DENVER — Led by senior goaltender Sam Brittain, who made 43 saves to earn his fourth shutout of the year, No. 16 Denver beat No. 18 North Dakota, 3-0, Saturday at Magness Arena to earn a split in their NCHC series.
“What I love about coaching these young men is they’ve responded to every challenge,” said Denver coach Jim Montgomery. “In the NCHC, you can’t afford to be swept, and we found a way now to respond twice after being beat quite soundly by St. Cloud and North Dakota on Friday night.”
After a scoreless first period in which North Dakota had the shooting advantage and the better scoring opportunities despite a nearly two-minute five-on-three advantage for the Pioneers, Denver struck first early in the second period. Evan Janssen carried the puck up from his own zone near the left side boards. After skating into the North Dakota zone, he dropped a pass back to Emil Romig, who let fly a quick wrist shot from just inside the blue line on the left side that beat Clarke Saunders glove side.
“Obviously, it was a big kill for them,” said Brittain of the five-on-three. “We didn’t stop, we didn’t quit, we kept to our game plan, we kept going at it, and it was successful for us.”
North Dakota had a good chance to tie it at the seven-minute mark while on a power play when Michael Parks carried it down to the left side of the crease, forcing Brittain to come up with a big save, then make a sprawling save on a rebound chance.
“Sam, what can I say, all weekend long, every year, he keeps helping us win games,” said Montgomery.”
Just as it had in the second, Denver scored early in the third on a power play. Will Butcher made a pretty move along the left-side boards by making a quick spin to go deeper into the offensive zone. Butcher sent a cross-ice pass to Trevor Moore, who got a quick shot on net from the left faceoff dot. Saunders made the initial save, but lost sight of the puck, and it fell behind him into the crease right to Zac Larraza, who poked it into the open net.
“I think it was a hard-fought game all the way through,” said North Dakota coach Dave Hakstol. “They scored a couple critical goals, and we couldn’t get one to go. Their goaltender played great tonight. We have to find a way to do a little bit better job around the crease.”
The rest of the third period was about Denver’s penalty kill, and in particular Brittain, who stoned any chances North Dakota got. UND had two more power-play chances, but was unable to convert; overall, they went 0-for-6 with the man advantage, a night after scoring two power-play goals and looking like their special teams were in a groove.
“We were really disappointed with the way we played yesterday,” said Brittain. “We were slow, we lacked intensity, but tonight we came out and played great. It was a real good team win. We kept a lot of shots to the outside and cleaned up the rebounds. It was great for me, and allowed us a team win.”
Late in the third, a skirmish broke out that resulted in four players being sent to the box for roughing after a North Dakota player seemed to whack at Brittain at the whistle. North Dakota’s Stephane Pattyn, who landed a couple of punches on Joey LaLeggia, got a double minor, while LaLeggia, Denver’s David Makowski, and North Dakota’s Derek Rodwell each got single minors for roughing.
North Dakota pulled Saunders during the ensuing Denver power play to make it five-on-five hockey, and Denver was content to play defensive hockey while going for the long goal into the empty net, resulting in a couple of icings. Larraza finally got an empty-net goal with 3.5 seconds left when he forced a turnover at his own blue line, spun, and sent a long shot on net.
“I think it’s reflective of the entire league,” said Haktsol of the split. “Every series that we have played has been exactly like this series; it’s been a dogfight.”