A series that lived up to its hype
For the second time this season, two teams from the NCHC squared off in a battle between the two top-ranked teams in the nation, as No. 2 Denver hosted No. 1 Minnesota-Duluth. These two games were much closer than the previous time, when then-No. 2 Minnesota-Duluth swept then-No. 1 North Dakota. For any fan of college hockey, the series showcased everything that makes the game great, including fast skating, relentless and back-and-forth pressure, and outstanding goaltending.
Fittingly, the series ended in a draw, with Denver winning 4-3 Friday and Duluth responding with a 3-1 win Saturday. The final goal of Saturday’s game was an empty-netter. Denver clearly missed the presence of top scorer Henrik Borgström, who was out with an undisclosed illness, on the power play, which failed to score on several opportunities Saturday. Jim Montgomery stated, “I think we win tonight if Henrik’s there. I have to be honest. Our power play’s not going 0-for-4 with him on the ice.”
Duluth goaltender Hunter Miska was strong in both games, stopping 27 shots in the loss and making 38 saves in Saturday’s win.
“I thought he (Hunter) was seeing the puck well,” said Bulldogs coach Sandelin. “That’s how he’s played for us all year. He’s had some really strong games, and I thought he was huge for us tonight making some key saves.”
Denver and Duluth are separated by one point in the NCHC standings, with the Bulldogs leading with 24 points. They have semi-commanding leads over teams below them, with Western Michigan the next team in line with 14 points, though the 5-8 teams have two games in hand.
Friday’s loss ended a 15-game unbeaten streak for Denver. However, Montgomery cautioned that his team has to come out strong in the second half.
“I looked at it and Omaha was 14-3-3 last year and missed the tournament.”
Power play costs North Dakota
After routing Western Michigan Friday, 5-1, you would have thought the Fighting Hawks would have command of Saturday’s game. After falling behind in the first and then tying it, North Dakota had a five-minute major that carried four minutes into the start of the third period, part of a stretch of 12 straight minutes of power-play time that the Fighting Hawks failed to score on, Taylor Fleming took back-to-back major penalties. Over the last 21:25 of the game, North Dakota had 14 minutes of power-play time and couldn’t score. North Dakota’s power play went 0-for-6 on the night.
North Dakota was without star forward Brock Boeser, out for a fifth game in a row with a wrist injury, and also without Tyson Jost, who went to Hockey Canada for the World Junior team camp.
“We just weren’t ready,” said forward Joel Janatuinen. “We talked about it in the locker room. It’s easy to talk about those things, but you have to act on them. I don’t know. We have to be better. We have to take a long look in the mirror again and get better.”
At the other end, Western Michigan is off to its best start ever in NCHC play at the break, sitting at 4-5-1 and in third place with 14 points, and showed some great puck movement, particularly on the game-winning goal by Wade Allison off a great cycle by the Broncos in the offensive zone and some tic-tac-toe passing, as Corey Schueneman got the puck at the right point, sent a pass to Hugh McGing in the left circle, and McGing found Allison in the right circle, who had an open net to shoot at high.
A road loss (finally)
Despite a poor record at home, the Omaha Mavericks have been keeping pace in the league thanks in part to stellar play on the road, where they were unbeaten entering this weekend’s series against St. Cloud State. Omaha continued its streak with a 3-1 win in which goaltender Evan Weninger continued his outstanding play. The sophomore, who had made 47 saves against Wisconsin the previous weekend, stopped 40 shots from a relentless St. Cloud offense while Teemu Pulkkinen scored the game-winner in the second.
However, Saturday, Weninger wasn’t enough. The netminder made 32 saves, but St. Cloud jumped all over the Mavericks in the first 2:03 of the game, scoring an extra-attacker goal at 1:34 on a delayed penalty and then scoring on the ensuing power play. Omaha twice pulled to within one goal, but Judd Peterson scored at 8:47 of the third to give the Huskies a cushion. The loss was Omaha’s first road loss of the season, and came after Omaha coach Dean Blais notched his 400th career win on Friday. Congrats to Blais on an outstanding and ongoing career.
Omaha is currently in fifth place in the league with 12 points, but has two games in hand on the four teams above them.