The #1 ranked University of Denver Pioneers were upended in their NCHC opener Friday night, falling to Western Michigan 6-5. WMU scored two goals in the final 1:12 in an uncharacteristic lapse for the Pioneers, who appeared to be well on their way to a win before being outscored 3-1 in the final period.
Denver (4-1-2, 0-1 NCHC) was outshot for just the second time all season 37-35. Freshman goalie Dayton Rasmussen started in net for DU in place of senior Tanner Jaillet and turned away 31 shots.
It looked early on like it would be the Henrik Borgström show, as he recorded a natural hat trick with two goals in the first period and another five minutes into the second. Borgström’s fellow countryman Jaako Heikkinen followed him up with his second goal of the season minutes later, and it appeared that DU was in control with a 4-2 lead.
But the Broncos (4-3-1, 1-0) seemed to have an answer for each momentum swing in DU’s favor. Dawson DiPietro’s goal with six minutes remaining in the period cut the lead to one before the second intermission. 5:50 into the third period, WMU erased the lead entirely with a goal on the power play from Hugh McGing.
The penalty kill continues to be a cause for concern, as DU has surrendered power play goals in six of seven games to start the year. DU’s highly-ranked power play also struggled mightily on the night, finishing at 0-for-9 and failing to capitalize on a 1-minute, 44-second two-man advantage in the third period.
It looked like Troy Terry might be the Friday night hero for the Pioneers for the second straight week when he put DU ahead on a breakaway that was set up by a pretty face-off play with 4:30 remaining.
But DU failed to hold onto the lead once again. Colt Conrad cashed in a rebound for his sixth goal of the season with the extra attacker to tie the score with 1:12 to play. The Pioneers were either stunned, playing for overtime, or both, as WMU took the puck right back and scored 15 seconds later to complete an improbable comeback. DiPietro’s second of the night handed DU a disappointing first loss of the season and opened NCHC play on a sour note for the Pioneers.
Borgström and Terry finished with three points each on the night. The pair now lead the team in points — Terry with 13 (5G 8A) and Borgström with 11 (8G 3A).
The teams will rematch Saturday night at 5:05 MT. Earning a split would be big for the Pioneers before a showdown with #2 St. Cloud State next weekend. The game can be seen by NCHC.tv subscribers.