DU Pioneers survive UMass-Lowell, move on to Regional final showdown with Minnesota-Duluth – The Denver Post

DU Pioneers survive UMass-Lowell, move on to Regional final showdown with Minnesota-Duluth – The Denver Post

LOVELAND — The Denver Pioneers saucered into the NCAA West Regional championship game on Thursday night.

A headman saucer pass by freshman Carter Mazur was tapped in mid-air by fifth-year graduate transfer Cameron Wright to give the top-seeded Pioneers a 3-2 lead over No. 4 Massachusetts-Lowell with 2:57 remaining in the third period. DU held on to win by that score in a highly competitive contest at the Budweiser Events Center.

“Obviously, a great win for us,” Denver coach David Carle said. “It was a very challenging game, and for that, I give our players a ton of credit for sticking with it. We have not been in a lot of these really tight games this year.”

Wright’s goal was his 21st of the season, a new career-high. He played the previous four years at Bowling Green and had 20 goals as a junior.

“It’s a huge goal for me, and that’s why I came here Denver — to win hockey games and be in the national tournament,” Wright said. “It’s been good so far. We’re hoping to win three more games here and maybe lift that trophy.”

Denver, which blew a late 2-1 lead, will play No. 2-seed Minnesota-Duluth in Saturday afternoon’s title game for a berth to the April 7-9 Frozen Four in Boston. The Bulldogs (21-15-4) downed No. 3 Michigan Tech 3-0 earlier Thursday behind the third consecutive shutout from goalie Ryan Fanti.

Minnesota-Duluth and Fanti blanked DU 2-0 in last week’s NCHC Frozen Faceoff semifinals in St. Paul, Minn. It was the first time the Pioneers, who lead the NCAA in scoring at 4.4 goals per game, failed to score in a game this season.

“We’ve played them five times this year. They got three on us. We got two on them,” Carle said of the Bulldogs. “There’s no secrets. I think the experience of playing them last weekend is very beneficial for us. I think the experience of playing Lowell was very, very beneficial for us, and so our team is getting pushed in different ways. And we found a way to win a really hard hockey game, which I think gives our group a lot of confidence.”

Getting past UMass-Lowell was indeed a tough chore. It was a tight game for all 60 minutes.

Sophomore winger Carter Savoie broke the ice in the third. He gave the Pioneers a 2-1 lead midway through on a 4-on-4 sequence, shortly after teammate Brett Stapley, who scored DU’s first goal, was given a five-minute major and game misconduct for butt-ending. Savoie used a wrist shot to beat Savory blocker-side on a 2-on-1 rush with Bobby Brink.

“I saw their D commit to Bob, and our goalie coach did a really good job with the pre-scout. He said shoot far-side and I got the shot where I wanted it,” Savoie said.

Shortly after, UMass-Lowell went on a three-minute power play, which DU successfully killed. But with 5:39 remaining, River Hawks forward Connor Sodergren slammed his own rebound past DU goalie Magnus Chrona to tie it 2-2.

Denver (28-9-1) nearly took a 2-1 lead late in the second period on its fourth power play. A shot by freshman defenseman Sean Behrens caromed off iron and in the crease behind goalie Owen Savory, who made contact with the puck and inadvertently pushed it towards the goal line. But a River Hawks defender slapped it in the corner before it crossed the line.

Denver produced nine of 12 shots in the middle frame but failed to convert on three power plays.

The teams traded first-period goals. UMass-Lowell senior and team captain Lucas Condotta struck 9:42 into the game and DU senior Stapley tied it at 18:36. Each team had eight shots and one power-play opportunity in the frame.

Condotta beat Chrona with a quick wrist shot from the doorstep. Stapley got a piece of the puck off a shot from defenseman Justin Lee and it changed direction and beat Savory.

Footnotes. Avalanche assistant general manager Chris MacFarland attended the regional — presumably scouting Behrens, Colorado’s 2021 second-round draft pick (61st overall), and various free agents. … Fifth-year senior forward Ryan Barrow played in his 165th game with DU, second-most in program history. … DU is playing in its record 13th-consecutive NCAA Tournament in a full season. The Pioneers did not make the 16-team field in the shortened 2020-21 season in which teams did not play nonconference games until the tournament. … DU is now 9-2 in NCAA Tournament games in Colorado. Thursday marked the first in-state tournament game since 2004 when the Pioneers went 2-0 in Colorado Springs to advance to the Frozen Four in Boston. They went on to defeat Minnesota-Duluth and Maine to win the national title.

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