DENVER — After losing a heartbreaker in overtime Friday night, the eight ranked North Dakota Fighting Sioux responded with a strong effort, shutting out No. 7 Denver Pioneers, 3-0, ensuring that none of the WCHA seeds are set going into the last weekend of play.
“We showed a lot of pride in our performance coming back tonight,” said Sioux coach Dave Hakstol.
The Pioneers started with a lot of jump, cycling the puck effectively down low and generating a lot of shots. However, Sioux goalie Philippe Lamoureux made several good early stops.
“Obviously Philippe played tremendous the whole weekend,” said Sioux forward Ryan Duncan, who scored twice in the win. “I think we responded well. We tried to respond to their pressure in the first few minutes.”
“He’s just been steady for us,” said Hakstol of Lamoureux. “He didn’t do anything different for us this weekend than he’s been doing for us ever since Christmas break. He’s battled real hard and he’s a team leader.”
As the period wore on, the play became increasingly chippy, and 10 penalties were called, six on the Pioneers. The Sioux power play had trouble getting untracked, and when they did set up, the Pioneers defended well. On one power play, Jonathan Toews slid a pass towards an open T.J. Oshie by the left side post. Oshie would have had an open net to shoot at, but Brock Trotter managed to get down and deflect the pass away.
Eventually, the Sioux capitalized. With Ryan Helgason in the box, Pioneers’ captain Adrian Veideman was whistled on a marginal slash at 16:32. The Pioneers killed off the short 5-on-3, but at 17:17, the Sioux top line struck when Oshie slid a pass through the slot to Ryan Duncan in the right circle, and Duncan roofed it into the open net.
“We took a couple of foolish penalties early in the game, our veterans did,” said Pioneers’ coach George Gwozdecky. “We put a lot pressure on ourselves because of taking those foolish penalties, and obviously one of those penalties resulted in their first goal.”
The Pioneers started the period on the power play, and had another one shortly after the first expired, but couldn’t get untracked. They were trying to make one too many passes, and were unable to get the puck through the crease to the weak side.
“I think that it definitely was a factor,” said Gwozdecky of the power play, which went 0-for-11 in the series. “Probably if I can critique any area of our game that we struggle with and has to be more effective is the power play. I thought North Dakota did a good job pressuring us. I really thought that after last night’s game and seeing what they were giving us we were prepared to take even more advantage of it, and yet because of the pressure they put on us and at the same time us not executing the way we wanted to, we only got one good chance in the first period.”
“I think we were just looking at pressuring them as much as we could,” said Duncan of the Sioux penalty kill. “They’ve got a lot of talent up and down their power play so we just wanted to make them make quick decisions and not let those guys have the puck on their stick as long as possible.”
At 6:57 of the period, Rylan Kaip scored on a weird play. The Pioneers had been running around in their own end, trying to get a clear, and the puck was bouncing near the top of the circle when Kaip stepped in and fired it low stick side past Pioneers’ goalie Peter Mannino.
“For our team, it was a huge goal,” said Hakstol. “Our history this season, at times we’ve struggled getting a two goal lead, so that was a big goal and we were able to make it three within a few minutes after that and I think we played a very sound hockey game from there on in.”
At the midway point of the period, the game took an ugly turn and the referees lost control. It began when Tom May crushed Erik Fabian into the boards from behind. May was assessed a five-minute major and a game misconduct. Sioux junior Kyle Radke was also called for roughing after he went after May.
On the ensuing power play, Pioneers’ forward Geoff Paukovich was forechecking in the Sioux end and was hit from behind by Brian Lee, but no call was made. Paukovich looked shaken, but he rejoined the play and was promptly whistled for interference.
On the ensuing faceoff, Mike Handza knocked down Oshie and then cross-checked him in the back, drawing a call. With the play continuing and the extra attacker on, the Sioux capitalized when Duncan, standing on the right side goal line, banked a shot in off Mannino’s left pad.
“It’s difficult at times, but you’ve just got to stay focused and maintain your composure,” said Duncan of playing amidst the barrage of penalties. “We had to make sure we got a split.”
The Sioux looked to put the game out of reach, having a 5-on-3 for two minutes, but the Pioneers’ penalty kill stepped up, playing a tight triangle, blocking shots and diving to make clears.
The third period seemed almost anti-climatic after the high emotions of the first two periods. The Sioux continued to play tight defensively, and the Pioneers couldn’t generate any sustained pressure. On their one power play, they had trouble generating shots.
“You have to scratch and claw for every inch of ice in every game,” said Gwozdecky afterwards of the split. “This league is so challenging, so competitive, more so than I ever remember. It just seems that because it’s so even, everything is even, including the weekend series.”
“It’s a dogfight,” echoed Hakstol. “It’s an absolute battle for home playoff. We’re still fighting for a home playoff berth, and from there for position, and so is everybody else.”