MINNEAPOLIS – Here are three takeaways from North Dakota’s 1-0 NCHC semifinal victory over Denver:
1. North Dakota is in Playoff Mode
North Dakota is 6-1 in its past seven games. With Friday’s win they locked up a bid to the NCAA tournament.
“It’s the end of the season. It’s playoff hockey. We have been playing hockey for the past few weekends because our lives have been on the line. So to come here and finally get a win against a good team like Denver, is huge for us. Huge for our group, huge for our confidence. We are playing the right way right now. We are finding ways to win and we are going to roll with it,” said Fighting Hawks goalie Cam Johnson.
The win marked the first in a semifinal game for North Dakota at the NCHC tournament. The Fighting Hawks are 0-4 versus Minnesota Duluth this season and have a chance to continue their roll without the pressure of having to win to make the NCAA Tournament.
2. The Pioneers are human
Denver’s 13-game win streak ended in a 1-0 shutout at the hands of divisional rival North Dakota. The loss was the second time Denver has been shut out this season. The 13-game winning stretch was one in which Denver had outscored its opponents by almost 3 goals a game (4.31 to 1.38).
North Dakota hit Denver hard and yielded little space on the ice, holding the Pioneers to just 12 shots through two periods. 12 shots was their average in the first two periods during the 13-game streak.
“I thought both teams were excellent tonight. Shots were what 23-21. Scoring chances were in the single digits for both teams,” said Jim Montgomery.
Denver’s defense was also outstanding all night, giving up just one goal which came off a unfortunate rebound off the lively boards at Target Center.
“We noticed that right away when we started practicing (lively boards). If you kept it on the ice it would bound out and even if you put it on the dasher about two feet it would come out pretty quick,” said DU defenseman Will Butcher.
3. Silver Lining
Sometimes a loss in tournament play can give a team a reality check and focus them on some of the little things they need to improve upon.
“Just the pace. Knowing how to play against a team that’s this tight checking. It’s what we are going to see in the NCAA Tournament,” Montgomery said. “I thought for a while here our practices have not been at the pace that they need to be, but we have been successful. It’s hard to really get mad at your players when you keep having success. I think this is the only benefit, silver lining out of this. We are going to get back to practicing with pace and using walls and having great puck support coming to the puck.”
The Pioneers may very well face North Dakota again in Fargo next week if they secure the No. 1 overall seed with a victory Saturday versus Western Michigan.