Photo courtesy of DenverPioneers.com
In a highly anticipated match up in college hockey, the Denver Pioneers and Minnesota-Duluth Bulldogs didn’t disappoint fans who were in attendance at Magness Arena Friday night. Although the game started a bit slow, the second and third periods resembled a nail-biting playoff game.
It was expected that the last two National Champions would put up some offense, but it was a tightly checked game. Let’s get right into it.
The game started on a bad note for the Pioneers when Brett Stapley checked Duluth defenseman Scott Perunovich awkwardly into the boards just 40 seconds into the 1st period. After review, it was determined that it was a major penalty and Stapley was ejected from the game. But this was far from the last penalty called in the first period. Duluth had their own major boarding call but Louie Roehl was not ejected. There was a total of eight penalties called in the first 20 minutes of the game between both teams.
There seemed to be no control of the puck by either team throughout the period. Pucks were being chipped in deep and there was little space to skate. The Pioneers had a few good chances including a breakaway by Cole Guttman and an odd man rush by Colin Staub and Jakko Heikkinen, but Duluth goaltender Hunter Shepard kept everything out of the net.
The Bulldogs defense didn’t let many pucks through all night. They held the Pioneers to just two shots on goal in the first period. Led by St. Louis Blues 2018 2nd-round pick Scott Perunovich, the Bulldogs played a low risk game by chipping pucks out of their zone and moving it quickly up the ice out of danger.
The period ended with Duluth leading in shots 7-2.
The pace started to pick up in the second period. It seemed like Duluth skated even harder when they were on the penalty kill. But halfway through the period, the Pioneers went on the powerplay and Ian Mitchell finally got the Pioneers on the board.
After the goal, Duluth started putting the pressure on. The Pioneers were in prevent mode, shooting pucks off the glass just to keep it out of their zone. The Bulldogs had several chances, shooting from almost everywhere on the ice.
Devin Cooley stood tall and made some very difficult saves. After the end of the second, the Bulldogs put 25 shots on Cooley but with no goals. That’s a pretty significant feat for a backup goaltender to shutout the No. 1 team in the country through two periods.
In the third period, Duluth came even harder. They put on another 13 shots on Devin Cooley who had to make save after save to keep the Pioneers in the game. He was great positionally and really saw the puck well.
David Carle understood what it meant to host the top team in the nation and be up by one goal going into the 3rd period. He started mixing up lines in the second half of the game, putting a huge emphasis on defense. The Pioneers got the puck deep and began cycling deep in Duluth’s zone to kill the clock.
We saw several close plays right in front of the Pioneers net, but players were sacrificing their bodies left and right to keep the puck out. In the last few minutes of the game, Duluth pulled their goalie and put a lot of pressure on the Pioneers. But with 36 seconds left in the game, Jarid Lukosevicius scored an empty net goal to seal the game.
What we learned
This game was huge for the Pioneers. It had to be difficult coming home after being swept by the St. Cloud State Huskies, but David Carle had his players focused on what was in front of them. The Pioneers skated hard and battled through adversity in the form of a ton of penalties. They didn’t get many shots on net, but they made the best of what they were given. In games like these, you need your best players to step up, and Ian Mitchell did just that.
The Pioneers and Bulldogs play again Saturday night in what will be another exciting game. The Bulldogs can’t be happy after their long winning streak was broken by the Pioneers, and there is no question they will come out hard tomorrow. The Pioneers will need to do a better job suppressing shots and getting better control of the puck. Both teams forechecked extremely well so moving the puck quickly will be important. The Pios will have to shoot more tomorrow night if they want a chance at sweeping the Bulldogs.