CINCINNATI — The Denver Pioneers protected their No. 1 overall seed and earned a second straight trip to the Frozen Four by downing the Penn State Nittany Lions 6-3 on Sunday. Here are three takeaways from the Pioneers’ impressive performance:
1. The Pioneers got off to another fast start
Like Saturday’s four-goal first period against Michigan Tech, Denver jumped out to a 1-0 lead just 3:17 into the contest as the result of a well-orchestrated cycle in the right corner involving all three forwards on the ice for the Pioneers.
Their fast start extended to the 7:19 mark when Adam Plant beat Penn State goalie Peyton Jones with a shot from the right point after more good cycle work by Henrik Borgstrom.
“It’s really important to get the first goal, because then the belief for the players, their confidence, rises,” Denver coach Jim Montgomery said.
2. The Nittany Lions’ forecheck is relentless
Throughout the first period Sunday, much like they had against Union on Saturday, the Nittany Lions’ forecheck wreaked havoc on the Pioneers’ defense by keeping all three forwards in the offensive zone and below the tops of the circles. That decision allowed Penn State to pressure Denver’s defense at every opportunity.
After killing off a penalty to start the second period, the Nittany Lions quickly turned a potentially dangerous situation into a goal when Denis Smirnov beat Jaillet by bouncing a puck off of Pioneers defenseman Michael Davies and in.
After that tying goal, Penn State continued to keep the pressure on the Pioneers, forcing them to have to move the puck quickly. They often struggled to do that when Borgstrom or Gambrell’s lines were not on the ice.
“We knew that Penn State is relentless and that they would get opportunities,” said Montgomery. “I thought, in the second half of the first period, they were the better hockey team.”
After the Pioneers broke through to get their third and fourth goals, the Nittany Lions struggled to keep that pressure on as Denver worked hard to make sure it had all three forwards back to support its defenders better.
3. While they don’t typically play together, Terry and Borgstrom have chemistry
While coach Jim Montgomery prefers to keep his two of his top scorers on separate lines, when they are on the ice at the same time, Troy Terry and Borgstrom have a special chemistry together that comes from being comfortable with each other on the ice.
After picking up an assist on Jarid Lukosevicius’ first goal of the night, Terry and Borgstrom hooked up in the second period for a pair of goals. Both tallies saw Terry as the recipient of well-timed and well-placed passes from Borgstrom that allowed Terry to be able to shoot without taking an extra stride and having to adjust. What made those plays more impressive was the fact that Borgstrom was feeding the puck to Terry, a right-handed shot, on the right wing.
Terry mentioned after the game that he has learned not to watch Borgstrom, but rather make sure he joins the freshman on the rush, because chances are good that he will get a scoring opportunity by jumping up in the play.