Even the best teams have a bad game or two every year. Sloppy passes, no communication, disjointed play…sometimes anything that can go wrong does. In their return from their three-week holiday break, the #1 Denver Pioneers (16-5-0, 8-2-0 NCHC) laid an egg. No part of their game worked well and their opponent, the Alaska Fairbanks Nanooks (11-8-2), skated them out of their own building. The visitors claimed a 33-20 shots on goal advantage and, if it was tracked, their offensive zone time would have dwarfed Denver’s. The Pioneers are no strangers to post-holiday break duds (remember Providence in 2016-17? Princeton? The tie vs these same Nanooks last year?) and tonight’s 3-1 loss that ended their seven-game winning streak ranks right up there among the worst of them.
Through the first period, it was clear that it was going to be a low-scoring, grind-it-out kind of game. There was no pace, no rhythm in the opening frame and the big hit that Mike Benning took right off of the opening faceoff set the tone for what was going to be a physical game, led by the Nanooks.
“Obviously, it’s disappointing,” DU captain Justin Lee said. “[Alaska] showed up to work and we have more to give in our locker room. Overall our effort tonight was disappointing.”
Quite frankly, the only word that came to mind to describe the first period was boring – and that was exactly how Alaska wanted it. Everything DU did – the missed passes, the overly unselfish play in the offensive zone – played right into the Nanooks’ hands and in the second period, during a five-minute major for boarding issued to DU captain Justin Lee, they pounced. Less than a minute into the power play, Jonny Sorenson was left all alone in the left circle and TJ Lloyd found him with a pass around what seemed like all four DU penalty killers. The Nanooks’ top line left-winger did not miss. Less than three minutes later, still on the power play, Brady Risk tipped home a Lloyd shot from the point and all of a sudden, the Pios were trailing by two.
“That’s not the penalty kill’s fault, that’s my fault for taking that penalty,” Lee said when asked about DU’s struggling penalty kill, which ranks 53rd out of 62 Division I teams at a paltry 75.7%. “I take responsibility for that. It’s unacceptable on my part I have to learn from that and be smarter.”
Massimo Rizzo got one back for the Pios on a one-timer at the end of a lengthy five-on-three stint to give the hosts some hope but looking back, the result was never really in doubt. The Nanooks wanted the win more than the Pios did and they earned it. Alaska seemed to know what DU was trying to do offensively before the Pioneers even knew and prevented them from stringing more than two or three passes together all night long. DU scoring chances were few and far between due to Alaska’s defensive skill and the Pios’ ugly, sloppy offensive effort.
In short, it was a night to forget for the soon-to-be-former #1 team in the country. Post-holiday break duds have oddly become a bit of a staple for this proud program and assuming things go according to plan for Carle’s team, this extremely poor performance will be nothing more than a blip on the radar.
“We have to learn from it and take it the right way,” Lee said of the loss. “This is some adversity that we have to face and we have to build from that and take what we can from it and then turn the page for tomorrow.
David Carle Postgame
David Carle postgame: https://t.co/GOEkO8C5kt
— LetsGoDU (@LetsGoDU) January 7, 2023
— The NCHC (@TheNCHC) January 7, 2023
Massimo Rizzo extends his point streak to 8 games with this tally, while Mike Benning also moves his point streak to 8 games. Oh, and Aidan Thompson is now on a 4-game streak… All are career longs! pic.twitter.com/CXdcaNm0FE
— Denver Hockey (@DU_Hockey) January 7, 2023
Top photo credit: Adri Meyer/Denver Athletics