The #2 Denver Pioneers (9-3-0, 5-1-0 NCHC) shouldn’t have swept the #12 North Dakota Fighting Hawks (4-5-1, 1-2-1 NCHC). To put it frankly, they shouldn’t have won on Friday night. With the travel saga that started with a canceled flight into Fargo due to a blizzard and ended with a nearly six-hour bus trip from Minneapolis to Grand Forks on Friday preventing a morning skate and normal pregame preparation, the Pioneers had all the chips stacked against them. No one would have held it against them if they didn’t come away with the victory in game one. Instead, the Pioneers faced the adversity and laughed their way into the win column this weekend.
Game One: Freshmen Duo Spur 3-2 Win in Grand Forks
Blizzard Alexandra visited the Grand Forks Region and Denver (8-3-0, 4-1-0) took a circuitous route to Ralph Engelstad Arena. The DU team flew to Minneapolis Thursday night after their flight to Fargo was canceled, followed by a six-hour bus ride to Grand Forks today. The Pioneers hit the ice in time for puck drop at 6:00 pm MT as scheduled to play the Fighting Hawks (4-4-2, 1-1-1).
DU’s sophomore Carter King started the scoring in the first period, 1-0 Pioneers. UND’s Griffin Ness countered with a goal at 17:01 to knot the score, 1-1. Both goals were even-strength despite five penalty calls during the period. Early in the second period, freshman Aidan Thompson got his first goal as a Pioneer to put Denver up 2-1. Just like the first period, the teams collected five more powerplays in the period, five each for the game with no shorthanded goals.
Starting the third period with UND on the powerplay, Chris Jandric scored for the Fighting Hawks in the first minute of the period to tie the game, 2-2. Exactly five minutes later, DU freshman Jared Wright scored his first collegiate goal, the game-winner, to put Denver up 3-2. The Pioneers shut down the Fighting Hawks until DU captain Justin Lee was pulled down by Riese Gabor behind the Denver cage with 2:53 remaining. Both players were sent to the box and UND pulled their goalie to go 5-on-4 for two minutes (and the rest of the game) but could never solve Magnus Chrona. Denver withheld the UND flurry with Chrona making several great saves for the win.
The victory marked DU’s first win at The Ralph since 2018. The rivals meet again Saturday at 5:00 pm MT. After departing the ice tonight with three points, Denver could finally go to their hotel and check in for a hard-earned rest.
Game One Highlights
— The NCHC (@TheNCHC) November 12, 2022
The last time the Denver Pioneers swept the North Dakota hockey team, Barack Obama was president, the WCHA not only existed but was thriving as a force in men’s college hockey, and the UND hockey team was still known as the Fighting Sioux. That year, George Gwozdecky’s Pioneers went to the frozen tundra of Grand Forks, North Dakota, and came away with 2-0 and 4-2 victories. Since then, the Pios have never earned more than one victory at The Ralph, and they’ve been swept themselves a few times, including last year. That was then. This is now. The #2 Pioneers (9-3-0, 5-1-0 NCHC) have finally erased that drought as they downed #12 North Dakota (4-5-2, 1-2-1 NCHC) 6-3 on Saturday night to break out the brooms in North Dakota and earn their second victory of the weekend.
Carter Mazur scored twice, the Pios scored twice on the power play, and the freshman duo of Aidan Thompson and Jared Wright each scored their second goals (Wright scored his third with an empty-netter) of the weekend to secure the victory. North Dakota started the game hot with a goal just seven seconds into the game. However, the Pioneers dominated play from that point and, aside from a few boneheaded mistakes and limited stretches of poor play, they did not let the Fighting Hawks do much of anything offensively, outshooting the hosts 33-24 in total and held a 14-3 gap in that stat after the first period.
To put it simply, Saturday night’s game was the most complete game the Pioneers have played through the first third of the 2022-23 season. North Dakota, for their part, put forth another in a stretch of poor efforts throughout their first 10 games but the Pioneers forced many mistakes and took full advantage of the Fighting Hawks’ miscues all night long, even if they didn’t show up on the scoreboard right away. For large stretches of the game, especially in the first and second periods, Denver hemmed North Dakota in their own zone and if it wasn’t for a commendable effort from goaltender Jakob Hellsten, the game would have gotten out of hand much earlier than it did.
In the end, though, Denver just simply proved to be too much for a clearly overmatched North Dakota team this weekend, even with all the travel difficulties. Even with the difficult schedule they’ve played to this point (ranked #5 nationally per College Hockey News’ KRACH), the Pioneers made an emphatic statement this weekend. There may not be a more difficult building to play in as a visiting team in college hockey and the Pioneers went into The Ralph and pushed the Fighting Hawks around on their own ice. Sure, it’s still only November but the Pioneers have put the rest of the college hockey world on notice – the defending national champions aren’t going anywhere.
— The NCHC (@TheNCHC) November 13, 2022
Top photo courtesy of Denver Athletics