Denver opened its season with a big 4-2 win at Boston College on Friday night, but followed that up with a 4-3 loss to Boston University on Saturday. Adam Murray looked pretty good in his first weekend as Denver’s No. 1 goalie, while the defense in front of him suffered a letdown against BU after playing very well against BC. Offensively, Drew Shore and Jason Zucker — who registered 46 and 45 points, respectively, last season — picked up right where they left off with three goals and two assists combined.
What I saw
-Denver’s defense, which features three freshmen, did a great job minimizing its mistakes against BC. The Pioneer blue-liners didn’t get caught up ice and they managed to keep the Eagles’ dangerous forwards on the perimeter for the most part. Saturday was a different story, though. The Terriers repeatedly spread the Pioneers out and got them running around. Two of their goals came on breakaways resulting from Pioneer defenders getting caught out of position in the neutral zone. If Friday night showed what the Pioneers can be defensively, Saturday served as a reminder that they still have some work to do on the back end.
-The power play struggled all weekend. The Pioneers finished the weekend 0-for-10 on the man advantage with just nine shots on goal. They frequently struggled to set up, and once they did, it was a case of too much passing, too much looking for the perfect play, and not enough just getting the puck to the net. Coach George Gwozdecky said he still expects the power play to be a strength for his team, but he acknowledged that it didn’t look good at all this weekend.
What I thought
-Jason Zucker will be a Hobey Baker candidate at the end of the season. Linemate Drew Shore could be in the discussion, too, but Zucker — last season’s WCHA Rookie of the Year — was the best player on the ice in both games this weekend in this reporter’s opinion. Every time he got the puck on the left wing, he was a threat to make something happen. His goal Friday night came when he took a pass at the blue line, stormed into the zone alone and beat BC goalie Parker Milner five-hole. He also set up a goal for Shore in each game by streaking down the wing and getting the puck to the net.
-Beau Bennett could make a big jump this season and join Zucker and Shore among the WCHA’s top forwards. Bennett, who recorded 10 goals and 16 assists as a freshman last year, scored his first goal of the new season against BC with a beautiful snipe over Milner’s glove from the right circle. Bennett also gave the Pioneers some tough physical play all weekend, although he did cross the line with three penalties.
What they said
“It’s games like this where you have to learn to play in the third period, that separate the good teams from the teams that are gonna be not so good. Against a quality opponent like Boston College, I thought we did a pretty good job in the last 20.” -Gwozdecky after Friday’s win
The Pioneers entered the third period against BC with a one-goal lead and managed to tack on an insurance marker and outshoot the Eagles in the final frame. The next night against BU, Denver mounted a comeback that came up just short, outscoring the Terriers 3-0 in the final 20 minutes. If the Pioneers keep up this kind of third-period play all season, they’re going to be a tough opponent to close out and a tough opponent to come back against.
What they didn’t say
Gwozdecky refused to use his defense’s youth as an excuse for some of its miscues against BU, instead crediting the Terriers for having great breakouts and making great passes through the neutral zone. Although BU’s passing was very good, it was far from impossible to defend. The Pioneers made a number of mistakes with their reads and coverage, and that made those breakouts and passes a lot easier for the Terriers. Those mistakes are to be expected (to a certain extent) when your defense corps includes three freshmen; the Pioneers just need to make sure they learn from them moving forward.