One week prior, the Denver Pioneers needed a third period comeback led by Troy Terry against the seventh-seeded Colorado College Tigers just to stave off elimination in the NCHC first round. With that win, DU found the groove every team hopes to find in the postseason, rattling off three more dominant wins that culminated in a 4-1 victory in the NCHC Frozen Faceoff title game Saturday night against first-seeded St. Cloud State in St. Paul.
The tournament championship is Denver’s first since 2014, making them the first school to win two. Although the Huskies, who along with the Pioneers were ranked as a top five team for most of the season, claimed the regular season title, they experienced the same fate as last year’s Denver team of being unable to repeat in the tournament.
What was more remarkable in the triumph over the Huskies was that DU’s most reliable weapons were held off the scoreboard. Instead, the Pioneers built a commanding 3-0 entirely thanks to freshman — Kohen Olischefski, Jake Durflinger and Ryan Barrow, in order.
Denver came out firing pucks on net and was the beneficiary of a lucky bounce to get on the board at 4:24 of the first period. Olischefski fired a wrist shot on SCSU’s David Hrenak, who failed to control the rebound. The puck trickled over the goal line after a scramble, apparently off the freshman’s stick. It was just his six goal of the season.
It looked like the 1-0 score would hold into the second period, until DU’s third line made a last ditch effort in the final ten seconds of the period. Logan O’Connor placed a long shot on the far pad of Hrenak, who kicked out an easy rebound to a streaking Durflinger, who finished the job with just six seconds remaining.
DU’s shot advantage was 11-10 after 20 minutes, but senior goaltender Tanner Jaillet would not be beat.
The freshman hat-trick was completed just two minutes after the puck was dropped for the second period. Barrow, playing on the Pioneers’ fourth line, got a step on the out-of-position SCSU defense. Liam Finlay hit him with an outlet pass and the first-year charged in on Hrenak, roofing the puck into the back of the net with a step ahead of the Huskies’ back-checkers.
Hrenak, who earned distinction as a finalist for the Mike Richter Award as the nation’s top goaltender after a terrific freshman season, was pulled from the game after the goal.
With a commanding lead and the Huskies’ star goaltender on the bench, the contest was never again in doubt. Ryan Poehling was the only one to beat Jaillet on the night, finishing off a rebound that slipped out of Jaillet’s reach at 15:54 of the third period. But less than two minutes later, the deficit was back to three thanks to Dylan Gambrell’s 13th goal of the season.
Time expired with Denver having dominated the contest from start to finish. Jaillet finished with 28 saves to continue his lights-out play over the second half of the season and into the playoffs.
Jaillet was named the tournament’s Most Outstanding Player and was featured on the All-Tournament team alongside Henrik Borgstrom, Ian Mitchell and O’Connor.
Denver now awaits their NCAA tournament placement as a likely two seed and fifth overall team in the field. The bracket will be announced Sunday at 10 AM MT on ESPNU. The regional semifinals and finals will be played Friday-Sunday next weekend, depending on region.