking. And as Bobby Brink forced a Bulldog turnover to Fanti’s right, Cole Guttman skated into the slot where Brink found him with a pass and DU’s captain wired a wrister past Fanti, who could barely react. Tie game. Shutout streak over.

“Going into the game, we definitely wanted to get shots on [Fanti] early,” Guttman said. “I thought we had a really good [first] period all the way up until that but pucks just weren’t going in. I just wanted to throw it on net and it was nice to see it go through.”

The Pioneers were the better team for the full 60 minutes of the game and the hockey gods finally rewarded the Pioneers for their efforts with Guttman’s goal.

The turning point, however, came mid-way through the second period, with the game still tied at 1, the Pioneers took two consecutive penalties, the first of which, an Antti Tuomisto trip, was questionable while the second, a tripping call to Guttman, was obvious. The Bulldogs had 48 seconds of five-on-three hockey before 1:12 of additional power-play time. It was a fantastic opportunity for UMD to re-take the lead and potentially put the game away with how well Fanti had been playing, even despite Guttman’s goal.

Instead, the Pioneers penalty-killing unit, ranking among the bottom third in the country for most of the season, dug deep and killed off the penalties in dominant style. Goaltender Magnus Chrona made a few huge saves but it was DU’s skaters who took a page out of UMD’s book and kept the Bulldogs from gaining any foothold in the slot in front of Chrona.

“I liked our puck pressure,” DU head coach David Carle said of the penalty kill. “Over the last little bit here, we’ve solidified our PK forward pairs. There’s some consistency there which I think has helped the players a lot in reading off of one another and our puck pressure was excellent. You need some really big moments, especially on a five-on-three to get through them and the Webster block was unbelievable. Loved the kill all weekend long, it was real good for us and obviously the big man sitting here, [Chrona] was a big part of it too.”

But even with all the momentum gained from the penalty kill, the game was still tied and Fanti was still at his three-straight-shutouts best. Much to DU’s chagrin, Guttman’s goal didn’t faze him in the slightest. Throughout the remainder of the second period, he stopped even the most dangerous of DU chances, including multiple wide open, back door looks for DU’s top line and a golden breakaway look for Jack Devine. It took a weird bounce off of the boards behind UMD’s net and then off of Fanti to Savoie’s stick in the third period, a period once again dominated by the Pioneers, to finally break through again and beat Fanti for the second time and send the sold-out Budweiser Events Center crowd into a frenzy.

“I mean, lucky bounce, it obviously hit [Fanti] in the back, just right place, right time,” Savoie said. “It was a goal of ours to have a good net front tonight. I think we did a really good job throughout the game. [Fanti] made some really good saves and then obviously, we got that really fortunate bounce lat in the third there. I saw it bounce off the glass, hit him the back of the leg, and it was just sitting there and got a little touch on it.”

The Pios were the better team at five-on-five, their strength all year long, and they rode that to victory on Saturday afternoon in what might have been the best-ever atmosphere for a DU game.

“It’s very fitting,” Carle said of winning the Regional Final in Loveland. “The guys spoke to the crowd, it was exceptional. We’ve played in a lot of empty buildings in our time in NCAA regionals, being that we have to travel so much so to be the host, I commend the staff here, our administration for being committed to having NCAA ice hockey in the state of Colorado. It’s a great hockey community, it’s a great hockey state. We’re proud to wear Denver on our jersey and represent it.”

For the Pioneers, though, while it may not have been a full-on exorcism of demons that had plagued them against UMD – after all, they did beat them twice this season in dominant fashion – but it certainly had the feel of cathartic revenge. They played with a sense of motivation that wasn’t present in St. Paul last weekend and it led them back to the Frozen Four, which will be their second one in Boston. Of course, that city means a whole heck of a lot to Denver Hockey.

