Huskies double up Pioneers to clinch NCHC regular-season title

The University of Denver Pioneers traveled to St. Cloud, Minn. with a chance to control their own destiny heading into the final weekend of National Collegiate Hockey Conference (NCHC) play. Trailing by four points for first place in the conference, the Pioneers needed to sweep St. Cloud State to take over the top spot and give themselves a chance at home ice throughout the conference tournament.

The Huskies (21-6-5, 15-4-3) defeated the Pioneers (17-8-7, 11-6-5) 4-2 and clinched the Julie and Spencer Penrose Memorial Cup, awarded to the NCHC regular-season champion, on Saturday.

The Pioneers and Huskies skated to a 1-1 tie one night prior, with Denver securing the extra point in the shootout.

Ryan Poehling’s go-ahead goal Saturday at 12:25 of the third period proved to be the game-winner and the Huskies sealed the victory with an empty-netter.

“I thought we were a better hockey team than we were last night and St. Cloud State was too,” Denver coach Jim Montgomery said. “They deserve the Penrose Cup, they were the best and most consistent team in the NCHC, so congratulations to them. We have to learn from this tonight and continue to get better. We can’t have bad results anymore. We know what the effort is going to take and we have to keep getting better. We have to play with more purpose and more determination like we did tonight and good things will happen for us.”

Denver nearly took the lead one (1) minute into the first period when Colin Staub took a pass from Logan O’Connor in the right circle and O’Connor fed Dylan Gambrell in front of the net. The Huskies were similarly stopped on an opportunity to score halfway through the frame on the power play as a shot rebounded off the pad of Tanner Jaillet to the bottom of the left circle where Easton Brodzinski’s shot and hit the blade of Jaillet’s stick.

St. Cloud State took the lead at 14:42 of the first period on a two-on-one rush with Judd Peterson and Robby Jackson. Jackson’s goal gave the Huskies the 1-0 lead for less than two minutes before the Pioneers responded. At 16:13 of the period, Denver strung together a string of passes in the offensive zone before finding Jarid Lukosevicius alone in front of the net to make it 1-1.

The Huskies regained the lead early in the second period as Jacob Benson skated into the zone from the left-wing side, cut to the middle and took a shot that went under the stick of Michael Davies and past Jaillet. Troy Terry had an opportunity to even the score on the man advantage with five (5) minutes left in the frame, but rang his shot off the crossbar after digging the puck from a net-front scrum. Following the power play, Henrik Borgström had another chance for Denver but his shot from the slot missed the net. With time winding down in the second period, Jaillet turned aside a shot from Jimmy Schuldt on St. Cloud State’s odd-man rush to hold Denver’s deficit to one (1) goal at the second intermission.

St. Cloud State appeared to take a 3-1 lead less than three (3) minutes into the third period, but Jon Lizotte’s apparent goal was waived off due to goalie interference. Denver tied the game at 5:30 of the third period when O’Connor found Blake Hillman for a wrist shot from the point. The Huskies broke the tie with Poehling’s breakaway at 12:25 of the third period and iced the game with 40 seconds remaining on Lizotte’s empty net goal.

The Pioneers finished 0/2 on the power play and 4/4 on the penalty kill. Jaillet made 29 saves.

On Friday, Pioneers tied the Huskies 1-1 and scored in three-on-three overtime to secure the extra point in the NCHC standings on Friday at the Herb Brooks National Hockey Center.

“We didn’t have great life and energy (until the third period),” Montgomery said. “In the third, I thought our forwards did a better job of having better puck support and skating.”

Adam Plant tied the game with 3:27 remaining in regulation, then Logan O’Connor’s goal at 4:26 of three-on-three overtime moved Denver to within four (4) points of St. Cloud State in the National Collegiate Hockey Conference (NCHC) standings.

“St. Cloud State played a great game,” Montgomery said. “They were as good as I’ve seen them at being physical and taking away time and space. I like the way our players fought through that.”

Tanner Jailet had to be big and their goalie had to be big.”

The Pioneers had a pair of scoring chances shortly after the halfway point of the second period. First, Dylan Gambrell found O’Connor with a pass from below the goal line, but O’Connor’s shot from a foot outside the goal crease was denied by David Hrenak. Shortly after, Henrik Borgström took the puck from the right-wing boards to the front of the net but could not sneak his shot around the Hrenak’s right pad.
St. Cloud State scored at 14:03 of the second period as Mikey Eyssimont centered the puck from behind the net and Blake Lizotte worked through traffic to tap it behind Tanner Jaillet.

After being held scoreless through two periods, the Pioneers held the Huskies to zero (0) shots in the third period and broke through late in the frame when Troy Terry evaded pressure and found Adam Plant for a one-timer from the right point. Plant’s shot leveled the score and sent the game to overtime.

The Huskies opened overtime with an opportunity to ice the game, but Jaillet made a glove save to keep the Pioneers alive and ultimately send the game to three-on-three overtime. With 34 seconds left in three-on-three overtime, Plant sent a pass to O’Connor who charged into the offensive zone, batted a rebound from his original shot out the air, then watched the puck roll off the back of Hrenak and into the net.

Jaillet finished with 23 saves in his 125th career game and became the Pioneers’ all-time leader in games played. The games played record was previously held by Stephen Wagner (1996-2000).

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