“Same fu**ing guy, same fu**ing guy,” screamed Denver head coach Jim Montgomery on the bench — picked up by the TV microphones and cameras early in the third period of Friday’s thrilling game between Denver and North Dakota. It was the first college hockey game since 2011 featuring two starting goaltenders who have won national titles.
The game officially ended in a 3-3 tie, with Troy Terry scoring in the bonus 3-on-3 overtime session to give Denver the extra point in the NCHC standings.
Montgomery’s comments from the bench referred to an incident in November, the last time North Dakota and Denver squared off. UND sophomore Cole Smith was called for a boarding major that injured Denver defenseman Adam Plant, who needed significant on-ice attention from the medical and training staff before being helped to the locker room. Plant is a reliable senior defenseman for Montgomery — Friday’s game in Grand Forks, after all, was his 139th in a Pioneer uniform.
At 3:14 of the third period, Plant collided with Smith again, this time with both players battling for a loose puck in the Denver offensive zone. In real time, it genuinely looked like an unfortunate mishap, with Plant’s momentum seemingly propelling him into Smith as they both reached for the puck.
The replays on CBS Sports Network, unfortunately, show a different story.
There’s no objective way to sugarcoat this — it was truly a shocking hit by Smith. Here’s what happened: Smith was a step late to the play. After Plant won the loose puck, Smith raised his left arm in an unnatural position, and as he leans in (as opposed to trying to avoid the hit), his elbow struck a defenseless Plant in the right temple. Plant, who crumpled to the ice, lying flat on his back, very well may have been unconscious for a moment. Clearly shaken, he needed plenty of assistance to skate off the ice. Though there’s no official word from Denver yet, it was an obvious, serious head injury and presumably a concussion.
After the game, UND head coach Brad Berry said, “Is it a penalty? Probably a penalty.” — which is a bit disappointing. It was definitely (not probably) a major penalty, and the only question now is whether the NCHC will issue a suspension this afternoon.
I’m not suggesting Smith — a sophomore who has scored 5 goals this season — is a dirty player (typically, in fact, he isn’t), and it’s impossible for me or anyone else to comment on what he was thinking as the play unfolded. An otherwise clean player can certainly suffer a lapse and deliver an anomalous dirty hit, and in reality, these plays happen quickly and the players’ movements are instinctive. And of course, despite Montgomery’s comments on the bench, it’s likely just an unfortunate coincidence that Friday’s occurrence involved the same two players as the Nov. 18 contest. But again, this singular play was startling and unnecessary, and I can’t imagine that Smith will avoid a brief suspension from the NCHC as a result of the hit.
Of note, 36 of the sophomore forward’s 58 penalty minutes this season have come in three games against Denver.
The injury to Plant depleted the Pioneer defense for the remainder of the game, but the Fighting Hawks battled back regardless — overcoming Terry’s power play goal on the ensuing major power play and earning a tie thanks to a Hayden Shaw extra-attacker goal that beat Denver’s Tanner Jaillet. Still, North Dakota remains winless in its last four games. Denver remains in first place in the NCHC standings, although St. Cloud State — four points back — has two games in hand.
UND and Denver face off again on Saturday in Grand Forks to complete the regular season series — continuing what has become one of the most dramatic rivalries in college hockey over the last few years.
In case you missed it:
- Terry will be the youngest player on Team USA at the Winter Olympic Games in South Korea next month. I spoke to him earlier this week about the opportunity to return to international play.
- Western Michigan has been hit with the injury bug, losing two of its most talented offensive players in Colt Conrad and Wade Allison. Allison is out for the season, and I spoke to head coach Andy Murray on Thursday about how his team is trying to overcome these injuries. On Friday, the Broncos gave up 6 goals for the second consecutive game, this time in a 6-2 loss in Omaha in a game that was 2-2 with seven minutes to play.
- Special teams proved important around the NCHC on Friday. Minnesota-Duluth scored 2 shorthanded goals in a 5-1 win against St. Cloud, while Colorado College went 3-for-3 on the power play to beat Miami 6-3. The Tigers improve to 11-11-3 this season, looking to finish over .500 for the first time since 2012.