“There’s a lot of history in our program and we obviously talk about it a lot,” Carle said. “That [2004] team, obviously a tragic incident with [Keith Magnuson] passing during that season and the guys were honoring him that year. It was an odd year. I don’t think the team had a home conference win until February. It was not an easy season and it was a team that came together at the end of the year…I remember being a little pissed because I wasn’t allowed to go to Boston and watch my brother play so I didn’t get to go in ’04 so it’s all the better to be going now in 2022.”

It’s hard not to think of the symmetry between the 2004 and 2022 teams. 2004, of course, was the last time the Pioneers played an NCAA Tournament game in the state of Colorado. Yes, the 2022 team was much more dominant in the regular season and hosted the regional as the #1 seed rather than the #2 seed that they were in 2004, but winning two dramatic, hard-fought, low-scoring games against teams that wanted to push DU around on their way to their first national championship in 35 years, at the then-called Fleet Center (now TD Garden) in Boston, it’s rather easy to start daydreaming about what may happen in just under two weeks.

The Pioneers now await their opponent – they play the winner of tomorrow’s Allentown Regional Final between Michigan and Quinnipiac – for the National Semifinal on April 7th. It was an absolutely electric weekend of hockey in Loveland and it was a great national showcase of what hockey in Colorado is and can be. Now, the Pios get to take that energy and momentum provided by the better than 8,000 fans that entered the Budweiser Events Center to Boston.


Top photo: Justin Tafoya/Clarkson Creative via NCAA Photos

15 thoughts on “Pioneers Get Revenge to Beat Bulldogs and Return to First Frozen Four Since 2019”

  1. Excellent game, stellar crowd, amazing achievement by a hard working team. To Boston!! Go Pios!!

  2. I was living in Genesee and went to Boston for the 04 game. I will never, never forget that 6 Maine skaters vs. 3 Pios for an almost 2 full minutes in last minutes of 3rd Adam Berkhoel (sp) stood on his head. great save after great save. No sporting event I have ever seen can compare.
    Then on to Columbus for another great 05 win.

    Now I live in Boston area and can’t wait. D.G.,Tom, Peter see you there.
    There’s no pool like we had in the Tampa rental but the Boston bars are great. First rounds on me. . John

  3. Hell yes! Amazing work!
    Had to work today but watching some replays and the atmosphere seemed top notch! I’m from Northern Colorado so I’m glad fans came though I’m not surprised given the sustained minor league teams success.

    Go get it done in Boston, boys!
    Go Pios!

  4. What a fantastic DU effort and what an electric atmosphere for a hockey game! Kudos to DU for hosting in Loveland and look forward to being there for the 2026 regional in four years!

    A few thoughts:

    – THE EFFORT: This DU team played a complete game and were full value for the win. They created many good chances and skated hard on every shift for 60 minutes. This was, even though they only scored two, their best performance this year against a great, valliant opponent in UMD. DU skated, they hit, they scored big goals and came from behind against the very best goalie in the country in Fanti. You can have Devon Levi (Northeasatern), Dryden MacKay (MSUM) and Yaneev Perets (Quinnipiac) who are all Hobey candidates/Richter awarded candidates, but none of those three would be good enough to have Fanti’s stats if they played in the NCHC, facing so much NHL-bound talent.

    – THE ATMOSPHERE: The 2004 regional final in Colorado Springs had maybe 500-750 DU fans and we were loud only when Max Bull and Luke Fulghum teamed up to score the only goal of the game to topple a great UND team. This year, we had 4,000+ DU fans in the house, and was helped along by some very knowledgeable and rabid AHL fans from the Loveland area who may rarely attend DU games due to the distance factor, adopting DU as their home team. These AHL fans watch 40+ home games per year and they know how to lift up a team. Unlike Magness, where many fans are upscale (and maybe go to 10 games a year, and are more often worried about spilling their cabernet and watching their smart phones than cheering on a great PK clear or 3-on-2 rush). This Loveland crowd added a vociferous, blue-collar element and it made a real difference in the outcome of the game.

    Also, credit Damien Goddard (and his crew) for passing out hundreds of Boone posters that added a tangible visual DU spirit element the crowd. He does more for DU spirit than any fan, and it made for a great backdrop in the rink and on TV!

