Pioneers Survive Referees, Poor Special Teams Play to Move to 3-0 vs North Dakota

The NCHC isn’t exactly known for its top-quality officials. There are entirely too many examples throughout the conference’s 10-year existence of referees inserting themselves into situations and affecting the outcomes of games. You can now add tonight’s 5-3 victory for the #4 Denver Pioneers (22-7-0, 13-4-0 NCHC) over the North Dakota Fighting Hawks (12-12-4, 6-9-2 NCHC), DU’s biggest out-of-state rival, at Magness Arena to that ever-growing list. Fortunately, unlike many of those others, the officials did not, in fact, affect the outcome, though Tom Stearns and Ryan Hersey tried their damnedest. Carter Mazur and his Pioneers, though, would not be denied and the Pioneers improved to 3-0 on the season vs their archrivals this season.

In the first period alone, Stearns and Hersey called five penalties, three against the Fighting Hawks and two on the Pioneers. All of them came in the first 12:25 of play. There was no rhythm or flow to the game and, if it wasn’t for DU’s biggest players showing up in some big moments, this game would have played right into North Dakota’s and their NCAA-leading power play’s (31.1%) hands. But over the final six minutes of the opening period, when zero penalties were called, the 5,979 in attendance saw Denver-North Dakota hockey at its finest. Stearns and Hersey, though, simply couldn’t be troubled to let that continue.

Denver entered the second period with a 2-1 lead thanks to Aidan Thompson’s elite hockey IQ that led him to intercept a UND pass in the Fighting Hawks’ zone and then wire a shot past Drew DeRidder and Mazur’s first goal of the night on a twisted wrister of his own. Kyle Mayhew’s interference penalty under four minutes into the middle frame, though, gave UND its first real power play chance and they took full advantage. Ethan Frisch scored a minute into the power play and DU’s struggling PK unit was back on its heels.

“They have a really good power play over there,” Mazur said of defending UND’s lethal power play. “They’re going to make good plays.”

But just 16 seconds later, the Pioneers blew the game open and sent DeRidder to an early shower with two goals in just 14 seconds. Sean Behrens scored his third of the season off of a perfect feed across the slot from Jack Devine and then Massimo Rizzo was the beneficiary of a perfect play by Mike Benning at the blue line to find Rizzo in the slot. Rizzo, like Mazur, does not miss when given time and space. All of a sudden, it was 4-2 Denver, and Jakob Hellsten had to come into the game in relief for Brad Berry’s ‘business suit’-clad group.

“I think this team has a lot of character,” Behrens said of DU’s immediate two-goal response. “When we get punched in the face, we’re getting a lot better a responding.”

The Pioneers, as most expected, were the much better team at five-on-five tonight, outscoring UND 5-1 even strength. But again, while DU and UND were putting on an entertaining show at even strength, Stearns and Hersey were quick to put an end to that. Can’t have too much fun in hockey!

Two and a half minutes after Rizzo’s goal, Tristan Broz rode a UND player into the boards from behind, a penalty to be sure, but after a lengthy review, one of many on the night, the crew determined that apparently, Broz had done enough (no head contact, let’s be clear) to earn a five-minute major for hitting from behind. As a result, UND’s power play went back to work and scored about two and a half minutes into the major penalty, after a minor would have expired.

“Well, they did get to it,” DU head coach David Carle said tactfully when asked about how to avoid letting UND get to the power play. “They did find a way with eight power plays and five for us. It’s unfortunate that there was that many but we need to try and adjust to the standard that’s being called and be better tomorrow night and not give them those opportunities.”

The Stearns and Hersey Circus reached its fever pitch in the third period, calling seven total penalties in the final frame, four of which were against DU, and the circus’ magnum opus came on the final one when Cooper Moore “slashed” Mazur “in the leg” on a play that was very clearly spearing and should have constituted a five-minute major and game misconduct had competent officials been in charge of this game. Instead, after the referee 150 feet from the play (not the one 10 feet from it and staring right at it) called the penalty, a review determined that Moore would be given only a two-minute minor rather than what should have been a major.

