Denver Hockey Road Trip Recap: Pioneers Swept on First Road Trip for Second-Straight Season

In what is either a bad omen for the rest of the season or a sign of another national championship season, depending on your perspective, the #1 Denver Pioneers (2-2-0, 0-0-0 NCHC) were swept at the hands of the #13 UMass-Amherst Minutemen (2-0-1, 0-0-0 Hockey East) by scores of 4-2 and 3-0 at Mullins Center in Amherst, MA. The sweep marks the second consecutive season that the Pios traveled to the northeast and returned to the Mile High City without a win. Last year, during the third weekend of the season, the 4-0-0 Pios played Providence and Boston College and lost 6-5 and 5-1, respectively, en route to the program’s ninth national championship.

Game One: Denver Drops Weird Series-Opening Game to UMass-Amherst

Normally, when you outshoot the opposition 47-15, you’re going to win in blowout fashion. Normally. But when that opposition scores on three of their first six shots – the total number of shots they recorded in the first period – including two shorthanded markers, ‘normal’ gets thrown out the window. And that’s exactly what happened in the series opener. During a five-minute major power play for the Pios due to Minutemen captain Cal Kiefiuk’s hitting from behind game misconduct, Kenny Connors and Scott Morrow scored shorthanded goals just 1:18 apart while the Pioneers couldn’t find a way to solve goaltender Luke Pavicich, which was a key theme for the weekend. Tyson Dyck finished the Minutemen’s 50% first-period shooting clinic at the 12:33 mark of the opening period and the Pios had quite the hole to dig out of.

Unfortunately for DU, they didn’t have a big enough shovel or enough time to make it happen. Special teams continued to struggle as Reed Lebster scored a PPG less than three minutes into the second period to extend the UMass-Amherst lead to 4-0. DU outshot UMA 12-8 in the middle frame but again could not find the back of the net.

The Pioneers finally broke through in the third period but trailing 4-0, it was unfortunately too little, too late. Carter Mazur (PPG) and Shai Buium each scored an extra attacker goal in the final seven minutes while the Pioneers outshot the Minutemen 22-1 in the final 20. That third period should have been a positive sign for a team looking to right the ship in game two, but alas, the Pios haven’t found a way to exorcise their October road trip demons.

Game Two: Luke Pavicich Shines Again for UMass-Amherst, Blanking the Pioneers to Secure Sweep

The Pavicich theme from Game One reached new heights in Game Two. The Pioneers didn’t outshoot the Minutemen 47-15 this time around but they still generated enough looks and offense that you’d expect a team like the Pios to scratch and claw to a hard-fought, close victory. Instead, Pavicich stopped all 30 shots sent his way and prevented the normally opportunistic Pioneers from capitalizing on any mistake with elite rebound control. The players that DU needs to produce the offense gave themselves plenty of chances as Carter Mazur (3), Massimo Rizzo (5), and Jack Devine (4) combined for 12 of the Pios’ shots on goal. The reality of this sport is sometimes, you just run into a hot goaltender.

Instead of the Pioneers being the opportunistic ones, it was the Minutemen who capitalized on their chances. Just 37 seconds into the game, Scott Morrow sent a puck from the half-wall toward the net and missed wide. It was a shot that otherwise wouldn’t have been a big deal except on the rebound off of the side of the net, as DU goaltender Magnus Chrona was getting back into position and trying to find the puck, he made contact with it with his skate and deflected it into his own net. It was a terrible bounce full of unfortunate luck and allowed the Minutemen to score on their first shot for the second straight game. Once again, a tough sequence in the first period set the tone for the rest of the game and it followed suit.

Over the course of the rest of the game, the Pios went 0-2 on their two power plays while Pavicich again kept the crimson & gold at bay. Cal Kiefiuk, UMass-Amherst’s captain whose game ended less than 40 seconds into game one due to his hitting from behind game misconduct, sealed the 3-0 shutout with a 185-foot empty-net goal with under two minutes left.

It was a tough weekend for a young team with a number of newcomers on the roster. For all the razzing we do of the UMass-Amherst fanbase, there’s no questioning their passion and love for their program and it came through both nights. They made Mullins Center an extremely hostile place for the Pioneers to play over the weekend and the Minutemen themselves gave Denver their first real taste of what it’s like to have the defending-champions target on their backs with two excellent defensive performances.

The path doesn’t get any easier for DU now, though, as a veteran Hockey East contender comes to Denver in Providence for the Pios’ Homecoming Weekend. But, at the very least, it will be a full house both nights and the Pios will be celebrating their 9th championship on Saturday with the banner-raising ceremony before the game (get there early!) so the emotion and crowd will be buzzing in Denver’s favor.

