Pioneers Stick a Pitchfork Into Sun Devils To Earn Weekend Sweep

In Game One against the Sun Devils on Friday, the Pioneers pelted ASU goaltender TJ Semptimphelter with 56 shots but only had three goals, including an odd game-winner that was batted in by the Sun Devils’ own Tim Lovell. The Pioneers just didn’t have any puck luck in on Friday. In Game Two on Saturday, though, that all changed as the #1 Denver Pioneers (12-4-0, 6-2-0 NCHC) throttled the Arizona State Sun Devils (8-9-0) 5-2 in the series finale at Magness Arena. For much of the game, Semptimphelter was nearly as excellent as he was a night ago but where pucks weren’t going in on Friday, they found twine on Saturday and the Pioneers forced him out of the game by the third period.

In a lot of ways, the Pioneers were one performance-of-a-lifetime away from two blowout victories over the Sun Devils. It’s just not often that a team records 56 shots on goal and only scores three times, especially for a team of the Pioneers’ caliber. But TJ Semptimphelter, arguably the biggest goaltending prize of the transfer portal ahead of the 2022-23 season, was a brick wall between the pipes for ASU and nearly stole the game for the visitors. But it’s important to consider the context of the weekend as a whole: Denver completely dominated the Sun Devils for all 120 minutes at Magness Arena this weekend.

“I think our puck movement was good, everyone was jelling well together,” Massimo Rizzo said of the weekend sweep. “We were getting pucks to the net. That was part of the plan. We ran into a hot goalie, but we still managed to get a few. As long as we get the two wins, that’s what’s important.”

The difference between the two games? Puck luck, maybe. Or maybe the Pioneers had finally just worn the Sun Devils’ defensive effort down far enough that pucks were eventually going to go in. Either way, as similar as the two games were, stylistically, they couldn’t have been more different in the final score.

“With the traffic we got in front of [Semptimphelter] tonight, we made it hard on him,” DU defenseman Sean Behrens said. “We took his eyes away and it led to more success for us in the offensive zone and it led to more pucks in the back of the net…I think we created the puck luck by getting traffic to the net and being there in the gritty areas.”

Saturday started similarly to Friday in that Denver pelted Semptimphelter with pucks but they weren’t finding twine. ASU’s goaltender was standing on his head again and it certainly seemed like the 5,510 strong at Magness Arena might have to suffer through another night of unbelievable goaltending from the sophomore transfer from Northeastern. Instead, though, freshman forward Jared Wright opened the scoring with just over three minutes to go in the first and 48 seconds later, Casey Dornbach scored on a wrister that Semptimphelter couldn’t fully stop and the Pioneers’ awful puck luck from a night ago was but a thing of the past.

“Freshmen are doing great,” Rizzo said. “We’re getting a couple games in them now so depth scoring is going to be big for us coming down the long run so it’s good to see other guys chipping in.”

The Pioneers pulled away at the end of the second period as Rizzo , extending his goal streak to three games which is a career-best, and Wright, scoring his second of the game, scored just 49 seconds apart in the closing minutes of the middle frame and the rout was on. They conceded two goals in the final period while Sean Behrens deflected home the Pios’ fifth goal of the night with this skate (another goal that ASU coach Greg Powers tried to challenge, but to no avail due to replay system technical difficulties) to finish off his third career three-point night and round out the night’s scoring.

“No, I was stopping,” Behrens said, with a laugh, when asked if he kicked the puck into the net. “I think my foot was at a good angle and I was stopping, so it ended up going in.”

For Denver, though, while the sweep and sixth straight victory over the Sun Devils is sweet, the results this weekend are not only important for Pairwise purposes – sweeping an independent team pays major dividends in the rankings – but the eye-popping shots on goal and shot attempts statistics, 99 and 168, respectively, throughout the weekend, are indicative of something else – growth and improved chemistry up and down the lineup. This is a team that needs depth scoring and production if they are going to achieve their goal of winning the program’s 10th national title in April. DU rolled all four lines in both games this weekend and three of them recorded goals this weekend – the checking fourth line was the only line without a goal.

To put it bluntly, this series, like last weekend’s, was a series that the Pioneers expected to sweep. Arizona State, to their credit, is a fast, skilled team but it’s also a group that lacks maturity and composure. When they fall behind, they tend to take boneheaded penalties and allow their opponents to take complete control of games. It happened in both games this weekend, including a five-minute major for cross-checking with two seconds left in the second period, and the Pioneers took full advantage. Though they didn’t live up to their expectation of sweeping Omaha last weekend (for what it’s worth, the Mavs swept Western Michigan this weekend), the bounceback sweep of the Sun Devils put the Pioneers right back on track heading into a big weekend in Duluth to take on Scott Sandelin’s UMD Bulldogs team that is underachieving this year but has always given the Pioneers fits.

A sweep of Arizona State does not a championship season make, but the way the Pioneers did it this weekend, with smothering offense, improved lineup chemistry, and dominant play, certainly bodes well for these Pios going forward.

David Carle Postgame


Top photo credit: Harrison Barden/Clarkson Creative Photography/Denver Athletics

2 thoughts on “Pioneers Stick a Pitchfork Into Sun Devils To Earn Weekend Sweep”

  1. Pioneers were quite workman-like this weekend, and ASU has basically become an NCHC opponent without the conference points, given how often DU plays these these guys! Time to ask them to join the NCHC, now that they have a new arena.

    Anytime you approach 100 shots on goal in a series, you should be sweeping, and the Pios got it done to what should solidify a #1 ranking and a move up to #3 in the PWR. These out of conference wins are really needed, given the NCHC is having a relatively poor year, by its high standards.

    Now, it’s off to UMD. The Bulldogs are having a down year so far, but their young talent is starting to mature at mid-season, and they will come into that game more confident after getting a shutout on Saturday night vs the CC Tigers, who had whipped them on Friday night.

    A few other thoughts:
    – DU’s offense is not quite as reliable or explosive as last year, but the defensive maturity of Benning, Buium, Behrens and Lee makes the Pios a top quality team when they skate hard.
    – Matty Davis was excellent in goal last night. I would play him a bit more often in the coming weeks, not only in the non-con games vs Lindenwood and UAF, but also vs Miami and UMD in league play.
    -Nice to see Rieger Lorenz in the lineup. You know your team is good when you have a second round draft pick on the fourth line…
    -Replace the replay system at Magness. It’s embarrassing that it doesn’t always work…

  2. I didn’t get a chance to see either of the games over the weekend, but I’m glad DU secured these two important non-conference wins.

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