    Very excited to be going back to Boston!

  5. Wow, what a game, and a great environment. I thought Loveland might be a dud, but it certainly was not. What a kill in the 5 on 3. What a way to start the game. What a good goalie to beat. And what a great reason for me to return to Boston for first time since 2004–the original place of magic for the modern day DU hockey era.

  6. Incredible environment and Denver hockey really came through when it counted. Budweiser Center is the real deal and having DU’s home announce there was a big plus along with Damien Goddard’s to support a great gameday atmosphere. DU hosting an NCAA regional hockey tournament needs to happen on a regular basis – people are starved for college playoff hockey. And, of course, Loveland knows how to host a tournament. That game was a heart-stopper.

  7. Best DU hockey experience since the championship win in Chicago. Congratulations to DC and the entire team for what I believe was the best coached and played game this season!

    Can’t wait for Boston and another championship performance.
    Ahhh… make that two more championship performances!

  8. That. Was. Fun.

    Team was incredible. Atmosphere was electric. DU needs to schedule a game in Loveland every season to bolster support throughout the state. Maybe against Air Force?

  9. Sandelin went to hockey’s version of he rope-a-dope one too many times 😉 Carle and company had the boys ready to play. DU came out of the firing on all cylinders. Thanks DG for what you do! Why no Boone yesterday?

  10. Damn, that was fun!!!!

    What a game, what a performance by this DU team. The Pios were clearly the better team yesterday, and were it not for Fanti, DU could have won 4-1 or 5-1. Everyone had their legs going, there was certainly no slow start, Pios had a solid forecheck for most of the contest, the PK came through, Pios won a lot of key draws, they battled hard in the corners and won a lot of puck battles, were effectively physical, and Chrona made the key saves when he needed to. It was all there. A very complete game against a very tough Duluth team. If the Pios can put together another two games like that, they should be hoisting a 9th national championship trophy.

    The big guns came through in Loveland. Guttman, Savioe, Stapley, and Brink were on the score sheet. That’s important–the best players need to play their best this time of year. But honestly, everyone was terrific yesterday, and they are all worth mentioning: Rizzo, Mazur, Webster, Barrow, Lee, Mayhew, Benning, King, Devine, Behrens, Wright, Tuomisto, and Buium. And Owen Ozar, who I hadn’t remembered seeing in a while, chipped in with energy and a few scoring chances. I was a bit surprised to not see Caponi in either game, but Ozar did a nice job.

    Speaking of Loveland, I’ll reiterate what others have said: great venue, and a great atmosphere! I had never seen a game there prior to Thursday, and the intimate setting with a lot of rowdy and knowledgeable fans made for a great experience. I think I need to check out some Eagles’ games in the future.

    2 down, 2 to go.

  11. Shout-out to Chrona. I’m still not sure what happened on that first goal. But after that, he played really well. There weren’t a ton of shots on his goal, but he made some really big saves and stood his ground. And to give up just 3 goals combined in a regional is great is excellent.

    1. Well, I wrote great and excellent. I can’t edit it. So if I have to choose one, I will go with excellent. Anyone else hoping we get to play Michigan?

    2. Good points on Chrona. UMD’s goal was an odd one. I couldn’t tell if Chrona was screened a bit, if there was a subtle redirect, or if he just missed it. Regardless, aside from that play, he seemed to be in complete control. He was well-positioned all game long, controlled rebounds, and looked calm and collected. He deserves a lot of credit.

      One other thing that stood out to me yesterday was after the game, Carle and Sandelin appeared to share several words and an embrace or two. It seems clear there is a lot of mutual respect between the coaches and these two programs. I thought that was really cool. Obviously Sandelin is an elite coach, one of the best in the country, and beating UMD is never an easy task, especially in the postseason.

  12. No question about Sandelin. He is a great college hockey coach. I would love to see the NHL pouch him out of our way.

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