Denver offense stays hot
Back on Nov. 17-18, when Denver previously hosted Miami, the Pioneers had just ascended to the number one spot in the USCHO.com poll. Hosting a RedHawks team that had struggled, it seemed Denver was in a good position, but the Pioneers struggled, getting two ties, 1-1 and 2-2, though they did win both shootouts. The two draws dropped Denver back down in the poll.
This weekend in Oxford, the Pioneers faced Miami after just having moved into first place in the NCHC standings, one point ahead of Minnesota Duluth. This time, Denver stayed hot with a pair of 5-2 wins. In Denver’s last six games, the offense has scored five goals five times.
Friday, the Pioneers were led by Dylan Gambrell, who opened the scoring with a power-play goal at 4:20 of the first. Gambrell also scored at 16:22 of the third, and assisted on Will Butcher’s game-winning four-on-four goal at 13:56 of the third that broke a 2-2 tie after Miami had rallied from a 2-0 third-period deficit on goals from Zach LaValle and Jared Brandt. Butcher added two assists to go with his game-winner.
Saturday, Troy Terry and Emil Romig led the way with two goals each. while Henrik Borgström added two assists. Terry, who had been injured for several weeks, looked strong this weekend, as he got the game-winner at 6:30 of the second to break a 2-2 tie, and also scored Friday.
With the win, Denver increased its hold on first place to two points, thanks to Duluth tying Colorado College Saturday. Denver also moved into first in the PairWise rankings.
Minnesota Duluth still struggles with Colorado College
Sometimes, it’s all about matchups. Case in point: Minnesota Duluth and Colorado College.
After finishing the first half of the season strong, Minnesota Duluth opened the second half at home against NCHC cellar-dwellar Colorado College, which seemed to be a way to get the second half off to a good start. Instead, the Bulldogs went 0-1-1 on the weekend and struggled to score against Alex Leclerc, getting a 2-2 tie despite firing 45 shots on net, and losing 2-1.
The Bulldogs have been mostly consistent offensively, averaging over three goals a game. Entering Friday’s game against CC in Colorado Springs, they were coming off a 5-0 win over Omaha. However, it didn’t matter, as Duluth’s offense again struggled against the Tigers. Friday, Duluth got 29 shots on Leclerc, but it took a power-play goal by Adam Johnson with under five minutes left in the game for Duluth to get a 2-1 win.
Saturday, the Bulldogs again needed a shootout to get an extra point, when it looked they were headed for another 2-1 win before CC’s Cole McCaskill tied the game with 1:58 left. Duluth also was outshot substantially Saturday, 36-24, though they did score just 58 seconds into the game on a power play, and made it 2-0 just 49 seconds later short-handed. However, those two early goals seemed to make Duluth more defensive.
The tie dropped the Bulldogs out of first place in the PairWise rankings, and also dropped them two points back of first-place Denver.
Western Michigan earns first home sweep of North Dakota
Entering Friday’s game against North Dakota, Western Michigan had never beaten the Fighting Hawks in Kalamazoo, Michigan. Friday, they rallied from an early 1-0 deficit to win 4-2, sparked by two early second-period goals. Sheldon Dries scored the game-winner at 13:08 of the third, breaking a 2-2- tie, and Ben Blacker made 32 saves in the win.
The Broncos liked the taste of victory so much they followed up their first home victory with their first-ever sweep of North Dakota, riding Blacker’s 44 saves to a 3-2 win Saturday. Matheson Iacopelli scored twice in the first period, and Taylor Fleming scored what proved to be the game-winner at 3:03 of the second. Tucker Poolman’s power-play goal at 14:41 of the third pulled North Dakota within one, but the Fighting Hawks couldn’t get the equalizer.
The wins moved Western Michigan up to fifth in the PairWise, and solidified their hold on third place in the NCHC standings, in possession of home ice for the first round. The loss dropped North Dakota to a precarious 14th in the PairWise, meaning the defending national champions are in danger of not making the NCAA tournament this year.