The Denver Pioneers are on the hunt for their tenth national championship – the most of any college program. They’re currently tied at nine with the University of Michigan. After some big-name departures last season: Bobby Brink, Carter Savoie, captain Cole Guttman, and more – some may have entered this season with skepticism.
The Pioneers haven’t had many stumbles. They started the year with back to back wins in the Ice Breaker tournament against Maine and Notre Dame. In October, Denver went 6-2-0. Their only losses that month came about during that UMass sweep on the road to start the year. You’ll recall Cale Makar’s hilarious wager with Logan O’Connor earlier this season which forced O’Connor to wear a UMass t-shirt during media availability.
Since that point, the Pioneers have left very little on the table, going undefeated in the month of December and just three other losses total (one of which was outside of regulation). Reasonably, Denver is number four in the power rankings and has hovered above that through the first half of the season.
Entering tonight’s contest against NCHC opponent, the Miami RedHawks, the Pioneers looked to build upon last weekend’s split series. They managed a triumphant victory over Alaska Fairbanks 7-2 on Saturday after dropping Friday’s contest 1-3.
The Pioneers put together a competitive period. They gave up two powerplay chances to Miami, but successfully killed both. Carter Mazur, Sean Behrens, Kyle Mayhew, Mike Benning, Justin Lee, Brett Edwards, and Connor Caponi were among the trusted penalty kill personnel. On the first kill, goaltender Magnus Chrona had to come up with two huge saves. Behrens did a great job tending to the netfront on the second kill. He tied up shooting lanes with timely blocks and swept pucks away from the crease.
On their lone powerplay chance, Denver was mostly kept to the perimeter, but in 5-on-5 play, the Pioneers created the most dangerous chances. Denver outshot Miami 20-16 overall with a 12-6 differential in shots on target. They had a slight edge in possession and applied heavy pressure on the forecheck to keep it – particularly from the second and third lines’ centered by Aidan Thompson and Carter King respectively.
Hot out the gate, Massimo Rizzo led the rush up ice and fed Carter Mazur streaking down the slot who made a slick move to force Ludvig Persson to commit wide.
Mazur attributed their early success to sticking to their game plan. “We know that it works so we might as well stay with it and start shooting more pucks, testing out the goalie, (and eventually it) finds its way in to the back of the net, and that’s huge for us.”
Denver earned a powerplay chance. Less than a minute into the PP, McKade Webster bought in to the play and scored. Mazur’s tip off Rizzo’s shot sent the puck to Webster right at the netfront.
Nine seconds later off the draw at center ice, Aidan Thompson entered Miami’s zone in a two-on-one. Thompson beat Persson, who was out of position originally trying to play the puck behind the net, at 1:46 into the second period to put the Pioneers up three goals.
At 6:18, Triston Broz angled the puck up the boards through the neutral zone to create a breakaway chance for Carter King. King beat Persson cleanly.
Less than a minute after that, Shai Buium carried the puck between the hashmarks. He passed the puck to King who sent it backdoor on Persson to give the Pioneers a dominant five goal lead. Miami pulled their goaltender in exchange for Logan Neaton.
Denver earned two more powerplay chances – making for four total on the night, one of which was successful on that Webster goal.
At 15:05 into the period, Jack Devine sent a pass through the slot to Casey Dornbach in tight. Dornbach fired from the left circle backdoor on Neaton seconds after their powerplay expired.
To close out the period, the Pioneers went on the kill for the final time. Chrona made a big stop on a shot from the right circle and Denver remained perfect on all three kills. Denver delivered six unanswered goals. Three goals came in under a minute thirty seconds and two additional come within 41 seconds.
Four minutes into its start, Dornbach created an odd-man rush and fed King coming down the slot. King lifted the puck in over Neaton. In doing this, the sophomore forward also effectively notched his first NCAA career hat trick.
Even up seven goals, Denver never really let off the gas. Even with a minute in the period, forwards were entering the offensive zone hungry to apply pressure and make Miami’s life difficult. The Pioneers won 7-0.
True to the process, Denver hit on important pieces that are pivotal to their success: winning the faceoff battle, winning special teams – albeit with some luck on the penalty kill and a powerplay that was just good enough, and winning battles (netfront and puck).
Denver will play Miami tomorrow night to conclude this weekend’s series. Puck drop will be at 6 P.M. at Magness Arena.
Postgame Notes | Game Thread here:
Carter Mazur on what makes this group special: “That’s the best part of hockey – how close you are with your teammates. Last year we were a really close group. To have that kind of family chemistry and going into the later games (with) everyone producing, everyone having good games, it’s what’s going to get us to the final goal which is winning the national championship.”
“I don’t really care about individual stats. I want to win another national championship,” he added.
David Carle on special teams: “It was good, not great. I know it looks good statistically, (but) I didn’t think our sticks were great on the kill. As far as breaking some plays up, we spent a lot of time in our own end. That’s where I thought Magnus Chrona was really good. We had some failed clears as well that led to more zone time. Certainly some things to clean up there and then the power play – it leaves us wanting a little bit more, but it was good enough to get the job done and win the special teams battle. That’s a really positive thing.”
David Carle on depth scoring: “It’s great when you have an unbelievable top line, but then people sometimes start to rely on that and think, ‘Well they’re gonna go out and do it.’ When you have the depth scoring, everyone in the room believes that anyone can do it on a given night. It gives the group confidence that permeates throughout the whole team.”
David Carle on Magnus Chrona with 20 saves tonight: “I don’t know if he got on the scoresheet or not, but on the power play goal, he moves it up,” Carle started. “He sees all four of them changing, moves it up, and gets us that power play goal. I thought he was excellent on the kill – got us a lot of faceoffs and whistles, and pucks stuck to him. Albeit, the shot total was what it was, (but) they did have some good looks, and he was there on some point blank opportunities. To be big and calm – he gives our group that level of confidence that he’s always going to be there.”