This was a weekend, though, that could very well pay dividends down the line for a young Pioneers team full of newcomers but in this moment, now, on October 16th, just four games into a 36-game regular season, looking at the 2-2 defending champions doesn’t feel great. But just like last year’s team that lost all of its first four road games, these are important lessons and experiences that will help force the Pioneers to show the college hockey world what they’re made of.

But hey, if losing a couple of mostly meaningless October road games is becoming part of the national championship Proscess, well, that’s just fine and it’s worth trusting.

What were your thoughts on the weekend? What did you see from the Pios this weekend that either worries you or gives you hope for the season? Before you comment, though, remember that it’s October 16th and the Pios have played four (4) games. Also, as always, please keep it respectful.

Top photo courtesy Thom Kendall for UMass Athletics

7 thoughts on “Denver Hockey Road Trip Recap: Pioneers Swept on First Road Trip for Second-Straight Season”

  1. Painful weekend but…. hey….. it happens. Watched the festivities on ESPN+ for $9.99/mo. Just wondering if DU has any future games scheduled on ESPN+? Anybody know? If they don’t I’ll be canceling this nightmare asap. It was SO worth it (not). Thank you Nick for the great article you always do a great job.

  2. Unacceptable. There is a well-worn old adage that says that failure is a better teacher than success, and let’s hope that the Pios can reap future value in the many lessons imparted by last weekend’s debacle in Amherst, Mass.

    No question that the road trip was a hard-and-swift kick delivered squarely into the nuts of the DU program. UMass-Amherst was in position to cash in on its opportunities all weekend, and earned those two wins, as good programs do.

    Despite the obvious (and multiple) DU special teams calamities and periodic intensity of effort outages we Pio fans witnessed this past weekend, my concern is that we may also be witnessing a bigger picture reality that I’ve posted on before that goes beyond just running into hot goalies or early season puck management issues.

    Specifically, this program is trying to replace about 65% of the offensive output from last year’s team that was lost to graduation and pro signings. Sometimes, that offense can be reloaded and replaced right away (as DU did last year), or sometimes it takes a while for the new guys to produce consistently and sometimes, it just isn’t ever replaced, and a team then has to win with a better defensive effort (or they don’t win at all).

    We don’t know the full answer right now, and we’ll need a larger sample size of games to determine the overall offensive efficacy of the DU lineup, but right now, it’s a clearly work in progress that is being hampered by poor special teams play.

    This past weekend’s debacle in Amherst will provide the DU coaching staff with a good 5 hours of video that will be crucial teaching tools for serious improvement.

    We hope to see the fruits of that study reflected in a better performance against Providence…

  3. The big missing piece is Bobby Brink. He was the key offensive player last year and had another year eligible but went for the bucks. My guess is he would have done better long range for his total lifetime of hockey if he stayed, got the Hobey, and led us to another championship but that’s just my opinion. He is as good handling the puck and passing it as any one I have ever seen He was the difference maker last year. Now we need time to regroup our offense with the impressive newcomers we have. It will take time but will happen. Remember we lost at a similar time last year back east to Providence.

  4. My acute dislike of UMass notwithstanding, I’m not going to get too worked up over this weekend’s result. It’s definitely a disappointment and a setback, but it’s still very early in the season, and UMass is a quality opponent. Let’s not forget what happened early last season–DU came out of the gates 4-0 and then lost in consecutive nights to Providence and BC and then went to Grand Forks and was swept there. Pios dropped to 4-4 and there were suddenly questions and concerns. We all know what happened the rest of the way.

    I didn’t see either game this weekend, so it’s impossible to make any educated comments on the effort level, but what jumped out to me were the following:

    1. DU gave up 2 SHGs within minutes of each other in game 1. I don’t know if that’s concerning as much as it’s completely bizarre.
    2. DU outshot UMass 47-15 in game 1 and lost. Again, very odd.
    3. DU was shutout last night. They were only shutout once last season, and that happened against Duluth in the NCHC tournament.
    4. I think Chrona gave up 3 goals on 3 shots in period 1 of game 1. Also bizarre.

    I’m sure there will be some valuable lessons learned after this weekend’s setback. Bottom line…..DU is 4 games into a 36-game regular season schedule. It’s very very early. I expect the Pios to come out flying against Providence.

  5. First, thank you and your colleagues for your efforts to provide Meaningful perspective to DU Sports scene- well written. Keep churning out the good stuff!!

    Ok, now for some feedback:

    1) Completely agree with perspective of Soviet era campus architecture !! Just a 1/4 mile away is Amherst College – lovely campus.
    2) Lived in Boston area for 30 years -now Denver. BC & BU have always been the elite teams – now its UMass, UMass Lowell, and Quinnipac (sp?) in Conn.
    3) So much for the “ bulletin board” motivation
    4) So much for the credibility & reliability of pre-season rankings!
    5) In the meantime, Men’s soccer is having an impressive season – more insight please.
    6) CU and CSU football programs – need I say more about how lucky we are?

    Thx again!

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