NCHC: No. 3 Denver storms back to erase No. 18 Omaha's strong start


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After falling into an early hole, the No. 3 Denver Pioneers rallied to defeat the No. 18 Omaha Mavericks, 5-3, at Magness Arena in Denver. Henrik Borgstrom, Dylan Gambrell, and Will Butcher each had a goal and an assist to pace the Pioneers.

“I thought we played well the first two periods; even the first period I was really happy with our puck possession and our execution,” said Denver coach Jim Montgomery. “The only thing I wasn’t happy with was the backdoor goals we gave up. We had a couple of mistakes that we don’t usually make defensively, but that’s a good offensive team, so they’re going to make you pay.”

Omaha jumped out to an early lead thanks to its power play. The Mavericks set up well and cycled the puck, then Austin Ortega got it in the right faceoff circle and sent it across to Justin Parizek in the left circle, and Parizek one-timed it high stick side past a diving Tanner Jaillet at 3:36 of the period.

Denver seemed flustered after that goal, and a neutral zone turnover sent Omaha going back the other way on a two-on-one, with Ortega streaking down the right side of the slot. Mason Morelli sent him a pass near the crease, and Ortega was able to free up his stick from a Denver defender and tap it into the open net at 7:44.

“A good first period for us going up 2-0,” said Omaha coach Dean Blais. “We’ve done that a dozen times where we’ve not only scored the first goal, but followed that up with the second goal. A team like Denver, you just know that they’re going to keep coming. It helps that they had a good crowd tonight, home ice, and they have a lot of talent and they deserve that No. 2 in the PairWise. I thought we played probably 45 minutes. The first period was pretty even, even though it was 2-0.”

“We thought we played pretty good the first period; we just didn’t score,” said Borgstrom. “That was the part of our game we wanted to change, and we did it.”

Denver came out with much more fire in the second period, outshooting Omaha 21-10, and blitzed the Mavericks for four goals and. Denver struck early to pull within one, as Tyson McLellan scored at 3:53 off a beautiful feed from Tariq Hammond, who was in the left faceoff circle and spied McLellan at the far post and fed him a pass that McLellan tapped into the open net behind Kris Oldham.

Just past the midway point of the period, Denver went on a power play, and NHL first round draft pick Borgstrom scored the type of goal only he can. Jarid Lukosevicius got the puck in the left corner behind the goal line and slid the puck up to Borgstrom near the point. Borgstrom took two strides down toward the top of the right circle and rifled a snap shot top corner past Oldham at 12:56. The puck seemed to have eyes, as it went through traffic and Oldham didn’t even have time to react before it was by him.

“I was just like looking at the D-man’s feet, where he’s standing, and I saw there was a little shooting lane,” said Borgstrom. “I scored from that spot earlier this year too, so I just thought I could try again.”

“When they got that second goal, you could feel the bench deflate,” said Blais. “We lost a little bit of energy there. They got better in the second period. That’s Denver, a talented team, a well-coached team.”

“It’s about 10 times we’ve seen it this year, so our bench is used to it,” said Montgomery. “He’s electrifying; he’s special. Especially a goal like that, I don’t know if I could sense them being deflated, but I could sense us being uplifted and momentum and we were confident.”

Buoyed from tying the score, Denver scored less than two minutes later to take the lead. Borgstrom was pestering Omaha defenseman Dean Stewart down low, and Stewart tried to slide a pass across the crease. Borgstrom intercepted it and knocked it back to Dylan Gambrell, who picked it up, skated toward the net and fired a snap shot top corner glove side at 14:40.

“That’s the part of our game that makes us so hard to play against,” said Borgstrom. “We had just scored and we wanted to keep it going and getting pressure.”

The announcer had barely finished saying the goal over the PA before Denver struck again. Liam Finlay picked up the puck off a turnover in the Omaha zone on the left side and skated toward the net. He got a shot off and the puck hit an Omaha defender’s skate and came back to Finlay, who took another stride forward and got the puck behind an out-of-position Oldham at 15:17.

