Pioneers Escape Upset-Minded Lions to Enter Holiday Break With Sweep and Close First Half at 16-4-0

The #1 Denver Pioneers (16-4-0, 8-2-0 NCHC) have one singular goal this year – win the program’s 10th national title and finally end Michigan’s two-and-a-half decade reign at the top. Anything short of it would be a disappointment. And while you can’t win a championship in December, championship hopes can easily be dashed by the holiday break. For these Pioneers, though, sitting atop the NCHC standings, holding onto the #4 spot in the Pairwise Rankings, and coming off of a sweep of the Lindenwood Lions (4-12-0) – 5-0 Friday & 5-4 tonight –  DU is in about as ideal a spot at the halfway point of the season as they could have asked for on their path to Tampa.

After sweeping the Minnesota Duluth Bulldogs on the western banks of Lake Superior last weekend, the Pioneers had a two-game tussle with new-to-Division I, Independent Lindenwood, and all but skated them out of Magness Arena on Friday. Following up Friday night’s 5-0 drubbing, though, was a lot taller a task for the Pios than anyone expected. The Lions had much more bite than they did a night ago, scoring four goals by taking advantage of a rare night full of DU defensive miscues. Those goals, however, were for naught as captain Justin Lee scored with two-and-a-half minutes left to break the late tie and send the Pioneers into the holiday break on a high note.

“It was not a good feeling,” Lee said of Lindenwood tying the game. “But we knew we had to go get one…I was just trying to wait for something to open up [along the blue line] and I guess the lane was there and it came right back to me and I just tried to get it on net.”

While Lee was the hero, his defensive partner Mike Benning led the way early on and scored two of the Pioneers’ first three goals, straddling the first intermission, giving him 10 points in six games in December. But as well as Denver’s offense was clicking, the Lions never let the Pioneers gain any separation beyond two separate two-goal leads. Then, in the third period, after Jared Wright’s apparent goal, which would have given the Pioneers a 5-3 lead, was called back for goaltender interference on a Lindenwood challenge, Cade DeStefani tied the game at 4 with just six-and-a-half minutes left with his second of the night. In short, even with Lee’s heroics to seal the Pios’ seventh-straight victory, it was a night to forget for DU’s defensive corps.

“They didn’t quit,” Benning said of Lindenwood’s effort in tying the game. “That’s a team that’s new to Division I and they’re hungry. They want to play the best and try to beat us. They put up a good fight…[but] we have a good veteran group here, we have a lot of leaders, and I think we’re all focused on one task and that’s getting a win.”

Zooming back out and taking the victory for what it is – a win in a potential trap game heading into the holiday break – the Pioneers are in as good a spot as they could have asked for after 20 games. They’re 16-4-0, they swept both North Dakota and Minnesota Duluth on the road, and they’ve faced and survived significant adversity in the road sweep against UMass-Amherst and, in head coach David Carle’s own words, “the clunker” – a 3-0 shutout at the hands of Omaha at Magness Arena a few weeks ago. The Pioneers are once again building towards their singular goal in April and the building blocks that you’d expect to be in place by now are there. The 2022-23 DU hockey team’s path to a 10th national title is, indeed, starting to take shape.

Now, the Pioneers have three weeks off to head home, spend the holidays with their families, and hit the reset button before returning to campus in January for two straight home series against Alaska Fairbanks and Miami. With an excellent first half that showed continued growth and adversity overcome under their belts, they’ve earned every bit of this down time before the most important part of the season arrives.

“I think it’s good going into the new year on a little bit of a winning streak here,” Broz, who tied his career high with three points and extended his point streak to a career-high four games, said. “It’ll be nice to get some time with family – I haven’t really been at home for Christmas in the last three years so I’m excited for that. It’ll be a good reset, to recharge the batteries but then hopefully, we can keep the momentum going into the new year.”

David Carle Postgame


Top photo credit: Brittany Evans/DU Athletics

3 thoughts on “Pioneers Escape Upset-Minded Lions to Enter Holiday Break With Sweep and Close First Half at 16-4-0”

  1. Good experience this weekend for some players who don’t usually get much ice time. Wasn’t impressed by what appeared to be a lackadaisical attitude tonight…especially by the defense. Mazur seems to be going through the motions lately.
    However, I’m not concerned….not yet anyway. Looking forward to more intensity after the Christmas break!

  2. Not exactly DU’s finest performance, but a win’s a win. Pios head into the break with a 7-game win streak (7-0 since the “clunker” vs Omaha) and a 16-4 record. That’s impressive.

    Give the Lions credit. After seeing them Friday night, I expected more of the same last night. But they hung around last night, despite being outshot by a 2-1 margin, took advantage of some defensive lapses by DU, and pushed DU to the very end. It was an exciting game, and again, give the Lions credit for making it closer than many of thought it would be.

  3. 16-4 is a mutha f…ing impressive record. We DU fans are pretty spoiled. What a program, where a 16-4 record midway through a season is… not exactly commonplace…but kinda/sorta par for the course. We need to appreciate the strength of our program, and all the people (players/coaches/DU higher ups) who keep this program at the very top of college hockey.

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