The DU Pioneers have been trending in the right direction for several weeks now. The games have been improving and the team has been picking up its play after a big stumble in the middle of the year. Tonight, DU got a shot at some retribution against a team than sent them tumbling early in the season, the North Dakota Fighting Hawks. What played out was one of, if not the best hockey games I have ever witnessed.
The DU Pioneers seemed a little shaky at the start of the game. They were just coming off of a bye week and seemed to be a combination of rusty and also nervous against the second-ranked team in the country. Some early turnovers led to some early chances for North Dakota and, as any coach will tell you, when you give a good team like that too many chances, they’ll make you pay. North Dakota did that just before the six minute mark of the period when DU had a pretty soft clearing attempt that was immediately turned back into their zone. Christian Wolanin, son of former Colorado Avalanche player Craig Wolanin, was the late player on a 4 on 3 rush and he ripped a shot through Tanner Jaillet’s 5-hole to give UND an early lead.
DU would respond, however, and quickly. After being scored on, the Pioneers found their legs and quickly began to realize that they could skate with North Dakota, and you could see their confidence begin to rise. After some excellent forechecking, Nolan Zajac grabbed a loose puck and threw it at the net. The puck was redirected through a ton of traffic by Grant Arnold to level the game a one goal apiece.
Both teams began to exchange counter punches, each looking for the other to make the mistaken. The pace was furious, the hits were hard and the game just kept going. No more goals were scored in the first period, and it was tied 1-1 after one.
North Dakota again came out firing and dominated the early play in the period. But DU managed to weather the furious forecheck and heavy hits from the Fighting Hawks. The Pioneers would then strike quickly and unexpectedly right off a seemingly innocent face-off play. Danton Heinen actually lost the draw, but hustled through the UND players and across the goal mouth to win possession of the puck. All eyes were on him and he immediately fed the puck back to a waiting Trevor Moore who tapped the puck into an open net to give DU a 2-1 lead.
Moore would find the puck on his stick in a prime scoring area again, as he led a 2 on 1 break into the zone. This time, however, Moore tried an ill-advised pass that was broken up and immediately sprung North Dakota on a 3 on 1 the other way. Some smooth passing saw Troy Stetch even the game at two goals apiece.
DU was not intimidated, however, and showed their resilience, yet again. Just two minutes later, Trevor Moore immediately atoned for his missed opportunity on his last shift. Heinen and Moore provided a beautiful cycle, playing keep-away with the puck. Adam Plant snuck in on the back side and Moore found him with a dart of a pass through the low slot and across the goal mouth, putting DU back on top by a goal.
Both teams continued to push the pace at each other, trading opportunities and body checks. This was truly the heavyweight battle everybody expected. The period ended with DU holding a 3-2 lead.
North Dakota, once again, came out of the period flying and dominated the play. They spent the first minute and a half in DU’s zone, putting on an absolute clinic on cycling. It ended up with the puck on Brock Boeser’s stick, and he tied the game at three.
DU, once again, battled back. It would have been easy to just allow themselves to be overwhelmed by what many consider to be the best team in the country, but they took North Dakota’s best punch and then put them on the mat with theirs. In an outstanding breakout, rush, DU broke out from behind their net and flew through the neutral zone. Danton Heinen and Trevor Moore connected on a perfect give-and-go, setting Heinen up right between the face-off dots. Heinen unloaded a monster of a shot and gave DU the lead again.
DU had found their life and began to dominate play more and more. In a period that appeared as if no penalties would be called, two were suddenly called back to back. DU had a brief power play, and then Nolan Zajac took a penalty, allowing a brief 4 on 4, then a UND power play. Just as UND was going on the power play, Quentin Shore began what he thought would be a great rush, but was nearly crushed by the UND player exiting the penalty box. Danton Heinen out-hustled everybody to the puck and noticed that Shore was inexplicably alone in the slot all by himself. He fed Shore the puck, who went bar-down for a shorthanded goal to give DU a two-goal lead.
This would be short-lived, as UND took advantage of a bad change on the PK from DU on their next shift, and Nick Schmaltz brought UND back to within one goal as the teams traded goals.
DU remained composed, however, and kept North Dakota from evening the game with a combination of outstanding shot-blocking, and big saves from Tanner Jaillet. Eventually the puck would be cleared and Trevor Moore, who easily could have put home the empty net goal himself, moved the puck to Danton Heinen, who slammed the puck home for his second goal, and fifth point of the night.
DU earned a 6-4 win against mighty North Dakota in a thrilling game from start to finish.
There are just too many things to say about this game, so I’m going to boil it down to a couple thoughts.
1) Danton Heinen and Trevor Moore played an unbelievable game tonight, put DU on their shoulders and won the game. They were impeccable. It was poetry watching the way these two found each other all night.
2) North Dakota’s CBS line was equally amazing and, if not for some timely saves, might have evened this game late.
3) This could have been the best game that I’ve ever seen. It was fast, hard-hitting, intense, filled with amazing skill, showcased several spectacular goals, had your heart racing until the very end. It had absolutely everything.
4) What are these two teams going to do for an encore tomorrow?!