St. Cloud, MN – After being tagged with a 5-1 loss on Friday you knew the #6 ranked Pioneers would be in desperation mode in the series finale on Saturday. Entering the game with a 2-5-0 record in the last seven games, the #6 Pairwise Pioneers needed to begin to create some momentum nearing the playoffs and perhaps grease the teams ego after a gut punch the night before. With a one-point lead over the Huskies in the league standings entering Saturday’s game, the Pioneers needed a better outcome or they’d be looking at the possibility of hitting the road for the NCHC playoffs. They got it with a dominant effort and 5-2 win to increase their lead over the Huskies by four points with two regular season games remaining. The win also put a damper on the senior celebration for five players – Jack Ahcan, Jack Poehling, Nick Poehling, Jake Wahlin and Clark Kuster who may have seen their last game at the Herb Brooks National Hockey Center.
“It was a role reversal tonight” said coach Brett Larson. “they were able to scrap back and get that lead goal and play with the lead. That early goal in the second hurt us. We gave up a couple of goals we’d like to have back bt it wasn’t for lack of compete or battle level from our guys. Even though the game didn’t go our way they left it all out there. Denver was the better team tonight.”
Denver coach David Carle commented “All night long, that might be one of our most committed efforts of the year. I thought our puck management was great. We stayed committed to what we were doing. We forced them to break a lot of pucks out and created a lot of turnovers. The story of the game was special teams again, but this time in our favor.”
The Huskies had a nice start to the game skating with energy and confidence despite missing their team captain, Jack Ahcan who was sitting out the game with an upper body injury sustained in period two on Friday. A penalty to the Pioneer’s Jack Doremus for interference at 8:18 gave the Huskies an early advantage and they cashed in with a goal by Nolan Walker (Nick Poehling | Brodzinski) his second of the season at 9:07. On an unusual play, Walker retrieved the puck below the goal line and attempted to pass to Sam Hentges in the high slot. However, it deflected off the skate of Jack Durflinger and past goaltender Chrona for a 1-0 SCSU lead.
With the Huskies outshooting the Pioneers 7-4 an unfortunate turnover deep in the SCSU zone was pounced on by Liam Finlay and he walked in on Hrenak and beat him five-hole to tie the game at 1-1. It seemed to change the entire momentum of the game from that point on. The Huskies survived a penalty to Luke Jaycox for interference 33 seconds later but Denver scored again at 18:46 with a goal by Jake Durflinger to take a 2-1 lead. With the Huskies struggling to keep the puck out of their zone, Durflinger took a shot through traffic from the top of the right circle that beat Hrenek for the one-goal lead with 1:14 remaining in the period. Despite being down by a goal, SCSU outshot Denver 11 to 10 for the period. In an impressive effort, they blocked seven shots in the period.
The ultimate game-winning goal was scored just 1:08 into the period by captain and defenseman Ian Mitchell. Mitchell beat Hrenak with a wrist shot from the dot in the right circle and Denver had a two-goal lead they would never surrender. The balance of the period was filled with penalties – six to be exact with neither team taking advantage and the penalties disrupting the flow of the game. A crucial turning point was the Huskies inability to score on a five on three after consecutive penalties to Tyler Ward at 10:45 and Jake Durflinger at 10:53. Despite the two-man advantage and placing four shots on goal, the Huskies were unable to beat Chrona and finished the period being outshot severely by a 18-8 margin and down by two goals.
With one shot on goal by the Huskies in the first ten minutes of the period and failing to generate much offense, Denver leading scorer, Emilio Pettersen put the nail in the coffin at 10:29 with the Pioneers fourth goal and a three-goal lead. Pettersen scored from the dot in the right circle with a quick wrist shot that beat Hrenak clean glove side high.
Down by four goals, the Huskies pulled Hrenak for the extra attacker with over seven minutes left in regulation. They inched back into the game with a goal by Jami Krannila with 2:13 remaining in the period. Zach Okabe fed Krannila who was stationed in the right circle with a backhand pass and Krannila unloaded a heavy shot off one knee that beat Chrona to close the lead to two goals. Continuing with the extra attacker, Denver was finally able to capitalize with an empty net goal by Kohen Olischefski at 18:14 for a 5-2 final.
With some extended time in the Denver zone with the extra attacker, the Huskies outshot the Pioneers 10-8 in the period while attempting 17 shots. For the game, Denver outshot the Huskies 36 to 29. SCSU blocked 16 shots in the game with Denver blocking 7. David Hrenak stopped 31 of 35 shots on goal in the loss. Magnus Chrona had a strong night in goal turning aside 27 of 29 shots. SCSU outdueled Denver 36 to 34 in the faceoff circle. Will Hammer led the Huskies winning 11 of 15 draws.
Stars of the Game: #1 Ian Mitchell (DU) #2 Liam Finlay (DU) #3 Magnus Chrona (DU)
With Omaha getting swept by Miami, the Huskies can finish no lower than fifth in the final NCHC regular season standings. The win by Denver moved them into third place two points ahead of Western Michigan who lost twice at North Dakota. The Huskies remain two points behind Western Michigan. Next weekends results will dictate the seedings for the NCHC playoffs. SCSU travels to UMD while Western Michigan hosts Miami and Denver has a home and home series with rival Colorado College. The Huskies remain a long shot to capture third place and still have a reasonable chance to finish in fourth, the final home playoff position.
After the loss to Denver on Saturday night, the Huskies moved from #20 to #22 in the Pairwise. A successful weekend in Duluth, could move them as high as #13 in the Pairwise.