The University of Denver Pioneers (21-9-8, 12-6-6-4) defeated the University of Minnesota Duluth Bulldogs (21-15-3, 13-11-0-0), 3-1, and advanced to their first National Collegiate Hockey Conference (NCHC) championship game since 2014 on Friday at the Xcel Energy Center.
The Pioneers scored a pair of power-play goals, including Colin Staub’s tally at 4:22 of the second period, to advance to play St. Cloud State in the NCHC Championship on Saturday at 7:30 p.m. CT at the Xcel Energy Center. The victory marked Denver’s sixth-consecutive win against Minnesota Duluth.
“It was a good team win,” Denver coach Jim Montgomery said. “It’s exciting to be back in a championship game in the NCHC.”
The Pioneers opened the scoring at 8:55 of the first period and 10 seconds into their first power play of the game when Troy Terry and Ian Mitchell moved the puck to Henrik Borgström for a wrist shot from the left face-off circle. The shot beat Hunter Shepard to the glove side to give Denver a 1-0 lead at the first intermission.
Minnesota Duluth evened the score early in the second period on a carry-over power play from the first period. At 1:37 of the frame, Scott Perunovich received a pass from Mikey Anderson, moved to the top of the left face-off circle and rifled a shot past Tanner Jaillet. Less than three (3) minutes later with Denver on the power play, Logan O’Connor deflected Michael Davies’ shot from the point and Staub buried the rebound to put the Pioneers in front again. The Bulldogs had an opportunity to even the score on a 1:29 five-on-three power play opportunity, but Jaillet turned aside every shot to keep Denver in front. The Pioneers went on the penalty kill again at 17:52 of the second period when Blake Hillman was assessed a five-minute major and a game misconduct for checking from behind. With four (4) power plays in the second period, including the first portion of Hillman’s major penalty, Minnesota Duluth took 10 shots in the frame and held a 20-14 shot advantage after 40 minutes.
In the third period, the Bulldogs were unable to convert on the five-minute major, then took a pair of penalties to give the Pioneers a chance to add an insurance goal. Denver made it 3-1 with 49 seconds left in the game on Adam Plant’s empty net goal.
“I liked our poise on the bench and I liked how after we killed off the five-minute major we really played smart hockey,” Montgomery said. “We didn’t give them time and space and really limited their opportunities.”
Denver finished 2/4 on the power play and 3/4 on the penalty kill. Jaillet made 24 saves in the win.