The #1 Denver Pioneers will return to action after breaking for the holiday, travelling north to take on #16 Minnesota Duluth Friday and Saturday in a rematch of the 2017 Frozen Four final.
After being ranked in the top 10 in the preseason, the Bulldogs (7-6-2, 2-4-0 NCHC) have fallen back in the national polls after stumbling out of the gate. The opening weeks of conference play have been equally rocky for the team, which sits in seventh in the league and has yet to play a clean weekend.
UMD played once over the Thanksgiving break, defeating in-state foe and eighth-ranked Minnesota State 3-1 Saturday. Sophomore goaltender Hunter Shephard, who has played a majority of the minutes in net, made 33 saves in the win. Shephard allows just 2.44 goals per game but sports a save percentage of just .903.
Statistically, the Bulldogs don’t stand out in any area in particular. Nationally, the team sits in the middle of the pack in team defense (22nd) and power play (30th). Worse for UMD is ranking dead last in the NCHC in team offense (2.60 goals/game) and second to last in penalty kill percentage (77.3), ahead of only Colorado College.
The formula for teams to beat Denver (7-3-2, 3-3-0) has been to get the Pioneers in high-scoring shootouts and slow down their power play, but UMD hasn’t displayed the ability to beat teams that way thus far. The Bulldogs have been shut out three times this season, indicative of the offense struggles that could present a problem for the team in trying to keep pace with Denver’s second-ranked offense nationally (4.17 goals/game).
UMD’s leading scorer is freshman defenseman Scott Perunovich (2G, 10A). While the Pioneers’ leading scorers — Troy Terry and Henrik Borgström, who was named the NCHC player of the month for November — crack the top three in scoring nationally, Perunovich’s 12 points don’t put him in the top 80.
DU and Duluth split the only regular season games between them last season at Magness Arena, although the Pioneers obviously triumphed where it mattered most. Additionally, this year’s Bulldogs have not yet shown themselves to be of similar calibre to the 2016-17 squad.
Pioneers fans could get a look at a new defenseman after it was announced Thursday that Ryan Orgel of the North American Hockey League’s Lone Star Brahmas was being added to the roster. Though it is unclear when he will suit up, but Orgel is eligible to play immediately.
Both weekend games will commence at 6:05 MT and can be seen on NCHC.tv.