Fortunately (there’s that word again), Mazur snatched the result from the refs’ hands with one of the best goals of the season – #5 on SportsCenter’s ‘Top 10’ plays tonight – early in the third period as he picked the top left corner with a shot as he was falling down in the slot.

“I hate UND, I’ll be honest,” Mazur said when asked about popping his jersey in the direction of UND fans in celebration. “I hate seeing the green in our own building”

Denver vs. North Dakota has provided so much good theater over the past seven decades. It’s one of the most storied rivalries between two of the greatest college hockey programs of all time. Some of the greatest hockey games in the history of the sport happened when these two teams hit the ice.

Tonight, unfortunately, was not one of those. It was a sad excuse for a hockey game and Tom Stearns and Ryan Hersey are the only two people to blame for it. There didn’t need to be 15 penalties called. There shouldn’t have been 33 PIM combined. Merely competent officiating would have had a much more even power play discrepancy rather than the 8-5 number that UND enjoyed tonight.

“It was a choppy, ugly hockey game really from the start,” Carle said. “Not a lot of flow to it. Not a lot of sustained o-zone time for either team…we had some big-time players who made some big-time plays tonight.”

This should have been a fun, exciting, entertaining hockey game between DU and UND. Instead, it was a circus with Tom Stearns and Ryan Hersey playing co-ringleaders. We’re just lucky that the Pioneers played well enough to prevent them from changing the outcome of the game. Now, the Pios turn their attention to sweeping the four-game season series with North Dakota, something they haven’t done since the 2009-10 season.

David Carle Postgame


Top photo: Tyler Schank/Clarkson Creative via DU Athletics

6 thoughts on “Pioneers Survive Referees, Poor Special Teams Play to Move to 3-0 vs North Dakota”

  1. Sad that the take away from this match up of two of college hockey’s biggest rivals was the refereeing. That said, the stripes were fucking diabolical! Made me yearn for the days of Todd Anderson. 34 gets pitchforked in the beanbag and the ref standing maybe 20 feet away calls nothing? The review yields a slashing call???? Is there any mechanism for supplemental review or discipline? Great to Mazur and Rizzo getting goals.

  2. Officiating quality aside, DU needed their best players to produce last night, and produce they did.

    Mazur and Rizzo broke out of scoring slumps, Behrens scored, and Benning had a couple of apples. When the Pioneers’ skill guys find each other, a win usually follows.

    Saturday night will probably require tighter gaps and more discipline to get the sweep.

    Oh, and whomever is in charge of DU student life needs to be taken to the woodshed for allowing DU Winter Carnival to be scheduled during a home hockey home rivalry weekend. The stupidity of this move is simply off the charts…The hockey schedule comes out in the summer!

  3. Really glad DU got the W but good lord, that was a slog to get through. After the first period ended, I glanced at my watch, figuring it was close to midnight. It was a choppy, disjointed, and frustrating period to watch, and the 2nd and 3rd weren’t much better. There were bush-league, ticky-tack calls against both teams. I hope the officials are better tonight and let the players play and let the game develop. Again, I hate to harp on officiating, but these guys need to stay out of the way and the game play out a bit.

    All that said, I was happy to see the big guns get on the scoreboard. Mazur, especially, played a very determined game. Chrona made some big saves. And the Pios got a little puck luck, as I believe UND hit the post at least once.

    Special teams were shaky once again. DU has to shoot the puck more on the PP and get more pucks to the net. I don’t think UND has elite goaltending. Need to get as many pucks to the net as possible.

    I know all of the penalties played a role in last night’s game, but I hope to see DU get a more consistent forecheck tonight and put more pressure on UND. Hawks had too many easy breakouts last night. UND has some skilled forwards, but they appear to be vulnerable defensively, and if DU can keep the pressure on and make those guys defend more, things should open up.

  4. Not much to say about reffing. Prefer to focus on positives: gorgeous passes from our defensemen, rock solid play by Chrona, and awesome finishing by our stars. Also any win that helps us get into the top 4 in pairwise and keep North Dakota out of the tourney is great. That said, I fail to understand why reffing is getting worse, when NCHC and college hockey is on an upward track.

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