The Denver Pioneers walked into Baxter Arena to take on the Omaha Mavericks with hopes of clinching the club's first ever Penrose Cup. The Penrose is awarded to the NCHC's regular-season champion and named after Colorado's Julie and Spencer Penrose who built the Cheyenne Mountain Zoo, the Broadmoor Hotel, and most importantly to the hockey community, the Broadmoor World Arena/Ice Palace in Colorado Springs. Either a Denver win or a loss by Minnesota-Duluth, which played Western Michigan tonight, would seal it for the Pioneers. In the end, the Pioneers didn't need help from the Bulldogs, clinching the Cup on their 17th win of the season.
Denver's Troy Terry started off the scoring at 3:52 in the first period. After a textbook two-on-one give and go with Jared Lukosevicius, Terry froze the defense before shooting from top of the circle to beat Omaha's Evan Weninger. Omaha attempted to strike back with its own two-on-one, but Adan Plant played the rush perfectly, going down to the ice and sliding with the shooter to take away the pass.
Lukas Buchta of Omaha tied things up mid-way through the period with a shot from the point that found its way through a crowd in front of Denver's Tanner Jaillet. Shortly after the goal, the Pioneers went on the first man advantage of the game with Omaha called for too many men on the ice. The Mavericks did a solid job of shutting down Denver's power play, though, and never allowed any dangerous chances. The first period wound down with some quality saves at both ends of the ice, giving the teams a tied game (1-1) going into intermission.
Five minutes into the second period, Omaha took a 2-1 lead with an Austin Ortega goal, originating from the point. Reminiscent of the Mavericks' first goal, Jaillet was screened heavily; one body belonged to Ortega, who tipped the puck past Jaillet. Denver took the next shift aggressively, but Terry was called for holding. After a minute of power play time, Omaha's Mason Morelli was sent to the box for elbowing Plant, putting the teams four-on-four for a minute, followed by a short Denver power play. No goals were scored by either team, however.
After ten minutes of all-Denver pressure, Terry took the puck into the offensive zone along the boards, fighting off a strong Mavericks' defense, and then sent the puck behind the net to Logan O'Connor. O'Connor fought in the crease to pick up his own rebound and slip it past Weninger to bring the score even again. The remainder of the period saw Omaha dominating play, forcing Jaillet to make some quality saves, but the teams left the ice still tied at two.
Less than two minutes into the third period, Omaha took back-to-back penalties, giving the Pioneers a five-on-three power play. Lukosevicius started a scoring play by winning a battle in the corner and sending the puck to Will Butcher on the blueline. Butcher slid the puck to Henrik Borgstrom who ripped a one-timer past Weninger to give Denver the lead at 3-2.
Borgstrom extended the Pioneers' lead by two at the halfway mark in the third after fighting through three Mavericks in his charge to the net. Terry hit the pass right on the tape, and Borgstrom one-timed it once again for the goal.
With 2:11 left in the game, Omaha went on the power play with Plant headed to the box for tripping. The Mavericks' goalie headed to the bench before the face off, giving them a six-on-four man advantage for the full two minutes. Denver was up to the challenge, however, and killed off the penalty, taking the game with a 4-2 final score.
The Pioneers and Mavericks face off again tomorrow night in Omaha with a 6:00 pm MT puck drop. The NCHC playoffs will pit Denver against rival Colorado College.