Roundup: Denver Rolls to 9th Straight, Closes In on NCHC Regular Season Title
CHN Staff Report
Denver closed in on an NCHC regular-season title, and firmed up its No. 1 spot in the Pairwise, by completing a weekend sweep of St. Cloud State with a 7-2 win Saturday.
Freshman Liam Finlay, who entered the night with three goals on the season, had a hat trick for the Pioneers. The win was Denver's ninth straight.
Denver now leads Minnesota-Duluth by four points in the NCHC Standings. A win in their next game – Friday night at Omaha – will give the Pioneers their first-ever Penrose Cup.
“Friday night is great mental training for us on how to win a championship,” Denver coach Jim Montgomery said. “We’ve got all week to think about the result but we know that’s not what we need to focus on – we’ve got to stay in the moment and focus on the process; that’s what’s gotten us to this point and that’s what’s going to take us to the next level as we gear up to take a run at a National Title in the coming weeks.”
Florida Panthers prospect Henrik Borgström had a particularly thrilling goal amid the rout. He put Denver up 3-0 in the second period on a sensational individual effort, deftly stickhandling around a Huskies defender and beating SCSU goalie Jeff Smith on a picture-perfect wrist shot for his team-leading 17th goal.
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With North Dakota trying to grab home ice for the league playoffs and improve its positioning in the Pairwise, the Fighting Hawks planned to build on Friday's 6-4 win over the Mavericks. Instead, the worst defensive team in the NCHC handed UND its fifth shutout loss of the season by limiting it to just seven shots on goal for the first two periods, including just one in the second period.
Omaha goalie Evan Weninger turned back all 22 shots he faced to post the shutout and senior Austin Ortega sparked the Mavs offense with a goal and two assists.
UND is tied with Omaha for the fourth place in the NCHC — the last spot for home ice in the first round of league playoffs and one point ahead of St. Cloud State — with two games remaining for all league teams.
The flat performance was a bit shocking to UND coaches and players.
"We talked about it all day," UND coach Brad Berry said. "We got in here at 10 in the morning and through through the whole day preparing for meetings and things like that, we talked about the urgency and taking another step forward, home ice (for playoffs), Pairwise and everything. It's not about pressure. We're all about big games and playing in them and knowing what the impact of the games are."
Yet UND lacked any cohesive play through the game, even though it mustered 15 shots on net in the third period, more than double the total of the first two.
Goals by David Pope on a power play one-timer at 8:45 of the first period and a wrister by Riley Alfred at 5:43 of the third period staked the Mavericks to a 2-0 lead before Ortega clinched it with an open-net goal wilth 2:01 remaining in the game.
"From the drop of the puck, that was a hungry team on the other side, and we didn't play as a group," Berry said. "I thought there were some good efforts, I thought the guys worked ... but we didn't work together. We have to work together as a team to get the job done."
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Western Michigan rebounded from a tie on Friday to beat Colorado College, 5-1, on Saturday. The win secured home ice advantage for the NCHC Quarterfinals and head coach Andy Murray picked up his 100th career NCAA win.
The Broncos had five different goal scorers on the night, while Jade McMullen had two assists and Ben Blacker made 27 saves to earn his 13th win. WMU is locked into third place, which is the team's highest finish in the four-year history of the NCHC.