Pioneers’ Depth Shines Brighter than Irish Helmets as Denver Tops Notre Dame in Season Opener

The result was never in doubt, but the top-ranked Denver Pioneers (1-0-0, 0-0-0 NCHC) made the crimson & gold-clad fans sweat a bit in the third period as they skated to a 5-2 victory over #11 Notre Dame (0-1-0, 0-0-0 Big Ten). Four different Pioneers scored and 11 different Pios recorded a point. Depth was their calling card a year ago en route to the program’s ninth national title and, in one of the weekend’s marquee matchups between two national contenders, the Pioneers leaned on it once again.

Harvard transfer Casey Dornbach, skating on the top line with Carter Mazur and Massimo Rizzo, led the way for the hosts, bookending the game with the first and last goals, the latter coming with an empty Irish net. The top line combined for four points and three goals but it was the play of all four lines, especially from Owen Ozar on the fourth line, that made the biggest difference against an elite defensive team.

For as big as the Pios’ scoring depth was tonight, it was their play in their own end, especially through the first two periods, that kept the Irish at bay and prevented them from making it a competitive game. By the end of the second period, the Pioneers had limited Notre Dame to just six shots on goal and 23 total shot attempts. In the same span, Denver recorded 21 and 45, respectively. In all respects, except for on the scoreboard, the Pioneers were putting on an absolute hockey clinic at the expense of the nation’s 11th-ranked team.

But, again, Notre Dame, coached by Jeff Jackson, is known for their responsible defense, and for much of the first two periods, they kept the Pioneers from generating much in front of goaltender Ryan Bischel. It was fitting, then, on DU’s first power play of the night, Dornbach’s goal ended up as something of a fluke as Shai Buium’s screened shot from the point found its way through Bischel and hit the post before Dornbach slammed home the rebound.

By the end of the second period, Denver had a 3-1 lead with additional goals coming from Jack Devine on a power play and Carter Mazur with 40 seconds left and it felt like the Pioneers had the game wrapped up and put to bed with 20 minutes remaining. Notre Dame wouldn’t go away, though, scoring first in the third period, reducing the Pios’ lead to one and making the 5,859 fans at Magness Arena sweat. DU then had to kill off two big penalties just a few minutes apart to maintain the lead.

With under four minutes left, though, Ozar once again gave the Pioneers the spark they needed to restore the two-goal lead and put the game away. The fourth-line winger found the puck along the boards and led a two-on-one rush before finding McKade Webster in the slot where he was able to tap home the Pios’ dagger. It might be Webster’s easiest goal of the season, but it couldn’t have come at a better time in this young season.

For the Pioneers, though, even though it’s October, this victory is going to pay major dividends come March as this is their only Big 10 opponent this year and Notre Dame will no doubt be a national contender all season long. Every victory counts but for a team with record-breaking national title aspirations, some are more valuable than others and in nonconference play, it’s difficult to overstate the importance of this win.

Plus, thanks to this victory, they will be playing for the coveted Ice Breaker championship tomorrow night against Maine, who dispatched Air Force 4-1 in Colorado Springs tonight.

David Carle Postgame


Top photo courtesy Justin Tafoya/Clarkson Creative Photography via Denver Athletics

3 thoughts on “Pioneers’ Depth Shines Brighter than Irish Helmets as Denver Tops Notre Dame in Season Opener”

  1. Excellent first win for the Pios, who were the better team for 50 of the 60 minutes last night. I really like the new earlier practice rules, which allow teams to build some actual chemistry before the first weekend, and the 6,000 fans saw a much better early season product on the ice vs. prior years.

    Offensive depth, experienced and uber-talented defensemen, great team speed, special teams play and good goaltending — this DU team has it all, and they also have some character, too.

    Most of the DU newcomers looked like seasoned vets for the most part, which bodes well for the season. I especially liked Dornbach for his puck skills and experience, and Lorenz for his passing touch.

    After DU stymied the Irish for the first two periods with depth and speed, Notre Dame bucked up made its charge in the beginning of the third period, dominating the first ten minutes of the frame and keeping the Pios hemmed in, but Denver really responded to dominate the final 10 minutes to put the Irish away, statement style.

    ND tried to play the body all night and used its size advantage to try and get the edge on DU, but the Pios stayed disciplined for the most part. ND also had a big face-off advantage (which is an area that I am sure DU will be working on in the coming weeks).

    Overall, though, an excellent first night for the Pios!

  2. Losing faceoffs seems to have become a trademark for DU teams. It worked last year…here’s hoping it does again this season.

  3. Great win against a high quality opponent and a fantastic way to start the season. DU was clearly the better team and looked good in all phases. DU’s depth was fully on display–it was great to see that 4th line rolling and producing some points. Ozar’s assist on the 4th goal was a thing of beauty. It was also great to see Dornbach get his first points as a Pioneer. He looks to be a terrific addition to the team. I also really liked DU’s transition game and play in the corners and along the boards. DU won a lot of puck battles.

    DU’s struggles with faceoffs was interesting. I kept looking up at the scoreboard and being surprised by the disadvantage, but it really didn’t seem to have much impact on the game. Pios managed the puck well despite the shortfall in that category.

    The student section was buzzing. A lot of fun on Friday night.

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