Pioneers’ Furious Third-Period Rally Comes Up Just Short as Winning Streak Ends Against UMD

The #3 Denver Pioneers (24-8-0, 15-5-0 NCHC) scored three goals in the third period to nearly erase a 5-2 deficit but their penalty kill couldn’t kill off a penalty when they absolutely had to and DU came up one goal shy in a 6-5 loss to the Minnesota Duluth Bulldogs (13-16-1, 8-12-0 NCHC) in front of 6,361 fans in a sold-out Magness Arena. The loss ended the Pioneers’ winning streak at five and allowed the second-place Western Michigan Broncos to pull to within five points of the first-place Pios.

As you might have guessed, the Pioneers got off to a rough start. They were a step slow and lost almost every 50/50 battle. As a result, the Bulldogs opened the scoring for the second straight night, this time on their first shot of the game through a perfect screen, and held a 2-1 lead entering the second period thanks to a goal from Quinn Olson – the recipient of two five-minute majors for boarding and hitting from behind but zero game misconducts – with just 14 seconds left in the opening frame.

“It seemed like our energy was a bit low,” DU defenseman Kyle Mayhew said of his team’s slow start. “We didn’t have that usual jump.”

Jack Devine, likely the NCHC Forward of the Week next week with a seven-point weekend, pulled the Pioneers even just over a minute into the second period with his third goal of the weekend but barely a minute later, Luke Johnson answered for the Bulldogs with a top-right snipe over DU goaltender Magnus Chrona’s glove and the Pioneers’ game started to unravel.

Olson earned his second major of the night a minute after UMD retook the lead when he checked Mayhew from behind but DU’s ensuing power play was about as disastrous as it could have been without giving up another short-handed goal. They generated few if any real, dangerous chances over the five minutes and barely challenged Bulldogs goaltender Matthew Thiessen. As a result, the visitors grabbed ahold of the momentum and didn’t let go for the remainder of the period. Chrona held the Pioneers within one with an admirable effort but two UMD goals in the final three minutes, including one that he stopped 90% of pushed him out of the game and the game out of reach…or so it seemed.

Wyatt Kaiser’s goal with 1:22 left in the second should have been the backbreaker but Dominic James was called for holding with 11 seconds left which gave the Pioneers 1:49 of power play time to start the final period – Mike Benning made it count just 53 seconds in with a perfect backhanded wraparound to beat Thiessen. Not even a minute later, Massimo Rizzo sent Magness Arena into a frenzy with a highlight-reel goal as he was falling to his knee.

All of a sudden, a 5-2 game was 5-4 within the first two minutes of the third period.

“That was a good sign for our team,” Rizzo said. “If we start like that in the first, it’d be a different game. Showing resiliency like that is a good sign.”

The UMD dagger, though, came just 43 seconds later after McKade Webster was called for a trip – a call that the referees had let go both ways countless times earlier and after – and Ben Steeves scored his second of the game barely 13 seconds into the man-advantage. The 5-4 game went back to a two-goal DU deficit and the Pioneers were left chasing the game again.

Rizzo scored his second of the game on a backhanded rebound that Thiessen stopped 90% of (a bit of a theme tonight) to close the gap back to one but that was as close as Denver would get to forcing overtime. The Bulldogs’ defense stepped up from there and killed off one more DU power play – just one – and prevented the Pioneers from setting up anything dangerous with the extra skater in the final two minutes to successfully preserve the lead this time.

“We’re never out of a hockey game,” Mayhew said. “But you just can’t put yourself in that position and expect to win hockey games.”

As heartening as the third-period rally was given the deficit, the problems for DU tonight were glaring. It was a second-straight slow start, Magnus Chrona was not at his trademark best after allowing a goal on UMD’s first shot of the game – he allowed five goals on 13 shots in his two periods of action – the defensive effort in the neutral and defensive zones left a lot to be desired, and the penalty kill, which was clicking over the past three games, gave up three goals on just four chances.

The Pioneers’ formula tonight was deserving of the loss. And yet, they nearly overcame all of it and pulled off a miracle in an instant classic. If just one call, one bounce, one shift, one save, or one more kill goes just slightly differently, the Pioneers might have been celebrating a season-sweep of the Bulldogs tonight. Instead, they dug themselves too deep a hole and even though these aren’t the same UMD Bulldogs that the college hockey world has gotten used to over the last six years, they’re still a damn good NCHC team fighting like hell for postseason positioning. Last night, the Pioneers got away with some defensive issues thanks to Magnus Chrona. Tonight, the Bulldogs made them pay.

Now, with this sour taste in their mouths, the Pioneers’ attention turns to next weekend’s trip to Kalamazoo, Michigan for a road series with the WMU Broncos who are all of a sudden #6 in the Pairwise and 11-1 since Christmas. They’re also now just five points behind the Pioneers in the NCHC standings and can take over first place if they can earn a sweep. But, no matter what, the Penrose Cup will be at Lawson Arena next weekend as the Pios can clinch it with at least four points.

“We know we’re the best team in the country and if we play our game, we can beat anyone,” Rizzo said. “We want to win a Penrose.”

David Carle Postgame


Top photo credit: Clarkson Creative via DU Athletics

7 thoughts on “Pioneers’ Furious Third-Period Rally Comes Up Just Short as Winning Streak Ends Against UMD”

  1. DU kinda shot themselves in the foot with that late penalty. Gotta be more careful in that situation. Even so, love the fight that DU showed, never feeling like they are out of a game.

  2. This was a poor DU performance, giving up six goals at home at this time of year.

    The PK giving up three goals on four chances was a huge regression from what had been improvement, and Chorna had a bad night as well.

    If the Pios plays like that at Western, they will be swept.

  3. UGH! At least we’re still in 4th in the pairwise. Hope the Pios got this bad game out of their blood and will on move on to sweep WM. However, winning in that old barn has proven to be very difficult. So, at this point, I’d be happy with a split vs the Broncos.

  4. Definitely a mixed bag for DU over the weekend. Friday night’s game started out as a bit of slog, and then DU found some space and cashed in on their opportunities. The special teams came through in a big way, which was great to see, and Chrona was very sharp. He was positionally sound, had excellent rebound control, looked calm and collected, and he really limited UMD’s second and third chances.

    Saturday’s game was a big letdown. Pios had a golden opportunity to sweep the season series against UMD, but they came out flat, got behind, and just ran out of time. They showed some good fight with the late rally, but it wasn’t enough. And Chrona was off his game for sure on Saturday. Frustrating game.

    While the split was less than satisfying, DU did manage to score 11 goals over the weekend. That’s a plus. However, that should have been more than enough to get two wins, and the PK continues to be an area of concern. This team can score and score in bunches, but the inconsistency with the special teams continues to be maddening at times.

    Next weekend’s series against WMU is going to be a heavyweight battle.

  5. Off night for the PK and Chrona, it happens. 5 on 5 Pioneers looked pretty good for the most part. And the Dogs are getting better – I’ll be surprised if they are not in St. Paul on St. Patty’s Day.

    Interested to see Western, haven’t seen much of them. Are they good or have they just been beating up on bad teams (4 of those 11 wins since Christmas have been against CC, for example). We’ll see shortly!

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