Denver’s top players deliver
The No. 4 Denver Pioneers got points mostly from their top-line players, Henrik Borgström, Dylan Gambrell, and Troy Terry in sweeping No. 9 Minnesota Duluth in Denver, and also sweeping all four games against the Bulldogs this season. On Friday, Borgström got the lone goal in highlight-reel fashion, banking in a snap shot off the helmet of Hunter Shepard in the third period, while goaltender Tanner Jaillet made 24 saves, including 17 in the third period as the Bulldogs tried for a furious rally. On Saturday, the Pioneers twice rallied from a goal down en route to a 4-3 victory. Gambrell got the game-winner near the midway point of the third and also assisted on Jarid Lukosevicius’ goal that tied it 3-3 late in the third. Jaillet made 14 saves in the third, including on a point-blank shot by Riley Tufte with 46 seconds left in the game to preserve the win.
Denver has gone 5-0-2 in its last seven games and now finds itself in an ironic position of déjà vu as it gets ready to play several games without Terry, who leaves to go play with Team USA in the Olympics. At the beginning of December, the Pioneers swept Duluth in Duluth and were coming off a stretch where they had gone 5-1, with sweeps of Duluth and St. Cloud State and a split with North Dakota. Their next series after sweeping Duluth was against Colorado College, whom Denver could only tie twice, a weekend that started a bit of a tailspin for Denver, which went 2-3-2 in the games after the Duluth series. Denver is off next weekend, and its next series is against Colorado College. Denver seems to have tightened up defensively however, and might be better positioned to finish the second half strong, as opposed to how they finished the first half and started the second.
St. Cloud State rebounds
After starting the second half of the season going 2-4-2, St. Cloud State has now won three straight, sweeping Omaha this weekend in convincing fashion to keep pace with Denver, which sits atop the NCHC standings. The Huskies torched the Mavericks for 11 goals in winning 5-3 and 6-2. On Friday, Mikey Eyssimont gave the Huskies the momentum, scoring at 16:12 of the second to put St. Cloud up 3-2 after Omaha had tied it earlier in that period. Easton Brodzinski then scored the game-winning goal at 1:02 of the third on a power play. David Pope notched his hat trick goal at 7:46 to pull Omaha back within one, but Robby Jackson scored an empty-netter at 19:07 to seal the win. Dávid Hrenák made 15 saves. Omaha wasted not only Pope’s hat trick, but 37 saves by goalie Evan Weninger. The next night, Eyssimont was again the spark plug, factoring in St. Cloud’s first three goals, including scoring at 18:53 to give the Huskies a 2-0 lead and then assisting on Blake Lizotte’s game-winner at 1:44 of the second that made it 3-0 St. Cloud. Omaha attempted to rally, with Zach Jordan’s goal at 6:04 pulling the Mavericks back within one, but St. Cloud then scored three. Weninger made 35 saves in the losing effort, while Jeff Smith made 24 saves.
St. Cloud trails Denver by three points in the NCHC race, but has two games in hand, and plays Miami on the road next week with a chance to take back the lead in the race for the Penrose Cup.
Miami splits with Western Michigan
Miami jumped out in front with three goals in the second period en route to a 4-2 win on Friday over Western Michigan, scoring twice on the power play, with Grant Hutton’s five-on-three power-play goal at 16:24 standing up as the game-winner. Ryan Larkin made 20 saves in the penalty-filled contest, in which 16 penalties were called, including 10 on the Broncos, one a 10-minute misconduct. Saturday, Miami again jumped in front 2-0, but the Broncos rallied with three goals in the second to win 3-2 and move into sole possession of third place in the NCHC, three points ahead of Minnesota Duluth and North Dakota, though North Dakota has two games in hand. Ethen Frank, who had scored one goal for Western on Friday, scored the first two Saturday, with the tying goal coming at the 16-minute mark, and Lawton Courtnall scored the game-winner at 17:24 of the second, picking the same top corner glove side the Frank had scored on to tie it.