The Denver Pioneers are the top team in the NCHC conference. Tonight, they faced the last-placed team in the Colorado College Tigers. Obviously, these teams aren't strangers to one another, and historically, Denver has had the upper hand. Since the teams' first face off in 1950, the Pioneers have a 173-116-17 record against Colorado College. Denver came into tonight riding an eleven-game win streak and a 17-5-2-0 conference record. The series is the best of three games, and it was Denver that took the first one tonight.
For the first five minutes of the game, Colorado College looked the team more ready to play. While the Tigers were calm and hungry for the puck, Denver was fragmented and a little overzealous. Eventually, Denver's play settled, but neither team established a rhythm. The game was a series of disjointed plays and scrappy attempts to corral the puck and start a breakout. Colorado College's Alex Leclerc saw a lot of players barreling down on him as the Pioneers crashed the net frequently, at times sending bodies into him.
At the other end of the ice, Tanner Jaillet was forced to make some good saves, one of which looked to the Tigers as a goal. The officials reviewed it for nearly five minutes, but the call on the ice stood: No goal. The 0-0 score which would remain through the end of the period.
Colorado College started out the second period with the final 1:12 of a power play assessed at the end of the first period. Denver was able to kill it off authoritatively, not allowing the Tigers to get anything set up. Just minutes later, Troy Terry combined with Dylan Gambrell and Henrik Borgstrom for the first goal of the night. Terry picked up a rebound in the slot and sniped a shot over Leclerc's shoulder. 1-0 Denver.
The goal really opened up the ice. Where the first was a tough, grinding period, the second was all about fluidity and speed. This played right into Denver's game, and they were able to ratchet up the offense. After the Tigers were called for too many men on the ice at the 5:46 mark, the Pioneers got to work on the power play.
At first, Colorado College was doing a fantastic job clearing the puck out of the offensive zone before Denver could set up. However, one mistake cost them when Liam Finley and Terry crashed the net. Leclerc bit on Terry and left Finley a wide-open net for the rebound tap-in. Will Butcher was given the secondary assist, and Denver lead the Tigers 2-0.
I think if our process is good and if we play with the same discipline as we have tonight, I think our chances on the second night are really good. Generally, we play better on the second night. - Coach Jim Montgomery
The goal sparked something in the top team in the conference, and Denver found its groove, putting pressure on the Tigers across the ice. It took less than three minutes for the Pioneers to extend the lead to three. Terry stole the puck just on the center ice side of the blue line, dropped the pass Blake Hillman who fired a rocket past Leclerc. Colorado College answered back just over a minute later on a play that started as an odd-man, three-on-two rush up the ice. Trevor Gooch cycled back towards the boards and left the puck for Ben Israel. He passed it back to Westin Michaud at the blueline who ripped it past Jaillet top shelf to put the score at 3-1.
The second continued to be an offensive spectacle as both teams engaged in north-south play, putting both goalies to the test. The period closed with Denver dominating in shots 28 to 16 and goals three to one.
The third returned to the disjointed, grinding play of the first. By the midway point, things got rough and penalties were passed around like candy. Denver ended up with three, while Colorado College was assessed five. One power play would convert for Denver with a nifty goal by Marcinew. The play started with Gambrell chipping the puck off the boards inside the blue line. Lukosevicius picked it up and circled the back of the net. He passed the puck across the crease to Marcinew for the tap in. With less than eight minutes to go in the game, Denver seemed to have things wrapped up with a 4-1 lead and 46 to 22 shot advantage.
The period wound down with more penalties but no goals and Denver took the first game of Round 1.