TAMPA, Fla. — Throughout the year, the Denver Pioneers had proven to be resilient, bouncing back from almost every setback to get better results.
In the Frozen Four semifinal against NCHC rival North Dakota on Thursday, that theme repeated again: The Pioneers battled back from a 2-0 deficit in the third period to tie it, only to give up a goal in the last minute and then an empty-netter to lose 4-2.
2016 Frozen Four
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However, Denver ultimately won’t be looking at the faceoff it lost that led to that winning goal, but the missed opportunities on the power play as what proved most costly in the loss. Denver went 0-for-4 on the power play on the night, and in six games against North Dakota this year went 0-for-23.
“I think the big thing is they won faceoffs,” said Montgomery. “And then the second thing, anytime there’s a scrum, they came up with it. They’re a really good penalty kill team. We had opportunities. The one thing we didn’t do, we wanted to try to go to the goal line, and we never did that. And we shot in the shin pads a little too much.
“We need to show a little more poise in those situations. But I give full credit to the North Dakota’s penalty kill. It’s not easy to penetrate their blue line. It’s not easy to get open sticks at the net. They’re really good. And I wish we would have made a couple more plays. But we didn’t. Gotta give credit to them.”
Denver had the first two power plays of the game in the first period and couldn’t generate any solid chances. In fact, in the entire first period, both teams had only four shots, tying the mark for the lowest total number of shots in a period in the Frozen Four.
Despite going 0-for-2 on the power play in the scoreless first period, and then 0-for-1 in the second period when trailing the Fighting Hawks 2-0, Denver found itself in a position to get some redemption for its power play in the third.
Having battled back and tied the game 2-2, with the tying goal coming just as the Pioneers killed their own crucial penalty to Danton Heinen, Denver had a power-play chance with 6:25 left in the game, a chance in poetic terms that could have given Denver a win if the power play got its first goal. Instead, North Dakota shut Denver down on that chance.
“Obviously, special teams are huge this time of year, and we gave them four opportunities tonight and had our guys battled up when we went a man down,” said North Dakota forward Nick Schmaltz. “You have to do that this time of year. We had guys blocking shots all over the place. We’re just a team-first team that does whatever it takes to kill those penalties off and then get back to work right after.”
Denver defenseman Will Butcher, who had Denver’s first goal and is a key cog in Denver’s power play, said the last power play was a crucial missed chance.
“I think that was our worst power play of the night, to be honest with you,” said Butcher. “I made a crappy pass over to Trevor and it just seemed like it wasn’t clicking too much. They did a pretty good job of clogging the middle and it’s hard to get shots in on them. They know what we want to do is drag and flank and it’s hard sometimes for our flankers to make open reads or open shots. I thought our power play did a great job at the beginning of the game to build some momentum for us and create some opportunities. We just weren’t getting the bounces.”