Pioneers Make Fast Start Hold Up to Earn Weekend Split & Four Points vs Huskies

Normally, scoring two goals in the first three minutes of a game is a harbinger of a big offensive night, one where you expect to score five or six or even more goals. But sometimes, especially in the NCHC, two early goals wakes up the opposition and they begin to battle back. Tonight, in game two of the series between the #2 Denver Pioneers (7-3-0, 3-1-0 NCHC) and the #4 St. Cloud State Huskies (8-2-0, 1-1-0 NCHC), the two goals ended up waking the Huskies up and the Pioneers had to battle to hold on and earn the 3-2 victory in front of 6,219 fans at Magness Arena.

Casey Dornbach and Jack Devine got the festivities started early for the Pioneers, each scoring a goal within the first 2:37. Dornbach cleaned up the rebound on a Massimo Rizzo shot while Devine tipped a Justin Lee shot from the point past Huskies goaltender Dominic Basse to double the Pios’ early lead. St. Cloud State used its timeout immediately but it certainly felt like DU was about to unleash their offense and have one of their trademark scoring clinics. Instead, the timeout worked wonders for the Huskies and the crowd at Magness Arena settled in for a defensive struggle and goaltending battle the rest of the way.

“I think they’re a really good team,” Devine said of St. Cloud State and their effort to slow DU down. “After last night, we really wanted to come out strong and I thought we did that tonight. Credit to them, they bounced back and they had a strong goalie.”

DU goaltender Magnus Chrona, for his part, had to be every bit the elite goaltender he is, making highlight reel save after highlight reel save over the second and third periods to maintain the lead. Unfortunately, the Huskies also have a potent offense and Jami Krannila, the night’s villain in the eyes of the crimson and gold, cut the DU lead in half on the power play eight minutes into the middle frame. Chrona made the initial few saves in the sequence but eventually, the Huskies found Krannila all alone in the right circle and he one-timed home the Huskies’ first goal.

Krannila’s fireworks were just getting started, though. In the second half of the second period, DU defenseman Sean Behrens retreated back below Denver’s goal line to retrieve the puck and as he reached it, Krannila checked him dangerously hard from behind into the boards and the sophomore defenseman had to leave the game with an upper-body injury. After the game, head coach David Carle said Behrens was taken from Magness Arena to the hospital for further evaluation on a precautionary basis. Meanwhile, on the ice, Krannila was issued a five-minute major and game misconduct for his hit – but the Pioneers couldn’t strike to put the game out of reach. Basse was strong in St. Cloud’s crease and the Huskies’ penalty killing unit did an excellent job getting in passing and shooting lanes.

“It wasn’t great. You obviously want to get one on those five minutes,” Pioneers’ alternate captain Kyle Mayhew said. “But I think the next five minutes that followed, I don’t think they got it out of their zone for four or five minutes so we felt how big of a momentum shift that was and it really carried us for the rest of the game.”

With Behrens out, Mayhew had to step up in the sophomore wunderkind’s absence and did he ever early in the third period. During Adam Ingram’s tripping minor, Mayhew called for the puck above the left circle after a scrum in Basse’s crease and one-timed the puck into the top right corner to regain DU’s two-goal lead. Later in the period, Grant Cruikshank scored a PPG of his own to reduce DU’s lead back down to one but Chrona’s heroics made Mayhew’s goal stand up and the Pioneers survived to earn the weekend NCHC split and four huge points in the conference standings.

“I’m usually not out there for [power plays], unfortunately ‘Behry’ went down so I had to step in a little bit there,” Mayhew said. “It was a crazy scrum in front of the net and I think [Carter King] made a really nice play out to me, I had an open cage, and I’m usually not known for burying [it] but found a way.”

It should have been a game full of offensive fireworks and and exploding Magness Arena crowd. Instead, the Huskies found their game and the crowd was treated to a heart-pounding, emotional, hard-fought DU victory to cap an entertaining top-five battle between two national contenders. It wasn’t a perfect weekend for the Pios by any means. They weren’t able to finish on many of their numerous chances, they struggled to put the Huskies away multiple times on Friday, and the penalty-killing unit gave up two goals in five chances tonight. But even to the naked eye, it’s clear that the Pioneers are improving in every facet with every game and the debut of freshman forward Aidan Thompson gives them the weapon they sorely needed at the faceoff dot (he went 11-2 tonight).

DU hasn’t shied away from their difficult early schedule – currently ranked the second-toughest in the country – and it’s going to pay dividends both in the standings/pairwise and in terms of resilience come February and March. But it doesn’t get any easier from here – a mid-November trip to Grand Forks to take on the Fighting Hawks in the great white north is up next.

David Carle Postgame


Top photo credit: Jamie Schwaberow/Clarkson Creative Photography via the NCHC

6 thoughts on “Pioneers Make Fast Start Hold Up to Earn Weekend Split & Four Points vs Huskies”

  1. Random thoughts on a hard-fought split with SCSU:

    -DU came out harder in the first and that was the difference. I’ve never understood why good teams like DU often start so slowly at home, but this fast start was great to see.

    -Aidan Thompson is really good at face-offs. The Pios needed his debut this weekend and will need his skills all year.

    -Hope Behrens is okay after that hit to the head. Hate to see that happen to anyone.

    -Speaking of Behrens’ hit, Krannila’s game misconduct for the hit may have been crucial to the game outcome, as he is a certified Pio-killer over the years (along with Cruickshank)

    -Former CC (and current SCSU) goalie Dominic Basse must have nightmares about the Pios. I don’t have his career stats against DU, but my guess is they are abysmal…

    – SCSU is really good this year. They have talent, balance and are well coached. They look like a team that will be a factor in the top 5 nationally if they play to their capabilities.

  2. There was nothing easy this weekend. DU had to earn it. Give the Huskies credit–they were very impressive and certainly worthy of a top-5 ranking. It was a very entertaining two games, and the fans were treated to an intense, hard-fought, playoff-like series between two elite teams. The only fly in the ointment was the high hit that Behrens took on Saturday. That was a reckless hit and disappointing to witness. I hope Behrens is ok.

    Although there were some anxious moments towards the end of Saturday’s game, I was really happy DU closed it out. By earning that win in regulation, I thought the team took an important step forward after Friday’s disappointment.

    With a trip to Grand Forks this weekend, things don’t get any easier for DU. This schedule, at least in the early going, is an absolute meatgrinder. Pios are getting battle-tested for sure.

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