Winning in the NCHC, especially on the road, is an extremely hard thing to do, regardless of the opponent. Add in the fact that Duluth, Minnesota has historically been a difficult place to play and you have what could have been a rough weekend for the top-ranked Denver Pioneers (14-4-0, 8-2-0 NCHC). Instead, thanks to two gritty efforts, Denver erased a two-goal deficit on Friday night to earn a 3-2 overtime victory and come back from two separate one-goal deficits on Saturday to earn their second-straight overtime victory over the Minnesota Duluth Bulldogs (8-10-0, 4-6-0 NCHC) at AMSOIL Arena.
The #1 Denver Pioneers (13-4-0, 7-2-0 NCHC) traveled to Duluth, Minnesota, a city where they have not played particularly well historically, and promptly spotted the Minnesota Duluth Bulldogs (8-9-0, 4-5-0 NCHC) a 2-0 lead. Dominic James and Ben Steeves each scored on Sean Behrens’ two first-period penalties – holding then tripping – to give the PK unit an inauspicious start to the weekend. But Massimo Rizzo responded with under two minutes left in the opening frame with a power-play goal of his own off of a beauty of a pass from goaltender Magnus Chrona to cut the deficit to one entering the first intermission.
From there, the Pioneers played quintessential Pioneer hockey. They were tough to play against, the defense activated when it needed to, and Chrona settled in nicely, turning away all 14 shots he saw after the first period. It was early in the third period, though, when Jack Devine found Carter Mazur on a perfect back-door pass through the slot in transition to tie the game at two. Mazur had been in the midst of a rare four-game goal-less streak so it was helpful for the DU star forward to get off the schneid, so to speak, and find the back of the net at a key moment.
After Mazur’s goal, it appeared that the Bulldogs had pulled back ahead but thanks to the heroics of Travis Culhane, the same Director of Hockey Operations who implored David Carle to challenge the game-winning goal call against Arizona State a week ago, saw goaltender interference. He got Carle’s attention, the head coach challenged, and, well, you know how this goes. No goal. Tie game. Overtime.
Tristan Broz was the one on Friday who called game for the Pioneers with a perfect wrister from the slot after Mike Benning forced a UMD turnover at the DU blue line. 3-2 final. Pioneers win. Two more important points in the NCHC standings to remain in first place, one point ahead of St. Cloud State.
— The NCHC (@TheNCHC) December 10, 2022
It was another extremely close road game for the #1 Denver Pioneers (14-4-0, 8-2-0 NCHC) but thanks to a highlight-reel save from Magnus Chrona and freshman Aidan Thompson’s overtime goal, they earned their second straight overtime victory over the Minnesota Duluth Bulldogs (8-10-0, 4-6-0 NCHC) with a 4-3 nail biter. This time, though, there was no goaltender interference controversy and the Pios head home to Denver with four more points and three points clear of second-place St. Cloud State, who was shut out by last-place Miami, 5-0.
Carter Mazur scored his 14th of the season, Casey Dornbach opened the scoring, and McKade Webster scored the goal that sent the game to overtime.
Saturday’s game was an even greater display of the Pioneers’ grit than Friday’s. Though Denver opened the scoring this time around, the Bulldogs still found a way to take the lead thanks, in part, to Dominic James’ tying goal with just six seconds left in the first period. Then Tanner Laderoute scored the only goal of the second period and the Pios were back in a familiar position – trailing.
But that’s precisely why having a player like Carter Mazur on the roster is so valuable. When you have the likes of him on the ice, no deficit ever feels insurmountable, especially when the gap is just one goal. On Friday, he was the game-tying-goal scorer and on Saturday, he reprised his role as he scored an incredible goal on a tough-angle shot nearly even with the goal line.
Unlike Friday, though, the Bulldogs fought their way back in front with a goal from Luke Mylymok off of a Magnus Chrona rebound after the Pioneers failed to clear the zone. Fortunately, the Pios had some more magic left in their game as Webster found the back of the net on a rebound of his own, effectively sending the game to overtime where Thompson clinched the Pios’ first sweep in Duluth since December of 2017.
— The NCHC (@TheNCHC) December 11, 2022
One of the reasons why the 2021-22 team was so good was that they played so many different kinds of games and found success in nearly all of the situations they were presented with. Whether it was a low-scoring, defensive game or a firewagon, high-scoring game, last year’s national champions had to learn how to win every kind of game and that was a key reason why they won the last game of the season in Boston. Things are beginning to shape up in a similar fashion for the 2022-23 Pioneers and these two victories presented this squad with two more unique challenges and once again, they rose to the moments and came home with four key NCHC points and additional experience that they can draw upon over the coming months.
No, you can’t win a championship in December but you can certainly learn lessons and gain experience, in both wins and losses, that will pay huge dividends later on in the season when every game’s importance rises with each passing week.
Weekend By the Numbers
- DU Special Teams – PP: 2-for-11 (18.2%), PK: 5-for-8 (62.5%)
- Shots on Goal – Denver 62, Minnesota Duluth 51
- Faceoff Wins – Denver 70, Minnesota Duluth 65
- Penalties-PIM – Denver 10-20, Minnesota Duluth 13-26
Top photo courtesy of Denver Athletics