The #3 Denver Pioneers (25-8-0, 16-5-0 NCHC) scored twice on a major power play and three times with the man-advantage in total and cruised to a 5-2 victory over the #5 Western Michigan Broncos at Lawson Arena. Thanks to the clutch road victory in a hostile atmosphere, the Pios are now just one win away from clinching their second-straight Penrose Cup.
The Pioneers were the better team – they outshot the Broncos 34-19 – and deservingly won the game but unfortunately, for the third weekend in a row, the NCHC’s officiating crew overshadowed the on-ice results with numerous, inconsistent calls and ultimately lost control of the game. The referee tandem of Mike Sheehan and Brian Hankes called 15 total penalties. Their pièce de résistance – a five-minute major issued to Jason Polin after Sean Behrens tripped head-first into his shoulder, something that probably shouldn’t have even been a minor penalty – allowed the Pioneers to triple their lead and eliminate any realistic chance at a Broncos comeback.
It was yet another embarrassing display of officiating for a conference plagued by them throughout the season, especially in the second half. The worst part, though? This one happened in a top-five matchup on national television.
While the officials did their best to ruin what could have been an instant-classic hockey game, the Pioneers rebounded from last weekend’s crushing loss to UMD and moved to within two points of clinching their second-straight Penrose Cup. If they can earn at least an overtime or shootout win tomorrow, they will fly home to Denver with their third trophy of the season.