DULUTH, Minn. — Denver had two weeks to chew on a pair of losses at St. Cloud State, which marked the first time in 60 games the Pioneers had been swept in the Western Collegiate Hockey Association, going back to 2008.
Friday night’s rebound performance was impressive, as No. 10 Denver stopped Minnesota-Duluth, 3-0, in front of 6,198 fans at Amsoil Arena.
The Pioneers (14-8-4, 9-6-4 WCHA) broke a two-game losing streak, a 0-4-2 road winless streak, and moved further ahead of Minnesota-Duluth in the league standings. And it marked Denver’s first game in the building, which opened on Dec. 30, 2010.
“We had an embarrassing series in St. Cloud (losing 5-2 and 5-1 on Jan. 18-19); we couldn’t get anything going and they steamrolled us,” said Denver sophomore goalie Juho Olkinuora (8-2-4), the WCHA’s save-percentage leader at .941 percent. “Every game is important from now on, and we really gave (UMD) no time and no space.”
Denver scored one goal per period, and Olkinuora, from Helsinki, Finland, made 26 saves for his second shutout of the season and fourth in two years.
The Bulldogs (10-12-3, 8-8-3) missed a wide-open net on a power play five minutes into the game and hit a crossbar on a power play in the second period, but really didn’t generate much. Minnesota-Duluth was shutout for the third time this season, and second at home.
“This was an important game (in the standings), and we were at home, and we let an opportunity slip through our fingers,” said Minnesota-Duluth senior defenseman Drew Olson. “The biggest thing was our effort, and we didn’t play that well. We got on our heels.”
After UMD’s Justin Crandall misfired past an open net behind Olkinuora, sophomore winger Larkin Jacobson earned his second career goal with 8:32 left in the first period on a rebound goal from the bottom of the left circle. That gave Denver a 1-0 lead.
That went to 2-0 with a power-play goal midway through the second. Star sophomore defenseman Joey LaLeggia took a Chris Knowlton pass from the right boards and converted at the left edge of the net past goalie Matt McNeely. Minnesota-Duluth freshman Austin Farley hit a crossbar on a power play with two minutes left in the second.
The Bulldogs, 0-9 this season when trailing after two periods, were 0-of-6 on power plays Friday.
“Our first period was horrendous, and ultimately it was not a good game for us,” said Minnesota-Duluth scoring leader Mike Seidel. “There’s no reason we should come out flat like that. It’s frustrating. We have some things to correct, like turnovers at the blue line.”
Freshman defenseman Nolan Zajac added an unassisted goal with 8:47 left in the third period. Minnesota-Duluth led 26-25 in shots on goal, but was a step behind in the fast-paced game.
“We had some opportunities, but not enough; we need to bear down around the net, we have to score,” said UMD coach Scott Sandelin. “And we have to be more disciplined. We took some bad penalties.”
The Bulldogs, second to Denver in league penalty minutes, had six minors in the third period. The loss kept UMD eighth in the WCHA, while Denver jumped from seventh to a three-way tie for fourth.
Denver coach George Gwozdecky is in his hometown of Thunder Bay, Ontario, this weekend to be with his ailing father. Associate coach Steve Miller took over behind the bench.
Denver’s last game in Duluth was Dec. 4, 2010, a 2-1 loss to UMD in the final men’s game at the DECC.