Denver continued to apply a lot of pressure in the third period while keeping Omaha’s offensive chances to a minimum, and made it 5-2 with another power-play goal. Right off a draw, Will Butcher beat Oldham with a bullet slat shot from the left point at 13:30.

“We talked about power play a lot before the game,” said Borgstrom. “Last weekend our power play wasn’t working well enough. I think we played very well today. Of course when you have guys like Will Butcher, great things happen.”

Omaha got one back shortly thereafter. Right off a draw, defenseman Ian Brady fired a shot on net and Morelli deflected it in midair in the crease past Jaillet at 15:10 of the third.

“He had a lot of grit,” said Blais of Morelli. “He played up and down and deserved it. He’s been snakebit a little bit for maybe the last 12, 15 games. Tonight, thank goodness, he got some results.”

NCHC roundup

St. Cloud State 2, vs. No. 20 Bemidji State 1

Blake Winiecki had a goal and an assist to lead St. Cloud State to a 2-1 victory over Bemidji State in the first game of the North Star College Cup at the Xcel Center in St. Paul, Minnesota. Jeff Smith made 26 saves in the win. Jacob Benson opened the scoring at 6:01 of the first off a feed from Winiecki on a power play, picking up the puck in the slot and slamming it home, and then Winiecki scored the game-winner at 7:16 of the second, getting the puck down low on the right side of the crease and beating Michael Bitzer five-hole. Zach Whitecloud pulled the Beavers back within one at 17:35 of the second with a beautiful wrister from the top of the slot, but Smith shut the door the rest of the way, making eight saves in the third.

No. 2 Minnesota Duluth 3, vs. No. 6 Minnesota 2

Minnesota Duluth rallied from a goal down to defeat Minnesota, 3-2, in the second game of the North Star College Cup, handing the Gophers their third loss to an NCHC team from Minnesota this season, as St. Cloud previously swept the Gophers. Riley Tufte continued to stay hot, sparking the Bulldogs’ rally with an unassisted goal at 18:51 of the first period after Brent Gates Jr. had put Minnesota up 1-0 with a power-play goal at 5:05 of the first. Alex Iafallo gave Duluth a lead it wouldn’t relinquish with a five-on-three power-play goal at 6:48 of the second, and Avery Peterson scored what would prove the game-winner at 8:34 of the third off a feed from Tufte. Gates Jr. scored an extra-attacker goal at 19:21 of the third to pull the Gophers back within one, but that was it for the scoring. Hunter Miska made 37 saves in the win. Minnesota went winless against Minnesota NCHC teams this year, going 0-3 games against St. Cloud State and Duluth.

No. 10 Western Michigan 2, Miami 1

Hugh McGing scored what proved to be the game-winner at 11:44 of the second period, breaking a tie score after Miami’s Louie Belpedio had scored a short-handed goal to tie it at 8:15 of the second, and Ben Blacker made 20 saves as Western Michigan won its third straight game and seventh in its last eight. Cam Lee opened the scoring for the Broncos at 6:01 of the first, and also assisted on McGing’s game-winner.

No. 12 North Dakota 5, at Colorado College 2

North Dakota rallied from a 2-0 deficit with five unanswered goals, including four in the third period, to defeat Colorado College 5-2. Goals by Kade Kehoe at 9:36 of the first and Alex Berardinelli at 12:40 of the first put CC up. Matej Tomek started in goal for North Dakota and was replaced at the start of the second by Matt Hrynkiw, who earned the win. Trevor Olson started the North Dakota rally at 4:34 of the second, but CC still held the lead late in the third before Hayden Shaw’s goal on a wrist shot from the point at 14:41 of the third started the North Dakota blitz. Dixon Bowen scored the game-winner at 17:14 getting sprung on a breakaway and beating Alex Leclerc with a quick wrist shot. Moments after that, with CC pressing, Shane Gersich and Brock Boeser broke in on a two-on-one, and Gersich beat Leclerc with a snap shot from the left side of the slot at 17:35. Joel Janatuinen’s empty-netter at 19:27 capped the scoring.